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Piece of Mind: A look back at our reading history

Carol Cormaci

June 15, 2011

The biggest event in town 40 years ago this week — next to the commencement exercises being held for the LCHS Class of 1971, that is — was the grand opening of the new public library on Oakwood Avenue. Its predecessor was just one of the hundreds of casualties felt here when the state Division of Highways cut a wide swath through our valley to make way for the 210 Freeway.

Rapid gains in technology and the recent popularity of e-readers lead me to wonder what libraries (and bookstores) will morph into within the next decade or so. But I’m in a mood to look back today, so I thought I’d reflect on the history of the La Cañada library. Maybe you’ll enjoy a little trip down that road with me. Perhaps it will provide stimulating dinner table fodder: You might be able to stump your companions with such questions as, “Do you know when the first La Cañada library was founded?” Or, “Guess how many different sites La Cañada’s library has occupied?”

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Well, let’s not delay in getting to the heart of the subject: According to a vintage Valley Sun report, in May 1913 La Cañada was one of the first communities in Los Angeles County to establish a branch of what was then called the “County Free Library,” and it did so two weeks after the first branch opened in Willowbrook.

The report doesn’t give the exact street address, but the branch was established inside La Cañada’s general store, so it may well have been on our main drag, once known as Michigan Avenue and known today as Foothill Boulevard. Custodian of the books, as the librarian was called, was Mrs. J.W. Stultz, who oversaw all 71 titles the library had on its shelves.

Word spread rather quickly that the new library was in business. In its first month of its existence, La Cañadans checked out books on 16 occasions. A month later, Mrs. Stultz reported circulation was up to 83. The La Cañada library ended its first fiscal year with 32 registered borrowers; a total of 24 cents had been collected in overdue fines.

By the end of 1914, the library’s collection had expanded to 423 titles, some of which had been specially requested by patrons: “Little Women,” Promised Land,” “Peter Pan” and “Fairy Tales” by Hans Christian Andersen, among them.

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