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OCPL Timeline

1921 Library
Where We've Been

1921 - 2021

Through its first 100 years, OC Public Libraries has seen many milestones highlighting the library’s commitment to Orange County residents. On August 1, 1921, County Librarian Margaret Livingston began administering the “Orange County Free Library” from a rented room at 508 N. Main Street in Santa Ana. By the end of that year, eight of the system’s “pioneer branches” (branches still operating today) were established in Brea, Costa Mesa (then called Harper-Fairview), Garden Grove, Laguna Beach, La Habra, Seal Beach, San Juan Capistrano, and Westminster. 

After its first year of operation, the library loaned 10,463 volumes to 4,609 borrowers. Circulation rose to 4,300,000 items in the library’s 50th year of operation.  At 100 years, OC Public Libraries, (renamed in 2008), runs 33 branches and has customized its services to engage and meet the diverse needs of its communities with an extensive bank of quality electronic resources, a variety of programs lead by community experts and partnerships bringing relevant services to families and individuals visiting our libraries.  Enjoy this virtual timeline that takes you on our journey over the last 100 years as we look toward the future. 


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JULY 5, 1921

First County Librarian, Margaret Livingston (1921-1933), is appointed. *


AUGUST 1, 1921

Orange County Free Library begins operating with a staff of three (Margaret Livingston & two assistants, Arline Davis and Frances Stockebrand), headquartered at 508 N. Main Street in Santa Ana in a rented room shared with the County Farm Advisor.


AUGUST 19, 1921

San Juan Capistrano Branch (“SJC Union High School Branch”) is established and begins operating in September out of the community’s new high school building. First Librarian: M.M. Parker. Though housed in a school, SJC is considered a “community branch” as it has its own reading room and a separate entrance for community members. In 1937, the library relocates to an adobe building in the downtown area, then moves again in 1940. In 1953, SJC Library relocates to the Old Justice Court Adobe, then to Adobe Shopping Center in 1965. The library’s current building, designed by renowned architect Michael Graves, opens in 1983.


AUGUST 29, 1921

Westminster Branch is established, operating from a schoolhouse with a collection of 180 books. First Librarian: Louise Turpin. The library later moves to Odd Fellows Hall, then relocates to Sigler Park in 1929. In 1963, Westminster absorbs the Barber City Branch and moves to a storefront in the Westminster Shopping Center. In 1977, it absorbs the Bolsa Branch and opens in a new building at the branch’s current location.


SEPTEMBER 19, 1921

Harper-Fairview (Costa Mesa) Branch is established along with library service to the Harper-Fairview School District. The City of Costa Mesa is incorporated in 1923 and the Harper-Fairview branch is replaced by the Costa Mesa Branch in a new location.


OCTOBER 11, 1921

Brea Branch is established in a rented show room. First Librarian: Anna McVeigh. The library moves to city hall in 1929, then to its own building in 1953. It relocates to Brea Shopping Center in 1962, then to the city’s Civic/Cultural Center on September 25, 1981.

Seal Beach Branch opens in Citizens National Bank. First Librarian: Sarah Dyson. Relocates to temporary quarters in 1929, then to city hall in 1930. Moves to a new location across from city hall in 1962, then into a new building in 1978.


OCTOBER 25, 1921

Garden Grove Branch opens in the YMCA building. First Librarian: Pearl Haskins. Moves to larger quarters in the Chamber of Commerce building in 1933, then relocates again in 1952. Current building opens in November 1969 as the system’s first Regional Branch. Today, the Garden Grove Main Library is a Federal and State Government Publications Depository, housing the library system’s government documents collection.

Laguna Beach Branch opens. First Librarian: Lucie V. Boyle. The community holds a large party and charges one book per person for admission. New building is constructed in 1954. Current building opens in 1972 with expansion space added in 1981.


NOVEMBER 8, 1921

La Habra Branch opens. First Librarian: Mrs. Frederick B. Drake. Relocates in 1929 and again in 1937. A new facility is built in 1966. New library opens in 1983 with twice the space.


JUNE 1922

After one year of operation: The Orange County Free Library provides library services from 38 community distribution points established throughout Orange County: 19 schools and 19 community service “branches” (which include full library branches plus institutional service points and smaller “stations” in stores, rooms, or other locations).

Collection: 10,463 volumes.

Registered Borrowers: 4,609.


DECEMBER 18, 1922

Hewes Park Branch opens. Closes February 1, 1935.


JULY 1923

Costa Mesa Branch opens. First Librarian: Sarah Conant (hired the following year). The library relocates to larger building in November 1951. A new building is constructed in 1960. To accommodate a population explosion, another new building (named for Judge Donald Dungan) is completed in July 1987. Costa Mesa Library’s current building opens May 24, 2019.



Library Admin HQ relocates to the basement of the Hall of Records, Room 112.



Card catalogs are installed in Orange County Free Library branches.



First numbered library cards are issued to the public.



Atwood and Diamond Branches are established. Atwood closes April 28, 1929 after the building is destroyed in a fire. Diamond closes in late 1930-early 1931.


MAY 22, 1928

San Clemente Branch opens in the butler’s pantry of a community club house. First Librarian: Loral H. Caskey. Moves to larger quarters in 1940, then to a new building in May 1951. Relocates again in October 1956. Present location opens June 7, 1982.




Shady Brook (Silverado) Branch opens in a log cabin operating as post office and library. First Librarian: Elsie McClelland. Is renamed “Silverado Branch” in 1934-35.  In 1946, Elsie retires and is given the cabin as a retirement home. The library moves to an old barber shop building, then moves again to a new building in Silverado Shopping Center on July 30, 1964. This location features the first air conditioning unit in Silverado. In 2017, the Silverado Branch closes and is rededicated as Library of the Canyons located in a former school on Santiago Canyon Road.



Library Administration HQ moves to Court House Annex, Room 148.

Tustin Branch opens. First Librarian: Hazel Gowdy. Relocates to First National Bank Building after the 1933 earthquake, then moves again in 1939 to a store building on Main Street. Moves to a temporary location in 1949, then to a new City Hall building in 1950. Moves to larger quarters in July 1958 and expands in 1963. New building on July 16, 1976. Current location opens August 19, 2009



New County Librarian: Dorothy Wents Iams (1933-1938).


JANUARY 16, 1933

El Modena branch opens in the Roosevelt School Building. Transfers to a nearby building in 1950, enlisting the school children to carry armloads of books from the old building to the new building where they were placed directly on the new shelves in order. Closes August 31, 1963.


JULY 7, 1933

Trabuco Oaks Branch opens in a corner of the local grocery store/post office. First Librarian: Ethel Glenn. Relocates in 1949. Is later known simply as the Trabuco Branch. Closes 1969-70.


JANUARY 18, 1935

Olive Branch is established in the Boy Scout headquarters in the “old section house” at Olive with a collection of 500 books. Closes 1962-63.


FEBRUARY 1, 1935      

Los Alamitos Branch opens in Laurel School. First Librarian: Grace Green. Relocates in February 1941. Moves to Rossmoor shopping center location in 1962 and is renamed Los Alamitos-Rossmoor Branch. Current building opens in August 1978.



Midway City Branch opens in the rear half of a real estate office on Bolsa Avenue, serving residents of Westminster, Midway City, and Barber City. First Librarian: Anna Van Steenberg. Relocates in 1964 and is renamed the Bolsa Branch. Is absorbed by Westminster Branch in 1977.



Wintersburg Branch becomes Ocean View after moving to Huntington Beach Blvd. opposite the Ocean View School. Establishes a memorial bookshelf honoring service men in November 1945. Closes June 30, 1959, later becoming part of the Huntington Beach system.



Cypress Branch (run by the local community since 1933) joins Orange County Free Library and opens in a former bank building. First Librarian: Clara King. Relocates in 1953 after earthquake damage. New building is constructed in 1965 on Moody Street. Present branch opens in 1976. 



New County Librarian: Carma Russell Zimmerman (1938-1942).


OCTOBER 1, 1938      

Dana Point Branch opens in a local post office. First Librarian: Laura Louise Russell. Moves to Herbert Caldwell Building in 1950. Relocates to a small store building on La Plaza in 1957. Current location opens July 6, 1977 and its name is changed to the Dana Niguel Branch through 1998, when the name reverts back to the original.

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APRIL 1, 1940

Stanton Branch opens. First Librarian: Geraldine Kahl. Relocates to shopping center location in 1956, then to Civic Center in 1974.



New County Librarian: Margaret Cotant Morrison (1942-1968).        



Library collects over 1,000 books to be distributed to military personnel for the “Send Your Books to War” campaign organized by the California Library Association.



Library Admin HQ moves to 1104B West 8th St., Santa Ana.



Santa Ana Gardens Branch opens. Closes Jun 30, 1959.




First Friends of the Library group forms in Laguna Beach.


JULY 1, 1958

Villa Park Branch opens in Villa Park Elementary School. First Librarian: Jean Thompson. Moves to new facilities in City Hall and reopens June 1, 1972.


JULY 15, 1958

South Laguna Branch opens, the second branch in that community due to population growth in the area. First Librarian: Virginia Narbel. Branch closes July, 1979. A public wake (including eulogies) was held at Laguna Beach branch.



Bookmobile service is established (later called “Extension Service”). First Librarian: Martine Hornburg. An additional bookmobile is added in 1962. In 1968, routes have 34 stops over an area ranging from Brea to San Clemente and Sunset Beach to Modjeska Canyon. Stops vary from 30 minutes to 3 hours. 1968 bookmobile circulation is 14,000 books per month. The last bookmobile is taken out of service in 1982.




Library Admin HQ moves to 12392 Placentia Ave., Orange.



Library Admin HQ moves to 431 South Manchester, Orange.



Leisure World (Seal Beach) Branch opens in the Leisure World Medical Building. First Librarian: Vera Christensen. Moves to Leisure World Shopping Center in 1965, and to a new building in 1973. Leaves OCPL in 1995 after privatizing and purchasing collection.


MAY 1963

Westminster Branch absorbs Barber City Branch.


JULY 9, 1963

Garden Grove Branch is designated a Federal Depository for government documents.



Library School Dept. closes (libraries which operated inside of schools before school funding allowed establishment of their own libraries).

Midway City Branch becomes Bolsa Branch at new site. Later merges into the Westminster Branch in 1977.


JANUARY 14, 1964

West Garden Grove Branch opens in response to high local book mobile demand. First Librarian: Myrna Donohue. Is renamed Garden Grove Tibor Rubin Branch in 2015.

Garden Grove Chapman Branch opens in response to high local book mobile demand. First Librarian: Harriet Scheldrup. Later, Librarian Dorothy Wood develops sheet music collection (eventually transferred to Cypress). Manages a “picture collection” of mounted pictures for use by artists, teachers, & children who want to know “what it looks like.”



First history publication, Orange County Free Library 1921-1965.

Collection: 405,000 volumes.

Circulation: 2,804,000.


JANUARY 23, 1965

Fountain Valley Branch opens. First Librarian: Dorise Jesko. Closes and reopens in 1991 in a new building and new location behind City Hall. The building is designed to represent a seahorse from above.


NOVEMBER 1, 1965

Mesa Verde Branch opens in Costa Mesa. First Librarian: Esther Burch.



Orange County Free Library is renamed “Orange County Public Library” by Board of Supervisors.



New County Librarian: Harry M. Rowe, Jr. (1968-1978).


OCTOBER 4, 1969

La Palma Branch opens. First Librarian: Lionel Ascher.



Garden Grove Branch expands with new building and becomes first Regional Branch.




Third bookmobile goes into service, holding 5,000 books.



Card catalogs are replaced by computer-generated system-wide book catalogs (with inventory locator guide). Printed volumes are dispatched to each branch, enabling patrons to see what is available at other system branches. As the collection grows through the decade to over 1 million volumes and the printed catalog becomes overly cumbersome, a microfilm catalog replaces the print version. In 1988, the first electronic catalog is introduced on compact disc.

Young Adult Coordinator position is established and Young Adult (YA) collections, spaces, and programs are developed throughout the library system.


FEBRUARY 22, 1971

Mission Viejo Branch opens as the system’s second Regional Branch. First Librarian: Lucille Martel. Becomes part of the City of Mission Viejo in 1995.


JUNE 1972

After 50 years of operation: 25 branches: Bolsa, Brea, Chapman, Costa Mesa, Cypress, Dana Point, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Laguna Beach, La Habra, La Palma, Leisure World (Seal Beach), Los Alamitos Rossmoor, Mesa Verde, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Seal Beach, Silverado, South Laguna, Stanton, Tustin, Villa Park, West Garden Grove, & Westminster, plus several institutional service points and 34 bookmobile stops.

Circulation: 4,328,650 items.


NOVEMBER 3, 1972

Seal Beach Branch adopts the name “Mary Wilson Branch” to honor the memory of longtime librarian Mary B. Wilson, who served as librarian from 1943 until her death in 1973.


JULY 1974

Dial-A-Story program begins. Members of the public can hear a pre-recorded children’s story by dialing a toll-free telephone number. In October 1975, additional lines are added, half providing stories in English and half in Spanish. As of 1987, the program generates nearly 1,000 calls per day, 30,000-35,000 per month. Originally recorded by Librarians, as of 1981 the stories are recorded by Cal State Fullerton students in an on-campus recording studio until the program is discontinued in the early 1990s.


OCTOBER 20, 1975

University Park Library opens in Irvine. First Librarian: Bette Ewan.


JULY 6, 1977

Current Dana Point library building opens, and the branch is renamed Dana Niguel. It reverts to its original name in 1998. “Special” collection items include a VCR monitor, manual typewriters, and Apple computers for public use.



Westminster Branch absorbs Bolsa Branch (formerly Midway City Branch) and reopens at current location.



New County Librarian: Elizabeth Martinez Smith (1979-1990).

University Park Branch starts Chinese language collection with a gift of 250 volumes of children’s books in Chinese from Irvine Chinese School. In that same year, a budget is allocated for a Chinese collection at IUP.


JUNE 1979

Collection: 1,089,314 volumes; 351,503 documents & pamphlets; 24,627 microfilm rolls; 5,236 maps & charts; 522 pieces of art for loan or rent; 1,043 moving pictures (943 16mm filmstrips, 97 other filmstrips); 42,582 audio recordings (36,354 discs of any size or speed and 6,228 tapes of any size or speed); and 1,092 periodical titles.




Friends of the Library Recognition Day is established.


APRIL 11, 1981

El Toro Branch opens. First Librarian: Donna Laffoon. The library retains its name despite city’s name change to Lake Forest in 1991.



Last bookmobile is taken out of service.

Books-by-mail service continues “extension services” after suspension of the bookmobile program. Books-by-mail is discontinued in 1985 due to cost considerations.


MARCH 1982

First database access is offered through the library’s subscriptions to “BRS: Bibliographic Retrieval Systems” and “The Source.” Librarians at regional reference centers in Brea, Garden Grove, and Mission Viejo are trained to conduct database searches for patrons. Search results yield a list of periodical citations for the patron to pursue.



San Juan Capistrano moves to its current location in a new building designed by architect Michael Graves, becoming the third Regional Branch.

Orange County Public Library agrees to administer the newly created Orange County Archives at the Chestnut Street Facility. The Archives move to the Old County Courthouse in 1991 and then are absorbed by the County’s Clerk-Recorder office in 1995.



Adoption of ALIS, an automated circulation control system, the largest of its kind at that time. All Branch collections are labelled with barcodes and all 25 branches are linked online by September 1984. The system’s promotional campaign features a new zebra mascot, “Rita Book”, whose stripes are intended to reference barcode bars. Rita is named by 11 year-old Cypress Branch patron, Sabrina Vasquez, who won a county-wide contest to name the library’s new mascot. Her entry is selected from 5,000 applicants.

First Farsi language collection is established at University Park Branch by staff member Badri Tabibzadeh and a $50.00 donation from Nasser Khousrobod.


La Palma volunteer Shizuko Goetzka develops the library’s Japanese collection.


DECEMBER 5, 1987

Crown Valley Branch opens in Laguna Niguel. First Librarian: Renee Sarno Welling. Is renamed Laguna Niguel Branch in 1999.


June 3, 1988

Heritage Park Regional Library is established in Irvine. First Librarian: Barbara Brook. Heritage Park Branch replaces Mission Viejo as the second Regional Branch in 1995.


1989 - 1990

Security systems installed in all branches.



NOVEMBER 30, 1990

Orangewood Children’s Home Library opened to residents only. First Librarian: Pam Carlson.



New County Librarian: John M. Adams (1991-2007).

Library Admin HQ moved to current location: 1501 E. St. Andrews Place, Santa Ana.



READ/OC assesses their first learner and begins WIN (Working for Inmate Literacy Now) in partnership with OC School District.


JUNE 1993

Circulation: 6,690,446 (FY 92-93).


NOVEMBER 29, 1994

Rancho Santa Margarita Branch opens. First Librarian: Diane Alter.



The system’s collection budget is halved and some branch hours are reduced during Orange County bankruptcy.

Leisure World (Seal Beach) privatizes and leaves the Orange County system.

Mission Viejo Branch becomes part of the City of Mission Viejo.


JULY 10, 1995

OC/EDGE (Electronic Data Global Entry) debuts: Dial-in computer access to the library catalog is available to the public 24 hours/day through a 900 number and dial up modem (at a controversial cost of 50 cents/minute). Users can consult the catalog, see if materials are available or checked out, reserve materials, and renew materials already checked out.



San Clemente Branch is the first library in Orange County to offer Internet connection and classes to the public from one Internet-connected computer.



READ/OC begins Families for Literacy program.



OC Board of Supervisors creates the Library Advisory Board.



Public Internet stations become available for patrons in some branches.


JANUARY 31, 1998

Aliso Viejo Branch opens. First Librarian: Carin Sung.



All branch libraries include computer workstations with Internet access for patron use.

Library website (



APRIL 2000

Library begins offering remote catalog and databases access through website.



Orange County Public Library offers resources in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Farsi, French, German, and Russian languages, as well as in Braille.

OCPL, in partnership with the Metropolitan Cooperative Library System, begins offering online real-time reference support, 24 hours/day through LION (Librarians Online).



Russian language collection is added at Tustin Branch.


JANUARY 11, 2002

Costa Mesa Technology Branch opens. First Branch Librarian: Cameron Trowbridge. Relocates in 2013. Closes Jan. 31, 2019.


JULY 2002

Laguna Hills Technology Branch opens inside Laguna Hills Community Center. First Branch Librarian: Maureen Gebelein.



READ/OC begins EL-Civics to meet ESL demand.


FEBRUARY 1, 2003

Foothill Ranch Branch opens. First Branch Librarian: Paula Bruce.


APRIL 2003

Laguna Woods Branch opens in Laguna Woods City Hall building. First Branch Librarian: Phyllis Brown.



Ladera Ranch Branch opens in the Ladera Ranch School Administration building. First Branch Librarian: Karen Thorburn.



Wi-Fi is installed in all library Branches.

eAudiobook collection is established through Overdrive (100 titles in March 2006).



Organization of first Literary Orange event.

OCPL’s first digital images collection is created (74 images hosted by Calisphere).

Self-checkout machines are introduced.



Orange County Public Library is renamed “OC Public Libraries.”

OC Board of Supervisors creates a new department, OC Community Resources, combining OC Public Libraries, OC Parks, OC Animal Care, and OC Community Services.

New County Librarian: Helen Fried (2008-2018).


FEBRUARY 23, 2008

Katie Wheeler Branch opens in Irvine. First Branch Librarian: Richard Serrato.


AUGUST 19, 2009

Tustin Branch reopens at its current location.

Costa Mesa Donald Dungan Library



Digital sheet music collection is established.


JANUARY 20, 2010

eBook collection is established through Overdrive (150 titles).


JUNE 2011

Circulation: 6,303,411 (FY 2010-2011).



OC Stories debuts (


MARCH 2015

West Garden Grove Branch is renamed Garden Grove Tibor Rubin Branch.



Lunch at the Library debuts at Garden Grove Chapman Branch. The following year, the program is expanded to include Garden Grove Main with additional branches participating in subsequent years. In 2019, the program supplies 20,564 free lunches to Orange County children.


Rita Recommends launches, providing individualized reader’s advisory online.


JUNE 2017

Library of the Canyons Branch (formerly Silverado) opens in former Silverado Elementary School building on Santiago Canyon Road.



Graduation of first Career Online High School class from San Clemente library.



Patron eCards are introduced, allowing remote access to online resources.


MAY 2019

New Costa Mesa Branch Library opens in Lions park. Previous Donald Dungan Branch location taken over by the city.



New County Librarian: Julie Quillman (2019- ).

100 Logo round


MARCH 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all OC Public Libraries branches close to the public, reopening in June with limited patron service.


JUNE 2020

Circulation: 7,060,197. Attendance: 3,897,046. Library cards issued: 84,144. Internet sessions: 311,788. Wireless sessions: 848,388. Reference questions answered: 692,706. 361,134 people attended 11,838 programs.



WiFi on Wheels (WOW) is launched to address the digital divide augmented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many timeline items courtesy Orange County Archives. Accession #1985.34 et al. Orange County Public Library Records.

*California State Library. News Notes of California Libraries. Vol. 16, Nos. 1-4, 1921. Retrieved from Internet Archive: