Did you know that library service has existed in Downey for over 100 years? That’s right. Our community’s commitment to literacy and public access to information is long-standing and well-rooted. In 1898, seven women residents of Downey founded a social club and within three years, in 1901, they established a small library. In the beginning they charged each patron a small fee so that books could be purchased. When, in September 1915, the Los Angeles County Library System opened a new branch in Downey, the social club turned over its entire collection to them. In the first year that the County Library System operated the library in Downey, 215 patrons were registered and 330 titles were available to choose from.

The branch would move several times under the County’s direction until, in 1950, it found its last home at the County Civic Center on Third Street and La Reina Avenue. By 1957, the branch’s 15,000 volumes circulated 123,000 times. The library also had 14,000 people register for library cards that year.

Black & White image in front of the library. A man and woman exit a car.

In 1958, two years after Downey was incorporated as a city, the Downey City Council voted to withdraw from the County’s library system and accept responsibility for providing the city with its own library. A new building to house 70,000 volumes was quickly authorized and the City appointed bookstore owner, Rex Dyer, to serve as the city’s first librarian. The initial library service was quite modest, operating out of the back of Mr. Dyer’s bookstore.

Meanwhile, the City purchased the former Downey Elementary School, and converted it into a City Hall and Police Station. The library was moved into the former school’s cafeteria building, and opened its doors on July 1, 1958, with a full-time staff of six and about 5,000 books. During the next 18 months, the collection grew to 24,000 items.

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On December 7, 1959, the new library building, containing almost 16,000 sq. ft., was completed at a cost of $186,200. The library opened to the public on December 18th, and during the first year of operation, 20,000 cards were issued and 144,409 items were checked out. The Friends of the Library established itself within the library’s first year with the purpose of strengthening ties between the Library and the community. They carried this purpose out by raising funds for facilities, services and collections.

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By 1983, Downey City Library served close to 90,000 patrons and circulated 300,00 items a year. With a collection that had grown to over 106,000 volumes, the City recognized a need for additional space so in February of 1984 the library received an additional 12,000 sq. ft. The addition included a new children’s room and office, magazine and newspaper room, circulation desk, restrooms, entryway, display cases and a bookstore operated by the Friends of the Library.

Today, for the first time in the history of the Downey City Library, it will undergo a complete renovation that will transform it into a modern and forward-looking public learning space. This renovation will unfold over a 14 month period and will require the complete shutdown of on-site operations during construction. The newly renovated library will open June 2020.

 

Library Director

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Benjamin Dickow
2017 - Present


Past Library Directors

Shannon DeLong
2012 - 2017

Thaddeus Phillips
2010 - 2012

Nancy Messineo
2006 - 2010

Thaddeus Phillips
2003 - 2006

Victoria Jenkins
1984 - 2002

Ruth Miller
1962 - 1983

Lester Bergslien
1958 - 1962