100 Years of the Mill Valley Public Library
Mill Valley’s first library opened in 1904 in a room in the Outdoor Art Club. Locals got the library’s burgeoning collection started by donating books. Within a few years, the library housed over 750 titles. By 1908 voters approved the town’s first library bond, which authorized $2,500 to purchase a plot of land. The Town Trustees then established the Mill Valley Public Library and appointed the first Library Board of Trustees. With a hefty donation from Andrew Carnegie’s foundation and a property-tax hike guaranteeing $2,000 per year to operate the library, the town purchased land at 52 Lovell Ave. in 1909. The Mill Valley Public Library opened its doors on July 22, 1911.
As beautiful as the new library was, its problems quickly became evident. The Library sat atop what one reporter dubbed “Cardiac Hill” because, like the similarly named point in the Dipsea Race, Lovell Ave. was at the top of several steep flights of stairs. Librarians joked that some patrons never got to Fiction O-Z since those books were on the library’s second level. The building itself was also too small for such a quickly growing city. When automobiles became popular there was a push to develop a parking lot for patrons. The rations of WWII hit the library especially hard and delayed repairs quickly spiraled into permanent cracks and leaks. Many locations were proposed as new library sites but, in 1964, 69 percent of voters elected to build a 18,000-square-foot library on part of Old Mill Park. The building was designed by Donn Emmons of Wurster, Bernardi, and Emmons at a total cost of $493,000 (nearly $3.5 million today). On August 21, 1966, the new library at 375 Throckmorton Ave. opened with a grand dedication ceremony. By 1990 over 900 people used the library’s 120,000 volumes and services every day.
In 1992 the library again ran into storage and space issues, and, coupled with seismic upgrade concerns following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the decision was made to renovate. In 1998 the library added a two-story wing using a $4.6 million bond and nearly $500,000 in fundraising. Over the last decade the library has continued to serve the needs of its patrons. In 2009 the library installed self-check machines and moved the reference desk to a more visible location. In addition, Tripp Carpenter (son of Art Carpenter who created the original wood furniture in 1966) designed new display shelves for the Fiction Room and tables with customized lamps for the Reading Room. That same year, nearly 360,000 items were circulated, and nearly 150,000 people visited the website at MillValleyLibrary.org. In 2011 the library purchased eReaders and kick-started a brand new Adult Summer Reading Program. The last century has been exciting and turbulent, and the next 100 years look to be brighter than ever.
Archival Research, Text, and Design: Alexandria Brown
Design Assistance: Cate Drayitt, Sean Mooney