VENTURA COUNTY FREE LIBRARY
“ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE VENTURA COUNTY FREE LIBRARY”
An institution is a name but the county library of Ventura is more, it is a living organism. Its unofficial motto is, “All roads in Ventura County lead to the Ventura County Free Library.”
Started in 1916 by Miss Julia Steffa, the county library has grown from a little room in the court house to a library with ninety-five branches. Besides its official branches it sends books to those who are too far away to get to a regular branch. Its main branch is the Ventura City Library, started in 1874 and established as a Free Public Library in 1878. What tales of sacrifice and work the women of Ventura could tell of the establishment of the city library. Mrs. Myrtle Shepard Francs says in “The History and Reminiscences of San Buenaventura,” Page 15: “It was in this period that my mother and Mrs. Bailey formulated the plan of a public library, the whole town joining in and working for a fair that cleared six hundred dollars. Mr. Bailey acted as librarian for several years without remuneration.” Mr. J. F. Newby was the next librarian and Miss Florence Vandever was librarian from February 14, 1888 to 1924. It was partly due to the farsightedness of Miss Vandever that the city library of Ventura became a branch of the county library.
The city library and the county library combined under one librarian in the library building at 651 East Main Street in Ventura. This building was the gift of Mr. and Mrs. E. P. Foster of Ventura who gave it to be used for the purpose of a library and city hall. It is admirably suited for this use, but the town has grown faster than was ever dreamed and today both the library and city hall need additional space.
Miss Julia Steffa organized the county library. She had executive ability of the highest order and it is to her work that the present system is largely indebted. She took the brunt of planning for the library work in the new building and it is to her care and Mr. Foster’s generosity that the county owes the almost perfect equipment in the way of building and furniture that it now has.
The building houses the lively commerce and exchange of books that goes on at the county library. When the library does not have books it borrows from the State Library. It also borrows from other libraries through the union catalog at the State Library from which the location of library books throughout the state can be found. In this way books that can no longer be bought are often borrowed, and the use of books too expensive to buy is obtained.
To the county library belong all the elementary school districts but one and all the high school districts but one. By cooperative buying and exchange of books, the schools can always have fresh new books on their shelves instead of the old cast-off ones of former school generations and an exchange may be made at any time.
The same is true of the branches. No small branch can afford to buy all the books asked for; sometimes books are only wanted by one or two people and then lay for years unread, but in a county library branch when such a book has been read by those who want it, it is passed on to another branch where people are wanting it, and when they have finished, to another. It is always to be had, but it is also being used. The saving in expenditure is especially great in little used non-fiction books. When reference material is needed for short time use, it is sent out from the main library to the branch where it is needed. The library does a tremendous amount of school reference work and sends out hundreds of copies of the National Geographic alone for classroom use, as well as supplementary texts, dictionaries, maps, globes, pictures, music records, sheet music, etc.
In this day of centralization the county library is an excellent example of the economy in government that can be effected by centralization. Just to compare the budgets of the branch libraries with those of independent libraries is a revelation of economy in administration. There is centralized cataloging, buying of periodicals, books, etc., done by people who work faster because they specialize in their work and are used to getting out quantities of work, whereas in smaller places all the work has to be done by one person and often is not done for sheer lack of time.
The county library has, as has been noted above, ninety-five branches and one hundred twenty-seven thousand, eight hundred eighty-six volumes. The city library has three branches and ten thousand, nine hundred twenty-six volumes. Eleven assistants are employed at the headquarters in Ventura. Twenty-eight assistants are scattered over the county. There are three assistants in the city library.
Miss Elizabeth R. Topping is the head librarian. Prior to coming to Ventura, Miss Topping was first assistant in the Monterey County Free Library at Salinas. Before that she had been librarian at Marshfield, Oregon, and at Everett, Washington. For the past twelve years, since 1921, she has been librarian of the Ventura County Free Library. She is a graduate of Cornell University and of the New York State Library School and holds a life certificate as a certified county librarian of the State of California.
Transcribed by V. Gerald Iaquinta.
Source: California of the South Vol. III, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 347-349, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis. 1933.
© 2012 V. Gerald Iaquinta.