By Rebecca Yerger
For 100 years, the Napa County Library system has assisted locals with their quest for knowledge and self-improvement. In order to fulfill this mission and remain relevant, the Napa County Library system has changed, expanded, and/or altered its facilities, culture, programs and technology over the years.
Historically, the foundation on which this institution was built can be traced back to 1870, when a Napa youth named Charles Burrage, and described as, “an insatiable and omnivorous reader” craved an endless source of books. Encouraged by his mother, Burrage formed the Excelsior Club with his like-minded friends to establish a lending library. This action ultimately lead to the establishment of the Napa Library Association and the first library in Napa County.
However, the first, free, public library was opened in St. Helena in 1894. As it was then, the St. Helena Library continues to be under the jurisdiction of the city of St. Helena and not a part of the Napa County Library system.
Returning to Napa; eventually the responsibilities for its Library Association were assumed by the city of Napa. This marked the beginning of Napa public library. However, a permanent and suitable location was needed to adequately house the library. That quest was answered when local banker and philanthropist, George E. Goodman Sr., announced he would build a library as a gift to the community. Officially opened on March 6, 1902, the Goodman was a free, public library. Located on First Street, it was designed to house 3500 volumes.
About a half century later, the early 1960s, the book collection had grown to 36,000 volumes, crowding the building. Then, in 1962, a study completed by a state library consultant recommended the consolidation of the Napa City and County libraries.
When that merger was completed around 1963-1964, the joint libraries moved to a facility on Pearl and Polk Streets. The Goodman Library continued as the children’s library until the current Coombs and Division streets library was opened in 1974. As a side note, the Goodman was reopened on April 4, 1976 as the private, non-profit, Napa County Historical Society research library that is open to the public.
It was within the Goodman where most longtime Napans had their first, public-library experiences, including the late Jane Smith. She wrote of that moment in a 1994 edition of her Napa Valley Register column. The Goodman “was where I obtained my first library card. I slid my dime across the polished-oak counter and dared a glance at the formidable Miss Boke, librarian. Her library was a place of silence, whispers and tiptoes, like church. A girlish giggle or an overdue book earned you her disapproving glare.”
She continued with a generational comparison. “Kids like I were intimidated by Miss Boke’s library. In this (1994) library, kids arrived after school like flocks of birds…A jolly lot they are, too!” Smith also noted the Napa Library’s structural issues, such as its leaky roof and the community’s obligation to maintain its library. That obligation was met shortly thereafter.
Joining the Napa Library within the county system are the American Canyon, Calistoga, and Yountville branches. Originally referred to as the Napa Junction Library, the American Canyon facility began in 1959 when the Napa Junction Elementary School PTA established a small branch at the school. Eight years later, and now part of the county system, the American Canyon Library had paid staff and had grown. Desiring a bigger and better library, the community began a capital campaign which resulted in a new location year later in 1971. Since then, the American Canyon Library has continued to expand and improve to meet its community’s needs.
The chronology for the Calistoga branch is similar to American Canyon’s. However, its site was, and is, within the former Calistoga Women’s Club building, constructed in 1924. In the 1960s, its planned expansion and upgrade project was put on hold for over two years due to litigation.
As for the Yountville branch, its beginnings were in the corner of the town’s post office. Following the 1968 remodeling of the post office, the Yountville Library moved to Mulberry Street. Then, according to a notation on a photograph in a library scrapbook, in September 1983, “the Yountville Library (was located) at the Yountville Town Hall.” As with the other branches, the Yountville Library has been expanded, upgraded and improved over the years.
An integral part of the Napa County Library system is the Friends of the Library Foundation. For decades they have raised copious funds for those upgrades, maintenance and programs. Regarding the latter, the libraries have always focused on children’s programs that encourage reading and imagination. Although other programs address the needs of adults too, from literacy to art exhibits.
As for system improvements, some of these changes have been technology upgrades such as computers. “Soon we will be offering 1-Gig wireless access.” Danis Kreimeier, Director of Library Services and Community Outreach, continued, “We will be remodeling both the Calistoga and Napa branches. The Napa-branch project will begin this August.”
She continued with the centennial celebration details. ”It will be held on February 9, at 4 PM at the Napa Library. Following the speakers we will have performances by barbershop groups and Ballet Folklorica, plus circa-1916 carnival games, as well as a local-trivia contest.” Kreimeier added, “Come to your own 100th birthday party, as this is your library.”
For more informatiom: countyofnapa.org/library