In the United States, the early “library laws” related to: 1) the founding of libraries; 2) library administration; 3) development of school libraries; 4) rural and county libraries; and 5) travelling libraries (Wiley, 1918, Library Laws and Legislation in the United States).  The laws regarding founding libraries were enabling laws, making it permissive – not mandatory – for communities to establish public libraries.  On April 26, 1880, the California State Legislature adopted “An Act to establish free public libraries and reading rooms” (the “Library Act”)  (St.  1880, p. 231 c. 126).  Like typical state library laws, the California Library Act enabled “municipal authorities” to pass resolutions to “levy and collect, as in other cases, annually, a tax not to exceed one mill on the dollar for the purpose of establishing and maintaining in such city free public libraries and reading rooms, and purchasing such books, journals, and other publications, purchasing and leasing such real and personal property, and erecting such buildings as may be necessary therefor.”    The Library Act created a specific “Library Fund,” under the direction of the city treasury, to maintain the taxes collected and pay the expenses of the library.   In 1880, the population of San Diego was 2,637 (San Diego Historical Society, San Diego City and County Population).  As a city of “less than one hundred thousand population,” the Library Act provided that “five Trustees shall be elected at the same time and in the same manner as the other town officers are elected . . . the office of Trustee shall be honorary, without salary or other compensation . . .”  

Within a year of the adoption of the Library Act, fifteen San Diego men and women met to discuss the establishment of a free public library in San Diego.  Committees were formed to raise money, and a petition for a city tax to support a library and to “open a reading room until a public tax could be raised” was proposed (McGrew, 1922).  One year later, a “caucus of citizens” met at the Horton Bank Building to nominate five library trustees as authorized by the Library Act (id.).  On May 19, 1882, the five men elected as library trustees officially formed the San Diego Public Library.  

Immediately after the formation of the San Diego Public Library, “the Commercial Bank offered the free use for six months of a suite of five rooms in its building,”  with rent thereafter at $15 

Image 7: Commercial Bank Building 1882


 per month (id.) The trustees purchased an “official seal” for $2.00; carpet matting for $32.00; and window shades for $6.00.  Later, two tables “covered with green baize were purchased.” Additionally, the first trustees sought to secure government issued books for the library (Breed, 1982).   San Diego lore holds that Horton’s 1000 volumes were transferred to the San Diego Public Library upon its founding in 1882.  However, there has been no historical verification of that tale through library collection records, which are very sparse for that time period (Hensley). 

On Saturday night, July 15, 1882, the San Diego Public Library opened to the public.  It was a reading room only; no books were checked out to the public (Breed, 1982).  In 1883, after reviewing the check out procedures of public libraries in Los Angeles and Oakland, the trustees of San Diego Public Library adopted borrowing privileges:  “every borrower to have a guarantor who owned city property and was willing to be responsible for any unpaid fines and fees . . . Persons who could not furnish good security were required to deposit the price of the book borrowed” (id.). 

Archibald Hooker was the first librarian and served as librarian/janitor for the first two years of the library’s existence.   Hooker had no management duties (Evans).  On August 6, 1884, Augustus Wooster replaced Hooker.  He was paid $10 per month and was given the title “Librarian.”  By the time he was replaced in 1887, Wooster was paid $25 per month. Wooster was replaced by Lulu Younkin who was paid $70 per month – almost three times what Wooster was paid!  Lulu Younkin was a college graduate and had teaching experience.  She was hired to “take charge of the library and to index the books” (Breed, 1982).  Younkin catalogued the collection and classified it according to the Dewey classification system, which was developed a decade earlier.  The San Diego Public Library still uses the Dewey decimal classification system. 

Image 8: Lulu Younkin


Younkin, a member of ALA, was described in 1891 by another ALA member as the “Indefatigable Miss Lulu Younkin.”  She was a “brisk and efficient young woman who soon replaced the easy-going ways of her predecessor with strict enforcement of the library rules.  Among other things, she introduced closed stacks, where patrons had been allowed to serve themselves” (Evans). 

In 1889, Younkin published the Catalogue of the San Diego Free Public Library and released a brief history of the library.  Younkin reported that “over  7000 volumes  in the collection had been read the previous year, either in the library or at home, at the astonishing rate of 4000 books per month” (Younkin, 1889, April).  The volumes in the library continued to grow and in 1889, the library was closed for five weeks so that it could move from the second floor of the building to the newly added fourth floor of the building.  At the same time, the library renewed it lease for four years at a monthly rent of $150, which included elevator, janitorial services, and heat (Breed, 1982).  The new fourth floor library space was described in an April 1890 article in the Golden Era

Image 9: San Diego 1886


The main room is 50 x 90 feet, with twenty-six windows, thereby insuring an abundance of light by day, while by night a multitude of electric jets illumine the room. The room is carpeted from end to end. The book shelves are separated from the two reading rooms — one for each sex — by a brass lattice, and the entire room is arranged so as to combine the utmost neatness with the greatest convenience. 

San Diego’s library numbers 7,800 volumes, and in it can be found a larger number of solid reading matter than in most similar institutions in the State. This agreeable result is greatly due, so far as the young folks are concerned, in the efforts of the teachers in the public schools to direct the tastes of their scholars in the best channels. The catalogue embraces all fields of literary and scientific research, and a “request” book is kept to receive suggestions of patrons for books not found in the collection. 

Miss Lulu Younkin is the present and efficient librarian and is ably assisted in her duties by Misses Mary Walker and Lucy Wheeler, and their courteous attention and painstaking efforts in behalf of visitors have done much to make the library as popular as it is. 

The library is open on week days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 7 to 9 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.   (Breed, 1982). 

Younkin was active in the national library community.  She was invited to assist the San Francisco library in entertaining delegates from the 1891 ALA  convention.  Younkin sought donations of money, carriages and yachts to entertain the forty-four librarians who journeyed from San Francisco to San Diego (Evans).  Shortly after the ALA delegation left San Diego, the library suffered financially through the failure of its bank.  The Trustees determined that “the library should be run ‘decently, and in good order’ so long as the money lasts, then the city council should shoulder the responsibility of closing it” (Evans).  Fortunately, the library never closed. 

At the expiration of the lease, in 1893, the San Diego Public Library moved to the St. James Building (McGrew).  While at that location, Younkin issued a second library catalogue in 1895 conforming to the Dewey system.  She remained at the library until December 1895, when she retired – to be married – and was replaced by her assistant Mary E. Walker (Smythe).  The year that Younkin retired, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie began donating money to build public library buildings throughout the English-speaking world for the benefit of communities that would pledge to donate the land for the building, would fill the library with books and would provide tax revenue for the support and maintenance of the free public library. 

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