Oakland Free Library

A History of the Oakland Public Library

The Oakland Library Association started as a subscription-based library in 1868. Following the Rogers Free Library act of 1878, which allowed cities to levy taxes for the support of public libraries, the Oakland library association transferred its collection to the city of Oakland. Oakland Free Library was the second public library founded in California (after Eureka). It opened on November 7, 1878. Its first librarian was Ina Coolbrith, the first poet laureate of California.
Library services for children began with the opening of the Main Library in 1904, located at 14th and Grove Streets. The original building collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. It is now the site of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland. Jack London and Isadora Duncan were among the early patrons of the Oakland Free library. Oakland’s first reference collection was established by Frederick Irons Bamford in 1895. Telephone reference was established in 1911. The first library card catalogue was created in the 1890s. Computer-based catalogues replaced card catalogues in 1989.
Public libraries connect the Oakland community through the sharing of information and resources. After-school programs support students with their homework, adult literacy programs are run by volunteer tutors, and Lawyers in the Library programs offer free legal aid in English and Spanish. There are also mobile libraries such as the Bookmobile and the Bike Library which provide mobile outreach services for the community. Any California resident can get an Oakland Public Library card.

Street Address:

659 14th Street Oakland [map]

Official Website:


Cite this Page:

Emma Wilson, “Oakland Free Library,” Street Stories: Oakland, accessed October 22, 2018, http://streetstoriesoakland.com/items/show/12.

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