History of Pima County Public Library

The history of public libraries in Tucson and Pima County

Tucson’s first public library was founded in 1883 (see timeline below) and opened to the public in 1886 on the 2nd floor of Tucson's City Hall. This very early library was referred to as "Library Hall."

The first true library building in Tucson was partially funded by Andrew Carnegie as a part of his campaign to build public libraries across America in the late 19th century. Carnegie committed to paying up to $25,000 to build a new library on the condition that the City of Tucson supplied a building site and provided $2,000 per year to maintain the library. The Tucson Common Council made good on this deal by passing Resolution Number 20. This resolution earmarked $2,000 per year for library maintenance and designated a site for the library, a portion of "Military Plaza" now called Armory Park.

Architect Henry  Charles Trost was hired to build the new library, which was completed in June of 1901. The Carnegie Free Library, administered by the city of Tucson, was located at 200 South 6th Avenue (current home of the Tucson's Children Museum). Initially, the library did not include a children’s room. This area was added after funds were raised in 1924. The library began with 2,000 volumes in 1891 but had grown to over 60,000 in 1942.

A new 90,000 square foot facility opened downtown in May 1990. Today, this building is referred to as the Joel D. Valdez Main Library.

Name changes: On January 7, 1957, the name of the Carnegie Free Library was oficially changed to Tucson Public Library by the Tucson City Council. This name was changed to the Tucson-Pima Public Library in 1990 when Pima County became more involved in the library’s operations. When Pima County took administrative control of the library system in 2006, we became Pima County Public Library.

Were there other libraries before 1883? 

Early libraries existed in Arizona Territory but most were not freely available to all.      

  • Samuel Colt (mine owner and pistol maker) created a "reading room" for workers at the Cerro Colorado Mine (today near Arivaca) so they could further their education. Source
  • Women's organizations and military encampments often had subscription libraries that one could pay to join. Source 
  • Arizona's first free and public library was in Bisbee. The Copper Queen Library, 400 books shelved at the Copper Queen Mercantile Store, opened in 1882. Source

What was Tucson like? The historical context for our first public library Source 

  • 1868: Tucson's first school district created.
  • 1871: Tucson first incorporated as a Village.
  • 1872: Tucson's first Elementary School opened.
  • The railroad arrived in Tucson on March 20, 1880. The population? 7,007 people.
  • 1880-1883: Tucson's first Fire Department, telephones, water company, gaslights, and hospital.
  • 1887: construction begins on the University of Arizona's first building, Old Main.
  • There was still no sewer system! People used outhouses and cesspools.

Timeline of the Tucson & Pima County public libraries​​

Year Event  
1878 “Tucson is a town of about 6,000 souls. It has churches and good schools … and ought to have a choice library.” --Arizona Citizen, September 21, 1878. Source  
1883 "Library Hall," Tucson's first municipal public library approved on June 5 by Tucson Common Council, and 2nd floor of Tucson City Hall set aside for its sole use. The building was completed in August, but as no city money had been appropriated several years were spent fundraising.                                     

The 1883 City Hall was located on the northeast corner of Court and Library, north of the 1881 Pima County Courthouse. Source


1886 Tucson's "Library Hall" opens to the public July 6, on 2nd floor of City Hall, with 800 books and "nearly all of the leading magazines." Source

1897 The Tucson library's collection has increased to 3,000 volumes and is open 6 hours a day for much of the year. Plus, electricity! Source
1899 Andrew Carnegie pledges $25,000 to City of Tucson to build library if the city will provide the land and fund its upkeep, which it did on November 23, 1899 (Tucson Common Council Resolution No. 20). Source  
1901 Tucson's new Carnegie Free Library opens to the public at 200 S 6th Ave. as a part of Military Plaza (now Armory Park). The building was completed in late June and opened to the public on Monday, July 29, 1901. Source: Henry C. Trost Historical Organization 
1920 Freeman Memorial Bench placed in front of Main Library. It was designed by San Francisco architect Bernard Maybeck and sculpted by Benjamino Bufano, and was Tucson's first piece of public art. The inscription reads: "To the memory of those pioneers of Arizona who have given their lives that we may live in peace and unafraid in this sunkist borderland."
1938 Main Library was expanded with money from the federal Public Works Administration. Architect Richard A. Morse replaced the rounded back end of the library (facing Scott  Avenue) with a rectangular structure that allowed 3 levels of book stacks.   
1941 Fire destroys rotunda and dome over the central portion of Main Library.  
1945 Contract with Pima County for provision of county library services established  
1946 Ajo Branch Library opens in Ajo, Arizona, the first Pima County library outside of Tucson. - See Salazar-Ajo Library History  
1954 Bookmobile service begins in April.  
1957 Name officially changed from "Carnegie Free Library" to "Tucson Public Library."

  • Major additions added to Main Library. Architect Arthur T. Brown added a garden wall and removed the remaining 1901 decorative elements from the pediment and roofline. - See Joel D. Valdez Main Library History
  • Himmel Park Branch Library opens, June 25, 1961.
  • A group of Green Valley residents begins limited library operations - See Joyner-Green Valley Library History
  • Bookmobile service discontinued; two new book trailers placed in service (one remains by 1977)

  • Bookmobile services resume in November.

  • Technical Services move from Main Library to City Hall Annex
  • Governmental Reference Library opens in City Hall
  • Valencia Branch Library expanded
  • Frank De La Cruz-El Pueblo Library opens, October 18, 1975 - See Frank De La Cruz-El Pueblo Library History
  • Tel-a-Tale telephone storytime service established

  • Main Library Annex opened in Scottish Rite Temple
  • Infoline phone reference service established so customers could call their reference questions in, and not always have to visit in person.
  • City of Tucson passes $15 million dollar bond election for new Main Library
  • Name of the growing library system changed to "Tucson-Pima Public Library" when Pima County agreed to fund 50% of the operational and maintenance costs.
  • New Main Library building at 101 N. Stone opens in May, consolidating Library Administration, Technical Services, Periodicals, and Government Reference - See Joel D. Valdez Main Library History
  • Arivaca opens new library in a trailer, until a permanent building can be constructed - See Caviglia-Arivaca Library History
  • Green Valley Library renamed to Joyner-Green Valley Library in honor of Conrad Joyner - See Joyner-Green Valley Library History
  • Main Library installs its first computer. This was the headline: "Library set to move into the future - Patrons will soon be able to download computer info." (Arizona Daily Star, by Doug Kreutz). You notice there's no mention of the internet! This computer was for business research downloads only, and cost $5,000 (donated by U.S. West).Pictured: John D'Andrea from the City of Tucson Office of Economic Development is at the keyboard.

  • City Bond Election includes $5.5 million for renovations at the Woods and Valencia Libraries, and a new Miller-Golf Links Library.
  • County Jail Library expands
  • Dewhirst-Catalina Library relocates to current location; dedication July 6, 1994. - See Dewhirst-Catalina Library History
  • Arson fire at Sam Lena-South Tucson Library
  • Tucson Public Library officially renamed Tucson-Pima Public Library
  • Marana Library expands - See Geasa-Marana Library History
  • CLSI/Geac system discontinued. Begin operations on Innovative Interfaces, Inc.


  • The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Services Committee established to better serve southern Arizona's LGBT library users. Less than two months after it was created, the Committee's proposal in favor of Domestic Partner Benefits was passed 6-0 by the Tucson City Council.
  • Woods Library relocates to begin major renovation - See Woods Memorial Library History
  • Ajo Branch Library renamed Salazar-Ajo Branch Library - See Salazar-Ajo Library History
  • Friends of the Arivaca Library established
  • Pima County Bond Election includes $5,250,000 for Amphitheater School District/ Library joint-use school-public library (later used for the Oro Valley Library—an affiliate), a mid-town Tucson library, library facilities at the Kino Community Center, and expansion and improvements at South Tucson and Marana.
  • El Rio Library relocated in slightly larger quarters in Neighborhood Center renovation. - See El Rio Library History
  • Groundbreaking for Miller-Golf Links Library
  • Friends of the Kirk-Bear Canyon Library established
  • Tucson-Pima Library Foundation established
  • Valencia and Woods leave temporary quarters, re-open in newly renovated facilities
  • Miller-Golf Links Branch Library opens, April 13, 1999. - See Miller-Golf Links Library History
  • Salazar-Ajo Branch Library expands into adjacent storefront location. - See Salazar-Ajo Library History
  • Complications with Amphi School site leads Pima County Board of Supervisors to relocate the planned northwest library to the Town Oro Valley municipal center site
  • City Bond election approved and includes $5.5 million for library projects: expansion of Miller-Golf Links to 15,000 SF; 10,000 SF full-service library at Quincie Douglas Center; 7,000 SF library and learning center at midtown location.
  • Groundbreaking for Santa Rosa Learning Center Library - See Santa Rosa Library History
  • Self-check system installed at Main, Woods Nanini and Green Valley
  • Main Library renamed for former City Manager Joel D. ValdezSee Joel D. Valdez Main Library History
  • Main Library plaza redesigned; Jacome Plaza dedication
  • Miller-Golf Links Library expansion completed, re-opens to public. - See Miller-Golf Links Library History
  • City approved renaming Midtown to the Martha Cooper Branch Library and Learning Center
  • Self-check system installed at Columbus, Golf Links, River, Valencia, and Bear Canyon branches. Installed computer self-management software, pay printing software and filter choice software for public access
  • Quincie Douglas Library groundbreaking
  • Bear Canyon Library expansion groundbreaking
  • Martha Cooper Library groundbreaking
  • Bear Canyon Library expansion completed; it went from 11,000 to 15,000 sq. ft. - See Kirk-Bear Canyon Library History
  • Quincie Douglas Library opened (10,000 sq. ft.), September 24, 2005. - See Quincie Douglas Library History
  • Wheeler Taft Abbett, Sr. Library construction planning
  • Flowing Wells Library planning
  • Virtual Library established, to encompass our website, digital downloads, electronic research tools, and social media.
  • Online Homework Help becomes available in English and Spanish, until 11:00pm.

  • Tucson-Pima Public Library kids' website earns Best Local Website for Kids in the Tucson Weekly's "Best of Tucson 2006"
  • July 1: Pima County takes full control of the Tucson-Pima Public Library, and the library system is renamed Pima County Public Library.
  • Wilmot Branch 40th Anniversary celebration along with the renaming to the Lewis C. Murphy Memorial Wilmot Branch
  • Martha Cooper Library opens to the public, November 25, 2006. - See Martha Cooper Library History
  • Renaming of Eckstrom-Columbus Library in honor of Pima County Supervisor Dan Eckstrom - See Eckstrom-Columbus Library History
  • Wheeler Taft Abbett, Sr. Library groundbreaking in Marana
  • Flowing Wells Library groundbreaking
  • Wheeler Taft Abbett Sr. Branch Library opened (20,000 sq. ft.), on June 7, 2008. - See Wheeler Taft Abbett Sr. Library History
  • Opening of Flowing Wells Library (5,000 sq. ft.), on July 28, 2008. - See Flowing Wells Library History
  • Received a "Coming Up Taller" Award from the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities in recognition of our "Word Journeys" afterschool program.

  • Sahuarita "Express" Library opened in a temporary modular building, until a permanent building can be constructed (2,000 sq. ft.), January 16, 2009. - See Sahuarita Library History

  • Murphy-Wilmot Library re-opens, renovated and expanded to 20,000 sq. ft. - See Murphy-Wilmot Library History
  • First MegaMainia!! con held at Murphy-Wilmot Library, as an evening of anime and manga geekery for teens.
  • Grand opening of the Seed Library
  • Library gets its first Bookbike, housed at Joel D. Valdez Main Library
  • Oro Valley Library joins PCPL as a branch (previously only affiliated)
  • Implementation of the award-winning Library Nurse Program
  • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded a $100,000 planning grant to design a new youth media space (later, became the 101 Space).

  • Eckstrom-Columbus Library re-opens, renovated and expanded to 15,000 sq. ft. - See Eckstrom-Columbus Library History
  • Library Nurse Program nationally recognized as a 2013 Top Innovator by the Urban Libraries Council
  • Library rebranding; logo changed to coordinate with new Pima County logo colors.
  • Pima County Public Library named National Medal for Museum and Library Service Finalist
  • Opening of Idea+Space at Joel D. Valdez Main Library which offers workshops for small businesses, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs
  • Library Nurse Program receives the 2014 American Public Health Association's Lillian Wald Service Award.
  • New Library website launched
  • Refresh of Mission Library, including expansion of the computer lab and addition of two study rooms
  • Seed Library hosts first International Seed Library Forum
  • Culture Pass, a partnership between the Library and the nonprofit organization Act One, debuts at eight libraries, making meaningful arts experiences accessible to all.
  • Two additional Bookbikes begin serving the communities surrounding Eckstrom-Columbus Library and Santa Rosa Library
  • 5th Annual MegaMania!! event is held at Pima Community College Downtown Campus. Free and open to the public, this family-friendly celebration of all things comics, anime, cosplay, and art has gained popularity since the inaugural event in 2011.
  • Opening of the first 101Space at Joel D. Valdez Main Library, a dedicated environment for teens based on the principles of Connected Learning
  • Janni Lee Simner and Adrienne Celt serve as Library's first Writers-in-Residence, a program sponsored by the Arizona State Library, a division of the Secretary of State, with federal funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
  • Refresh of Miller-Golf Links Library, including new carpet, a new service desk, new upholstery, and an expansion of public computers - See Miller-Golf Links Library History
  • Refresh of Martha Cooper Library, including a new service desk and book drop
  • Arizona Daily Star readers choose the Library as Best Adult Education Enrichment Classes (Favorite) and Best Arts/Cultural Education Programs (Winner) in the annual Readers' Choice Awards.


  • April 13: Noam Chomsky gives free lecture at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. (Source: PCPL press release)
  • August 27: Children’s Room at Joel D. Valdez Main Library remodeled to add an early literacy center and a tween space. (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
  • December 6: Sam Lena-South Tucson Library opens December 6, after extensive renovations. (Source: PCPL press release) - See Sam Lena- South Tucson Library History
  • December 10: Flowing Wells Library reopens after remodeling that tripled its size. (Source: PCPL press release) - See Flowing Wells Library History
  • Begins offering Kanopy, a video streaming service providing access to 30,000 movies
  • Himmel Park Library receives ADA compliant restroom
  • Murphy-Wilmot Library, Eckstrom-Columbus Library, Wheeler Taft Abbett, Sr. Library, and Martha Cooper Library selected by Pima County Office of Sustainability and Conservation to incorporate solar panels in parking lots.

  • January 24: Construction of the Esmond Station Library begins (Source: PCPL website)
  • June 26: "Library Night Out" a partnership with AZPM begins movie/cultural nights at Old Pascua. (Source: PCPL press release)
  • August 3: Harry and the Potters played at the Flowing Wells Library for their 2019 Summer Tour (Photos: Flickr)
  • Ready, Set, School! program launches to prepare 4-5 yr olds and their families for school (Source: PCPL website)
  • Kindred Team begins One Book, One Community program (Source: PCPL website)
  • Quincie Douglas Library and Woods Memorial Library interiors remodeled
  • March 17: COVID precautions force closure of all library buildings and limit us to virtual (online) services only.
  • May: Construction starts on new Sahuarita Library (Source: PCPL website)
  • May 18: Libraries re-open with limited hours for outside, contactless services like curbside pickup of books. 
  • July 1: Fine free! we stopped charging for overdue materials, cleared all previous fines, and enabled "auto-renew" on all checked-out materials. (Source: PCPL press release
  • September 14:  Frank De La Cruz Collection opens (Source: PCPL website)
  • October 23: Mission Library renamed for Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías. The full name is now the Richard Elías-Mission Library. (Source: PCPL press release) - See Richard Elías-Mission Library History
  • November 16: Library buildings reopen to the public, though occupancy and hours are limited due to the continuing pandemic. 
  • December 21: a surge in COVID infections once again closed library buildings and sent staff home.

  • January 11: Libraries reopen after December pandemic closure.
  • February 16:  W. Anne Gibson-Esmond Station Library opens in Vail, AZ. - See W. Anne Gibson-Esmond Station Library History
  • March 16: El Pueblo Library renamed Frank De La Cruz-El Pueblo Library in honor of its first librarian. - See Frank De La Cruz-El Pueblo Library History
  • April 19: Muralist Joe Pagac paints huge mural at Kirk-Bear Canyon Library.
  • May 13: Summer Learning launches with an event featuring author and meditation guide Rebekah Borucki.
  • June 1: Marge Pellegrino serves as the Library's 12th Writer in Residence.
  • July 8: Community members begin enjoying Storyline, an over-the-phone storytelling service.
  • September 7: The new Sahuarita Library at 670 W. Sahuarita Road opens to the public. - See Sahuarita Library History
  • October 16: Award-winning author Lydia R. Otero headlines the annual LGBTQ+ Services Committee Author Talk

See announcements in our Newsroom for more

Library Directors

Year Director
  • Nellie Pomeroy, Librarian
  • Jennie H. Batte, Librarian
  • Mary D. Breathitt, Librarian
  • Gertrude E. Burt, Head Librarian
  • John F. Anderson, Library Director
  • Frank Van Zanten, Library Director
  • Elizabeth Ohm, Acting Director
  • John F. Anderson, Library Director
  • Marcia King, Library Director
  • Liz R. Miller, Library Director
  • Agnes M. Griffen, Library Director
  • Betsy Stunz-Hall, Interim Director
  • Nancy Ledeboer, Library Director
  • Melinda Cervantes, Library Director
  • Amber Mathewson, Library Director


  • Library staff files and documents.
  • "Chronology of Library". Pima County Public Library Administration, 2008.
  • "City library director plans to resign, cites burnout." Arizona Daily Star. June 19, 1991
  • "Councilmen rechristen the library." Arizona Daily Star. January 8, 1957. Page B1 and Staff notes.
  • "County settle two lawsuits, buys flood-damaged home." Arizona Daily Star. November 15, 2006.