Below is a new, and fascinating, report by the Pomona Public Library on how the institution fared during the Great Depression: The staff took pay cuts, curtailed book and magazine purchases and examined patrons’ bags to avert theft. The library was able to stay open 12 hours per day, six days per week. Similar solutions today are unlikely, but the document is timely given that closing the library entirely is a possibility.
(Tonight’s Pomona council agenda includes a proposal to keep the library going at one-fourth the current cost by outsourcing operations and tapping money set aside for sidewalk and street repair, an illustration of the dire straits in which the city finds itself.)
What follows is the library’s report, in full.
Characterized by many difficult problems caused by the worldwide depression, the
year nevertheless has brought unusual opportunities for service. In the economic
stress there has been a tendency to fall back upon the library as a source of inspiration
and helpfulness as well as entertainment and instruction, and more than ever we are
impressed with the fact that the public library is the heart of the community.
-Pomona Library Annual Report, 1933.
Every day observations in the library impress us anew with the thought that the library is the heart of the community, and that it is the single spot in the whole town which makes everyone equally welcome, and, as someone has said, “enables the least privileged to really feel at home in the democracy of the mind.”
-Pomona Library Annual Report, 1934
It has been noted that not a single public library in America closed its doors during the
Great Depression of the 1930’s. In fact, new public libraries were started in 48 of the 50
states and territories between 1930-1940. A reading of Depression era Pomona Public
Library Annual Reports, which were prepared by the Board of Library Trustees and
longtime City Librarian, Sarah Jacobus, confirms that the community and the Library
survived the depths of the Depression without having to close the library or substantially
reduce library service.
During the worst Depression years of 1931-1934, the reports show that Library service
continued without interruption, although not without stress. In 1931, the Library was
open 353 days of the year, 7 days a week, 12 hours per day, including 3 hours on Sunday. The Library’s operating budget was just over $41,000, and the Library employed 18.5 Staff. Of the City’s 20,000 residents, 14,000 were library card holders.