History

Did you know that library service has existed in Downey for over 100 years? The community’s commitment to reading and literacy is long-standing and well-rooted. In 1898, seven women residents of Downey met to found a social club. One of their purposes was to establish a public library, which began operating in 1901. A small fee was charged to each patron so that books could be purchased. When the Los Angeles County Library System opened a branch in Downey in September, 1915, the collection was turned over to it. In that year, 215 borrowers were registered, and were able to choose from a collection of 330 titles.

The branch moved several times until it found its last home at the County Civic Center, Third St. and La Reina Ave., in 1950. By 1957, the branch’s 15,000 volumes circulated 123,000 times, and 14,000 people registered for library cards that year.

In 1958, two years after the city of Downey was incorporated, the City Council voted to withdraw from the County library system and to accept responsibility for providing Downey with its own library. A new library building to house 70,000 volumes was quickly authorized. But the initial temporary library service was of a much more modest nature, provided out of the back of a bookstore.

Meanwhile, the City purchased the former Downey Elementary School, and converted it into a City Hall and Police Station. The library was moved into the former school’s cafeteria building, and opened its doors on July 1, 1958, with a full-time staff of six and about 5,000 books. During the next 18 months, the collection grew to 24,000 items.

On Dec. 7, 1959, the new library building, containing almost 16,000 sq. ft., was completed at a cost of $186,200 ($11.97 per sq. ft.). Dedicated on Dec. 17th, it was opened to the public on the 18th. During the first year of operation, 20,000 cards were issued and 144,409 items were checked out. The Friends of the Library was also established in 1959, with the purpose of strengthening ties between the Library and the community and raising funds to provide facilities, services, and collections.

By 1983, the total library collection was over 106,000 volumes, and 90,000 patrons in the Downey, Santa Fe Springs, and Whittier area checked out 300,000 items in a year. An addition of nearly 12,000 sq. ft. was completed and dedicated in Feb. 1984. The addition included a new children’s room and office, magazine and newspaper room, circulation desk, restrooms, entryway, display cases, and a bookstore operated by the Friends of the Library.

A literacy program was established in 1985, with many community members volunteering time to teach reading skills to adults. The program continues to the present in assisting people with an essential skill to improve their lives.

Recent years have seen the addition of many programs, services, and facilities:
  • 1994
    Library catalog computerized.
    Electronic database with magazine articles.
    Online catalog access from home.
  • 1995
    First full-time children’s librarian.
  • 1996
    Library hours extended to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
  • 1997
    First teen summer reading program.
  • 1998
    Internet access and instruction.
    New circulation and lobby area.
    Library catalog on the World Wide Web.
  • 1999
    $56,000 Gates Foundation grant for computer equipment.
  • 2000
    Sunday hours September through June.
    Equipment enabling patrons to check out materials by themselves.
    Computer lab area with regularly scheduled classes.
    Internet and computer programs on ten public workstations.
    Entertainment DVD's and books on CD.
  • 2001
    Online assistance with reference questions via the Library web site.
    Carpenters Collection of books and recordings.
    Bilingual story times.
  • 2002
    English Language Literacy Intensive program for Spanish-speaking families.
    Remodeled Friends of the Library bookstore.
  • 2003
    18 computers in Magazine and Newspaper room with Internet access and other programs.
  • 2004
    20th annual Volunteer and Major Donor Recognition Breakfast honored 100 individuals.
  • 2005
    Library automated system was upgraded to Horizon.
  • 2006
    18 new personal computers were installed in the computer lab through a gift from the Gates Foundation.
  • 2007
    Family Story Night established.
  • 2008
    Through the One Book, One Community program Downey residents were encouraged to read Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation."
  • 2009
    Early Learning with Families @ Your Library program for families with children 0-2 years old.
    One Book, One Community book selection "Rocket Boys: a memoir" by Homer H. Hickam, Jr.
    Library 50th Anniversary Celebration – October 3, 2009
  • 2010
    One Book, One Community book selection "Season of Life: a football star, a boy, a journey to manhood" by Jeffrey Marx
City Librarians
  • Lester Bergslien (1958 - 1962)
  • Ruth Miller (1962 - 1983)
  • Victoria Jenkins (1984 - 2002)
  • Thaddeus Phillips (2003 - 2006)
  • Nancy Messineo (2006 - 2010)