History of the Library

From Past to Present: 1883-2022

- In an effort to provide local residents with a 'reading room or place of resort where they could pass their leisure time socializing and improving their minds by reading good books and periodicals,' members of the Ladies Guild of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church decided to form a library. During the same year wealthy local resident Antoine Borel donated a 50 by 100 foot lot in a burned-out square opposite the railroad depot for this purpose.

1884 - On July 30, the San Mateo Library Association was incorporated under the laws of the State of California. Eleven directors were chosen. Public fund raising events followed. In September, bids were taken and a contract awarded for construction of San Mateo's first library.

- In January, the brick building called 'Library Hall' was completed at a cost of $12,000. One room was provided for a Library. The building also contained an Assembly Hall, Lodge Hall, an anteroom, and space for two small stores.

1887 - Early in the year the Library room was opened. Unfortunately, on April 6, a fire destroyed the building and library. Another building was erected on the same site.

1890's - During the 1890's the library, under control of the Library Association, continued to function, but all its funds had been exhausted. A deposit of $3,500 remained on the property.

1898 - On September 3, a letter from the Library Association to the Boards of Trustees (City Council) of the City of San Mateo required that a tax be levied to maintain the Library for the community.

1899 - The City took over the property of the Library Association, assumed the mortgage on the building, and voted to levy a tax for the support of a free library. A 4,000 volume collection was purchased, more shelves installed and the San Mateo Public Library was opened to the public October 16.

1905 - The library had outgrown its quarters, shelves were crowded, excess books were stored in boxes, and reading space was cramped. In March, an appeal was made to philanthropist and library builder Andrew Carnegie for funds to erect a new building. The City was awarded an initial grant of $10,000, followed by an additional $2,500 after the 1906 earthquake.

1907 - The new library was built on the northwest corner of Second Avenue and San Mateo Drive. The San Francisco architectural firm Cox and Cox designed it. The Woman's Club of San Mateo raised $830 to help furnish the new building.

1907 through 1966 - As a thriving community library, the 2nd Avenue facility's book collection continued to grow. In spite of expansions to the building in 1927, 1950 and 1956, the library became overcrowded to the extent that useful books had to be discarded to make room for new titles.

1949 - The City's first branch library, called South Branch, was established at Beresford School. It included only 200 circulating books.

1951 - South Branch Library moved to rented quarters at the Patio Shops, 25 25th Avenue.

1954 - Rapid growth in the Shoreview subdivisions necessitated the establishment of the East Branch Library in rented facility at 550 South Norfolk.

1956 - A bond issue to build the Hillsdale Branch Library passed and construction began.

1957 - On May 23, Hillsdale Branch, 205 W. Hillsdale Blvd., opened, replacing South Branch.

1964 - In April, the Friends of the San Mateo Public Library held its first meeting. The group's first president David McKeen said, "I hope this new organization will be influential in making San Mateo citizens more aware of the tremendous resources they have in their public library." Over $233,000 has been contributed in the past 30 years.

1966 - In April, Marina Branch Library, a $100,000 facility at 1530 Susan Court opened. It replaced East Branch. In September, a $1,200,000 bond issue to build a new Main Library was overwhelmingly approved by the voters. "Yes" votes totaled 5,975; "No" votes totaled 2,211.

1968 - The new Main Library, a three story structure designed by architect William Garwood, was opened at 55 West Third Avenue. Dedication ceremonies were held on December 15, 1968.

1970 - Six library jurisdictions in San Mateo county joined together to form the Peninsula Library System. It was established to provide cooperative services such as reciprocal borrowing, delivery and outreach services among the members libraries. Two other city libraries joined in 1974.

1985 - The Marina Branch was the first of the City's libraries to have its automated circulation system running. The other two libraries followed in short order. This computerized system made it possible for the library to keep track of its materials much better and provided coordination among all the libraries in the county.

1994 - Recognizing that the library had once again outgrown its facility, a Library Committee was formed to search for a site for a new Main Library and to develop a funding plan. Also, the San Mateo Public Library Foundation was created to raise funds to support library services.

1999 - A $30 million bond measure for a new main library was passed. Planning for the the New Main Library began.

2003 - Hillsdale & Marina branch libraries closed for a yearlong remodeling project. The Main Library closed & its collection moved to the Temporary Library facility at 1100 Park Place.

2004 - Hillsdale & Marina branches reopened.

2006 - The New Main library opened to the public on August 27.

2012 - Solar panels installed on the roof of the Main Library.

2016 - Library open hours are restored to the level that was in place in 2004. Chromebooks and MiFi are available to borrow with a San Mateo Public Library card.

2017 - A new automated materials handling system is installed at the Main Library.

2020 -  The library temporarily closes in response to the Covid-19 epidemic.  Curbside holds pickup service begins.  The number of hold shelves double.  Later in the year the library reopens to the public. 

2022 - The Technology Lending program expands to include Launchpads, robots, musical equipment, maker kits, and more.