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Diamond Jubilee: Seventy Five Years of Public Service

II. Organization and Reorganization

Table of Contents

The Los Angeles of 1912 was a very old city which had suddenly changed into a very new city, a rapidly growing metropolis where recent arrivals -- many of them lured by an effective promotional campaign in the mid-West -- outnumbered "native" Californians four to one. Outside the City was a territory of wide-open spaces, citrus groves, tiny mountain settlements and a few small suburban towns. Los Angeles and seventeen other cities were served by operating municipal libraries. However, an estimated one hundred thousand residents of the County had no library service. The Los Angeles County Free Library was organized to serve rural residents, predominately farming communities, and other cities which wished to participate.


Celia Gleason, first County Librarian (1912-24) The first Library headquarters was established in two unfinished rooms on the tenth floor of the "new" Hall of Records. Celia Gleason was appointed the first County Librarian. There were no books, no buildings, no readers and no other personnel -- only a dream. The dream was to provide three types of service -- lending, reference, and advisory -- and to do this through a network of community branches.

The first library was established on April 23, 1913, in Willowbrook in the residence of Mrs. Belle B. Jenks, who agreed to be branch "custodian." It was classified as a "deposit station" since the home was not large enough to have a reading room. The library started with a collection of fifty books and was initially open four hours per week, from three to five o'clock on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons. By the end of June the branch had a total of sixty-three registered borrowers, 433 books had been circulated, and sixty cents in overdue fines had been collected.


Willowbrook Library and Post Office (1919). This was the first branch of the County Library (opened in 1913) and Belle B. Jenks (shown here) was its first 'custodian.' Libraries were set up in various other communities in order of their applications, with eighteen having been established by the end of June 1913. It was required that communities fully show their interest and support for these projects by providing quarters and "custodians" for the first year of service.

The first five years were extremely active for the rapidly expanding system. The number of registered borrowers grew to 35,805, the collection contained 128,958 books, and the annual circulation was over 600,000. The most amazing accomplishment during this period, however, was the establishment -- without the assistance of the modern methods of communication and transportation -- of a phenomenal 165 branches and stations. There were libraries everywhere! According to an early annual report, "No community was too small, too difficult to reach or too distant to have books and a branch library." As a result, there were libraries in post offices, candy stores, banks, club houses, newspaper office, schools and private homes.


Central reference desk, 10th floor, Hall of Records (1916) With territorial changes -- incorporations, annexations, admissions, and withdrawals -- the number of service outlets has varied throughout the years. However, the need for a large number of outlets to serve as strategic points of public contact throughout such a vast service area has been always constant. Also constant has been the need for an administrative "nerve center." Known variously throughout the years as "Central," "SHQ" (System Headquarters) and "LHQ" (Library Headquarters), the first location proved inadequate by 1921, and it was moved to
Central Headquarters, 204 North Broadway (1929). the old Zahn Building at 204 North Broadway, which became the Annex to the Hall of Records. In 1937 -- postponing celebration of the Library's Silver Anniversary -- headquarters was removed four blocks south to a cluster of offices in the Johnson Building at 322 South Broadway, across from Grand Central Market. It remained there for the next quarter century, aided, in later years, by two satellite locations: the neighboring Trustee Building at 342 South Broadway and the Ferguson Building around the corner at 307 South Hill Street. In 1962, during the Library's Golden Anniversary, management operations were reunited in a move to "temporary" quarters centering on the ninth floor at the new Hall of Records, 320 West Temple. Again, pressed by space and business volume considerations, satellite operations continued until "rented quarters" finally became a thing of the past in 1983. In that year, all operations were united under one roof at a
Library delivery fleet outside the Hall of Records (1929). brand new Library headquarters, built on a "lease-back" arrangement, at 7400 East Imperial Highway in the City of Downey -- the first headquarters designed specifically for the needs of the Library! Library headquarters had evolved quickly from a one-person operation in 1913 to an organization staffed by nine full divisions by 1929. In recent years, operations have been realigned into three divisions (Administrative Services, Public Services, and Technical Services), each with attendant functional units.

During its first forty-five years, Los Angeles County Public Library remained primarily a rural service. Operations were highly centralized, except for lending services to the public at the branches. Organizational structure remained essentially as founded for the first fifteen years. However, the First World War and subsequent recession had precluded sufficient expansion of services and housing to the point that, by the mid-1920s, an enlargement program and a more efficient, better planned service structure became imperative in order to meet the needs of what was considered at the time to be a tremendous influx of population. In the Reorganization of 1927, each principal function of the Library was analyzed and designated as a "division." This new divisional arrangement, among other changes, enabled operations during subsequent decades to keep pace better with the growing complexities of public library service requirements -- at least until unforseen circumstances changed the face of rural Southern California forever.

Between 1940 and 1947, the population of Los Angeles County increased by thirty percent while that of the County Library service area increased by a disproportionate fifty-four percent! The service area population increased another twenty-eight percent during the next two years and that was just the beginning of the biggest boom in history. By the 1950s, the formerly rural territory the Library was called on to serve was undergoing radical change. Due to postwar industrial expansion and a phenomenal increase in population, Southern California rapidly was becoming one great metropolitan area. One of the steps the Library took to adapt to this change was through a second major reorganization. In 1957, the Regional Plan was adopted as part of a strategy to render speedier, more responsive service to the many cities and urbanized communities in the once predominately rural and agricultural County territory.

"Regional operations" were not new. Lancaster had been designated as a "sub-center" for library service in the Antelope Valley back in 1929. It was joined by similar setups at Torrance and Lennox in 1951, and at Bellflower in 1953. In these cases, however, responsibility for supervision remained at Central. In the Reorganization of 1957, eight geographic Regions were established. A large strategically located library in each Region was designated as Regional Headquarters and administration was decentralized by appointment of a Regional Librarian to supervise all branch work in the area. Direct service to the public was discontinued from the Central Library. (The Central collection continued to serve as a support collection until completely dispersed to the field in 1975.) Central retained only those activities which could be carried out more effectively at a central location.

The Library prospered under the new structure. The trend toward decentralization continued as Regional support teams gradually grew to carry out functions, such as book evaluation and selection, formerly done centrally (some of which further devolved into responsibilities of the local libraries). In a further adaptation to population trends, in 1976 the eight original geographic Regions were consolidated into six, coincidentally making possible improved staffing in all Regions. The last major reorganization took place in 1987 and involved changes in both structure and classification of employees. It returned supervisorial span-of-control to within more workable limits by further consolidating six Regions into five and dividing each into two Clusters.

Images:

  • Celia Gleason, first County Librarian (1912-24)
  • Willowbrook Library and Post Office (1919). This was the first branch of the County Library (opened in 1913) and Belle B. Jenks (shown here) was its first "custodian."
  • Central reference desk, 10th floor, Hall of Records (1916)
  • Central Headquarters, 204 North Broadway (1929).
  • Library delivery fleet outside the Hall of Records (1929).


Diamond Jubilee:
Seventy Five Years of Public Service
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