Library History

Establishment, 1908-1959

The Sunnyvale Public Library first began as a Reading Room organized by the Women's Christian Temperance Union and staffed by volunteers. Opening on September 14, 1908, the Reading Room's collection consisted of fifty books which had been discarded by the San Jose Library. The idea for a Reading Room came about during a meeting of a small group of citizens held at Mrs. F. E. Devert’s home. She would become one of the key figures in maintaining and growing the Reading Room over the next few years.

The Free Reading Room and Public Library grew quickly. After just one year, the collection had grown to 500 volumes of books, four daily newspapers, six weeklies and a large number of magazines. The Reading Room was also a branch of the State California Library Association.

In June of 1913, the people of Sunnyvale expressed interest in the town trustees taking up the Library and raising a tax for this purpose. The Library Board meet and decided no changes should be made. In January of 1914, the Sunnyvale Reading Room announced a reorganization of the Library. They hired an experienced librarian who reorganized the collection under the Dewey Decimal System.

On May 7, 1914, a petition calling for the creation of a public library bearing the signatures of 177 residents (which represented over 1/4th of the electorate of the time), was presented to the town's Board of Trustees, who authorized the creation of the Sunnyvale Public Library. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union formally turned over the collection of the Sunnyvale Reading Room and Library to the town on December 14, 1914. The collection was over 1100 volumes of books at that time. 426 borrowers used the Sunnyvale Public Library in the first year after the town took control.

In November 1917, the Sunnyvale Board of Trustees voted to participate with the Santa Clara Free County Library, making the Sunnyvale Public Library part of the county library system. In 1917, the county library provided 350 books to the Sunnyvale Library, for which the library paid $159.75.

The Library was relocated to the ground floor of the Wright Building on Murphy Avenue between Washington and McKinley in 1923. The Library continued to grow. In fiscal year 1932-1933, the Library contained 4,664 volumes, had 1,533 registered borrowers, and had circulated books 33,345 times.

In its last incarnation as a county branch library, the Library occupied the converted Civic Auditorium and its creaking wooden floors in the old City Hall on Murphy Avenue. Eventually the old City Hall and the library's space was razed for the Sunnyvale Town Center shopping mall.

Expansion, 1960-1987

The expansion of the 1950s made it clear that the city had outgrown its library. In 1956, voters passed a bond issue to pay for a new library. In October 1960, the city ended its contract with the county library system. In November, the library moved to a new site, the current location on Olive Avenue. It shared this facility with the City Council.

In 1965, a patent library was established, to be operated under the direction of the City Librarian. The patent library is housed in a former fire station. In addition, Sunnyvale voters passed a bond measure for $800,000 to expand the Library facility.

In 1970, a major expansion of the library added 21,000 square feet to the existing 20,000 square feet facility. The City Council relocated to its current facility, leaving the entire library building to be used for library needs. Also in 1970, the first automated circulation system, using key punched cards, was introduced, and the patent library moved into the library facility. There were 48,000 registered users at this time.

In 1973, a bookmobile began providing service to Sunnyvale's neighborhoods. In addition, the Friends of the Western Philatelic Library deed almost 1,100 volumes to the City of Sunnyvale. Space is provided in the Library to accommodate the philatelic collection.

Growth continues. The Library held 191,904 books at this time. A small branch library was opened in 1975, as a pilot program. Proposition 13 brought about budget cuts which required the closing of the branch library. Open library hours are scaled back from 69 to 59 hours per week.

The bookmobile was eliminated in 1978 due to Proposition 13 budget cuts. The bookmobile service was reinstated in June 1982.

A study in 1979 showed that the public library was only two thirds the size needed to serve the projected population of 114,000. Expansion of the library, adding 19,000 square feet, was completed in 1985. As part of the ceremonies, a time capsule was buried, to be opened in 2085. Also in the late 80s library hours were increased and parking was expanded.

In 1980 the patent library was reorganized as the Patent Information Clearinghouse and was moved to the Raynor Activity Center.

Modernization, 1988+

In January 1988, the library began using an online checkout and catalog system. Dial-up access to the library catalog began at this time. The card catalog was removed.

The City of Sunnyvale and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office entered into a partnership in 1994, and the Patent Information Clearinghouse evolved into the Sunnyvale Center for Innovation, Invention and Ideas, Sc[i]3. The partnership moved to 465 S. Mathilda Ave. at this time.

After 21 years of residence inside the Library, the philatelic collection was relocated to the Raynor Activity Center and named the Western Philatelic Library.

A 1998 modernization project brought a range of improvements to the library facility. Non-English language materials, compact discs, and videotapes were relocated to a more visible location. New wiring was installed to support access to the Internet and to the online catalog. A new children's services desk was added. A new bookmobile was also purchased in 1998.

In 2001, Sc[i]3 was incorporated into the public library. Unable to recover its costs through the fees for its services, the specialized patent and trademark services associated with Sc[i]³ ended in 2006, however, the Library remains a Patent and Trademark Depository Library.

In 2006, the Library received more than 766,000 visitors and checked out more than 2.2 million items, making it one of the busiest libraries in the state for its size. While the Library had been expanded several times, it was becoming clear that the building had reached its capacity.

The Library of the Future Study and Strategy, completed in 2007 by Library staff, architects, the Board of Library Trustees and community members, defined the community's vision for the Library and the method to achieve it. Study documents included:

Library of the Future Study and Strategy (2007) Documents:
Introduction * Community Needs AssessmentBuilding ProgramExisting Facility AssessmentFacility ScenariosPreferred Facility Strategy* Reduced ProgramAppendix

In June 2007, the City Council approved a conceptual plan for the new construction of a 116,000 square-foot Library that could be expanded to 143,000 square feet. A $108 million bond measure to fund construction of the new Sunnyvale Library was placed on the November 2007 ballot for voter approval. The bond measure received 59.1% approval, however, did not pass since 66.7% approval was required for passage.


City of Sunnyvale

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(408) 730-7500

  • Sunnyvale City Hall
  • 456 W. Olive Ave.
  • Sunnyvale, CA 94086
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