It’s Our 150th Anniversary… Or Is It?

Image: 150 Years of Libraries in San Jose Exhibit at the SJPL California Room

A quick glance at our History of SJPL Timeline shows that in 1872 the San Jose Library Association was formed at Knox Block, located at the corner of First Street and Santa Clara Street.

Being the first entry on this timeline, it is a fair assumption that 1872 is the birth year of the library.  But is it?

According to the San Jose Daily Mercury in July 1872, Adolph Pfister, along with other prominent local figures, agreed to acquire over 1000 books from the Young Men’s Christian Association and launch a membership library.  This much is clear, but what is the connection to our San Jose Public Library?

Several sources state that the San Jose Library Association was turned over to the City of San Jose; however, the exact year differs among sources.  According to The History of Santa Clara County by Sawyer, the San Jose Library Association was turned over to the city in 1878 and became a free institution.
According to Public Libraries in California 1849-1878 by Held, the city of San Jose acquired the San Jose Library Association in 1880, only one day before the opportunity for municipal ownership would expire.

The 1878 Rogers Act enabled the city to acquire the library through self-taxation two years before, but searching digitized newspapers via the SJPL California Room confirms it was indeed 1880 when the library was handed over to the city, as reported in the San Jose Herald.

About the San Jose Library Association at Knox Block

The library boasted rooms furnished with Brussels carpeting from Feist Brothers, over 1000 books, one smoking and one non-smoking room, a wash stand, towel, soap, comb, brush, dusting brush, hat-rack, bench, chairs, spittoons, and a clock.  The library sought to be an alternative to the saloon, the latter was a place frequented by those wanting to read the newspaper.  The library was also outfitted with chessboards and other games including dominos and checkers.

The Exhibit in the California Room

On display at the California Room is an overview of libraries in San Jose over the past 150 years.  Since the library effort at Knox Block, San Jose has continually outgrown its library buildings:

  • 1872 - Knox Block
  • 1889 - City Hall
  • 1903 - Carnegie Library on 4th and San Fernando Street
  • 1937 - Old Post Office Building (today’s Art Museum)
  • 1970 - Martin Luther King, Jr. Library on San Carlos Street
  • 2003 - New Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Joint Library with SJSU

Image: 35mm Slide of Knox Block on display for the 150 Years of Libraries in San Jose Exhibit