History of Pima County Public Library

For more than 100 years, Pima County Public Library has been here for people just like you.

Today, in our libraries, online, or out in the community, our dedicated staff and volunteers are here to help you find what you're looking for. Every day we're making our mission a reality by educating, connecting, and inspiring people.

Headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, the Library provides services across 9,200 square miles, including Tucson and the surrounding communities of Arivaca, Green Valley, Sahuarita, South Tucson, Ajo, Marana, Oro Valley, and Catalina.

The Library provides a wide range of free services that contribute to the economic development of Pima County.

Services

At the Library, people come first. We’re here for everyone in our community, offering services that support your creativity, individuality, and freedom of choice. Providing access to computers, learning tools, digital and print resources, entertainment, and a supportive, friendly staff are just some of the ways the Library powers possibilities and makes a difference in peoples' lives.

We help create a strong community by teaching reading skills, providing books, and sharing stories. With reading as the foundation of all education, we help prepare young children to start school. For older children and adults, we offer services to become better readers. Reading is a building block in every success, including home life, health, education, and employment, and we take our role in building a community of readers very seriously.

Anything is possible at the Library. Look to your Library as a place to explore, discover and learn new things. Students rely on us for quality information resources, homework help, or guidance pursuing higher education. Self-directed learners can take classes taught by qualified instructors or use online tools. Researchers can get assistance from knowledgeable librarians. Entrepreneurs embarking on new paths can get answers to business questions, while job seekers can boost their confidence and strengthen their resumes.  At the Library, everyone—regardless of age, background, or means—has the opportunity to keep learning and dream BIG.

Want to learn more? Visit our About Us page. Better yet, check out our calendar of events and join us in person!

History

Tucson’s first public library, originally called the Carnegie Free Library, was founded in 1883. The first library building was partially funded by Andrew Carnegie’s campaign to build public libraries 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. The site used constituted a portion of Military Plaza.

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 the Joel D. Valdez Main Library.

On January 7, 1957 the name of the Carnegie Free Library was 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.

In addition to our Main and neighborhood branches, we offer a Bookmobile, Books-By-Mail, deposit collections, and an ever-growing variety of services online.

Timeline

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

Examples: 

  • 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 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

Tucson after the Civil War: 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.
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.  
1954 Bookmobile service begins in April.  
1957 Name officially changed from "Carnegie Free Library" to "Tucson Public Library."

1961
  • 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.
  • Himmel Park Branch Library opens, June 25, 1961.
 
1963
  • Bookmobile service discontinued; two new book trailers placed in service (one remains by 1977)
 
1965
  • Wilmot Branch Library opens, September 21, 1965.
 
1966
  • Bookmobile services resume in November.

1968
  • Friends of the Tucson Public Library organize
  • Woods Branch Library opens, July 15, 1968.
1969
  • Valencia Branch Library opens, October 15, 1969.
 
1972
  • El Rio Branch Library opens, September 16, 1972.
  • Homebound service established
1973
  • Library Administration
  • Technical Services move from Main Library to City Hall Annex
 
1974
  • Library begins operation of Green Valley Library
  • Books by Mail service established
1975
  • Governmental Reference Library opens in City Hall
  • Valencia Branch Library expanded
  • El Pueblo Library opens, October 18, 1975
  • Tel-a-Tale telephone storytime service established
 
1976
  • Green Valley Library moves to County Government Center, December 20, 1976.
  • Friends of the Pima-Green Valley Library established
 
1977
  • South Tucson book trailer established in a permanent location
  • Geasa-Marana Library opens
  • Columbus Branch Library opens—Tucson Public Library's first library using new CLSI circulation/inventory control system, July 25, 1977

1978
  • Mission Branch Library opens, July 31, 1978.
 
1979
  • Nanini Branch Library opens, September 25, 1979.
  • County Jail Library established
1980
  • 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.
1982
  • Himmel Library expansion
  • Wilmot Branch Library expansion
 
1984
  • City of Tucson passes $15 million dollar bond election for new Main Library
 
1986
  • Sam Lena-South Tucson Library building opens
 
1989
  • Green Valley Library expanded, renamed Joyner-Green Valley Library
  • Nanini Branch Library expands
  • Dewhirst-Catalina Branch Library opens (late January or early February)
 
1990
  • 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
  • Arivaca opens new library in a trailer, until a permanent building can be constructed.
1991
  • Himmel Library major refurbishing through Lawrence Clark Powell campaign
  • Sam Lena-South Tucson Library expansion
  • Kirk-Bear Canyon Library opens, January 16, 1991
  • Dusenberry-River Library opens, January 23, 1991
1992
  • Main Library installs its first computer. 

1994
  • 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.
  • Arson fire at Sam Lena-South Tucson Library
 
1995
  • Tucson Public Library officially renamed Tucson-Pima Public Library
  • Marana Library expands
  • CLSI/Geac system discontinued. Begin operations on Innovative Interfaces, Inc.

1996
  • Ajo Library relocates across town plaza
  • Caviglia-Arivaca Branch Library opens in permanent building, November 16, 1996
  • Valencia Library relocates to begin major renovation

1997
  • 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
  • Ajo Branch Library renamed Salazar-Ajo Branch Library
  • 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.
  • Groundbreaking for Miller-Golf Links Library
 
1998
  • 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
 
1999
  • Miller-Golf Links Branch Library opens, April 13, 1999.
  • Salazar-Ajo Branch Library expands into adjacent storefront location.
  • 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
2000
  • 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
 
2001
  • Town of Oro Valley groundbreaking for an affiliate Library
  • South Tucson Library expansion
  • Joyner-Green Valley Library expansion
  • Juvenile Detention Center Library opens
 
2002
  • Nanini Library refurbished
  • Santa Rosa Learning Center Library opens, April 13, 2002.
  • Southwest Library opens, September 10, 2002.
  • Oro Valley Library opens as Tucson-Pima Public Library affiliate, August 17, 2002.
  • El Pueblo Library relocates in center to larger facility
  • Teen Resource Center opens at Main Library
2003
  • Self-check system installed at Main, Woods Nanini and Green Valley
  • Main Library renamed for Joel D. Valdez
  • Main Library plaza redesigned; Jacome Plaza dedication
 
2004
  • Miller-Golf Links Library expansion completed, re-opens to public.
  • 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
 
2005
  • Martha Cooper Library groundbreaking
  • Bear Canyon Library expansion completed; it went from 11,000 to 15,000 sq. ft.
  • Quincie Douglas Library opened (10,000 sq. ft.), September 24, 2005.
  • Abbett-Marana Library 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.

2006
  • 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.
2007
  • Renaming of Eckstrom-Columbus Library in honor of Dan Eckstrom
  • Wheeler Taft Abbett, Sr. Library groundbreaking in Marana
  • Flowing Wells Library groundbreaking
 
2008
  • Wheeler Taft Abbett Sr. Branch Library opened (20,000 sq. ft.), on June 7, 2008.
  • Opening of Flowing Wells Library (5,000 sq. ft.), on July 28, 2008.
  • Received a "Coming Up Taller" Award from the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities in recognition of our "Word Journeys" afterschool program.
2009
  • Sahuarita "Express" Library opened in a temporary trailer, until a permanent building can be constructed (2,000 sq. ft.), January 16, 2009.

2011
  • Murphy-Wilmot Library re-opens, renovated and expanded to 20,000 sq. ft.
  • First MegaMainia!! con held at Murphy-Wilmot Library, as an evening of anime and manga geekery for teens.
2012
  • 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).

2013
  • Eckstrom-Columbus Branch Library re-opens, renovated and expanded to 15,000 sq. ft.
  • 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.
2014
  • 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.
2015
  • 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.
2016
  • Opening of 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
  • 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.

2017
  • Geasa-Marana Library permanently closed, January 27, 2017.
  • Amber Matthewson appointed Director, March 16, 2017.

2018

2019 See announcements in our Newsroom  

Library Directors

Year Director
1887-1896
  • Nellie Pomeroy, Librarian
1896-1918
  • Jennie H. Batte, Librarian
1918-1946
  • Mary D. Breathitt, Librarian
1946-1962
  • Gertrude E. Burt, Head Librarian
1962-1968
  • John F. Anderson, Library Director
1968-1972
  • Frank Van Zanten, Library Director
1973
  • Elizabeth Ohm, Acting Director
1973-1982
  • John F. Anderson, Library Director
1982-1991
  • Marcia King, Library Director
1991-1996
  • Liz R. Miller, Library Director
1997-2003
  • Agnes M. Griffen, Library Director
2003-2005
  • Betsy Stunz-Hall, Interim Director
2005-2012
  • Nancy Ledeboer, Library Director
2012-2016
  • Melinda Cervantes, Library Director
2017-
  • Amber Mathewson, Library Director

Sources

  • 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.