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Library History

Central Library

Miss Sara Plummer established the City's first library on State Street in 1870. When Miss Plummer married and left the city, the library was sold to the Odd Fellows and moved to their lodge at State and Haley Streets. The library became public and free when the Odd Fellows donated their collection of about 2,000 volumes to the City after the enactment of the California Municipal Library Law by the State Legislature in 1880.

As both the library and the city of Santa Barbara continued to grow, the library moved several times over the following decades. In 1892, a new building was constructed at 14 East Carrillo Street (pictured above).

Mrs. Frances Burns Linn served as the Library Directory for the Santa Barbara Public Library from 1906 - 1943. Mrs. Linn oversaw the Santa Barbara Public Library during a rapid period of growth for the city. It was apparent by 1914 that the library needed a larger building to continue to serve the Santa Barbara community. 

With the aid of a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, the City broke ground on a new library at Anapamu and Anacapa Streets in July 1916. The building was designed by Pittsburgh architect Henry Hornbostel, with revised plans by local architect Francis Wilson. The land at Anacapa and Anapamu had been purchased from the sale of the former building at Carrillo Street. The library opened to the public the following year.

On June 29, 1925, the library sustained major damage in an earthquake. The Library's west wall collapsed, as did a portion of the east wall. Fortunately the structure was deemed salvage and reconstruction efforts were set underway. While reconstruction took place the library was offered free space at the Knapps' property on Sola and Chapala Streets. Mrs. Linn was encouraged by the community's continued use of the temporary space. After a reconstruction project led by architect Carleton Winslow, it reopened in the fall of 1926.

The Faulkner Gallery, designed by architect Myron Hunt and built with the assistance of funds donated by Mary Faulkner Gould, was completed in 1930. It was Mrs. Gould's desire that a wing be added "to the present Free Public Library, suitable for the housing of books and other printed material related to art paintings, pictures, prints, and other forms of art, and the exhibition of the same."(1) It was named in the memory of her sisters, the Misses Emily, Abby, and Ann Faulkner. 

Through the early 20th century the Santa Barbara Public Library not only served the community of Santa Barbara, but the State of California. In 1909 Santa Barbara county was the first to organize a county library system under the newly-enacted California County Free Library Law. The Library had been serving remote communities, construction camps (like at Gibraltar Dam), and oil leases by service of traveling libraries. Having a county library system in place allowed for libraries to exist continually in communities. The first stations in Santa Barbara County were located in: Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito, Goleta, Naples, Santa Ynez, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Lompoc, Betteravia, Orcutt, Pinal, and Santa Maria.

Mrs. Frances Burns Linn was the impetus for this movement - having designed and distributed the "Under the Orange Signs" that designated library services were available in communities throughout the state of California. She served in 1910 as Vice-President of the California Library Association.

In 2017, the Central Library celebrated its Centennial. View information about the programming.


(1) Korngold Nesselrod, Piri. Biography of a Library. Santa Barbara, P. Korngold Nesselrod, 1990. Print. 

Brief Timeline of the History of the Santa Barbara Public Library System

1882 - Santa Barbara Free Public Library established.

1892 - First Santa Barbara Public Library opens at 14 E. Carrillo St.; designed by Peter J. Barber.

1906 - Frances Burns Linn begins as Librarian at the Santa Barbara Public Library.

1908 - Under Linn’s direction, the remodel/expansion of the library on 14 E. Carrillo is received by the community with enthusiastic praise.

1910 - Linn establishes California’s first County Branch Library System.

1914 - Santa Barbara receives $50,000 Carnegie Grant for new Central Library on the corner of Anacapa & Anapamu.

1915 - After traveling east to visit libraries and study trends in library design, Linn works with architect Francis Wilson to modify preliminary sketches by architect Henry Hornbostel of Pittsburg.

1916 - September 25, Central Library ground-breaking ceremony.

1917 - August 27, Central Library opens its doors to the public.

1924 - Wood-carved tympanum installed over Main Entrance; designed by Carleton Winslow.

1925 - June 29, Santa Barbara Earthquake.

1925 - August 3, under the leadership of Frances Linn, staff moved some 20,000 books (in classified order) to temporary library. 

1926 - September, Library re-opens after earthquake renovations. 

1930 - October 15, Faulkner Gallery opens; designed by Myron Hunt with the assistance of Frances Linn and Library Trustee Charles A. Edwards; land donated by Clarence Black; Gallery funded by Mary Faulkner Gould.

1943 - Frances Linn retires; Frances Burns Linn Children’s Room established in her honor.

1943 & 1958 - Interior renovations and building upgrades.

1980 - Major building remodel; designed by Jerry Zimmer.

2012 - Central Library Designated Historic Landmark.

2015 - New Children's Library opens.

Library Board

In 1882, the City Council established, by ordinance, the first Board of Trustees for the Library. When the 1967 City Charter was adopted, the duties of the Board were expanded and its name was changed to the Library Board.

Last Updated: Sep 24, 2021
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