Looking Back: City Librarians of the San Jose Public Library

The circulation desk of the main San Jose Public Library in the 1950s. Several patrons wait in line to checkout materials. Two library staff members assist those waiting in line. On the left, Gertrude Jansens; on the right, Kathyrn Williams.

This month we are Looking Back at the San Jose Public Library's leadership throughout the years. Since the first library was founded in San Jose, numerous individuals have carried the responsibility of offering this crucial public service to the City of San Jose. Listed below are the names and tenure of those who led the library from its years as the San Jose Library Association to the end of the 20th century which laid the groundwork for the award winning library we love today.

Photograph taken from the "Plaza" of the southern face of the main library building off Market Street and West San Fernando Street showing the side entrance into the west annex or Music Room.

Of particular mention are: Edith Daley (Librarian, 1923-1943), Geraldine Nurney (Librarian, 1943-1970) and Homer Fletcher (Librarian, 1970-1990). These individuals each contributed 20 plus years of service to our city. Significantly, these three librarians laid the foundation for the largest expansions to the public library in the system's history. While Edith Daley held a struggling library system together in the Inter-War Years, her leadership laid the groundwork for Geraldine Nurney to capitalize on the Post-World War II boom with a dramatic expansion of the branch system and the building of the Main Library at West San Carlos in the late 1960s. With a new state-of-the-art main library, Homer Fletcher oversaw a great expansion into the community with the opening of five branches; including the Spanish language focused Biblioteca Latinoamericana Branch Library in 1976. Of course, other librarians were significant in their own right, but we will leave it to history to evaluate these most recent achievements.

Former Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Main Library Building

San Jose Library Association:

  • George Fentress, Librarian 1872-1879

San Jose Public Library:

  • William Redding, 1880-1887
  • Agnes Berry, 1887-1889
  • Nellie Egan, 1889-1900
  • Mary Barnby, 1900-1911
  • Nell McGinley, 1911-1917
  • Charles Wood, 1917-1923
  • Edith Daley, 1923-1943
  • Geraldine Nurney, 1943-1970
  • Homer Fletcher, 1970-1990
  • Jim Fish, 1990-1997
  • Jane Light, 1997-2012
  • Jill Bourne, (current)

Further Reading from the San Jose Public Library, California Room:

by Mark Robertson