Library History

1878 - 1910
Eureka, Arcata, and Ferndale Libraries

Humboldt County has a long and distinguished history of public library service. Several library efforts were begun in the 1850's and 1860's. In 1878, Eureka became the first city in California to support a free public library with public funds. Arcata Library also became tax-supported later that year. Eureka Library's Carnegie building was completed in 1904, and in 1910, Ferndale opened its new Carnegie library. Each of these three libraries began as an independent city library.

1914 - 1927
The County Free Library Branches

In 1915 the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors established the County Free Library to serve county residents outside the cities of Eureka, Ferndale and Arcata. In 1914 Miss Harriet Eddy of the California State Library had arrived to urge the County to establish a library, as she had been doing throughout the state. In Humboldt she found no reluctance! The County Supervisors promptly passed a resolution and Miss Eddy was further overwhelmed by the great number of groups who wanted to talk to her and start libraries throughout the county.  

Arcata Library joined the County Free Library effort on July 2, 1914, and Ferndale Library joined July 26, 1915. Multiple new County Library branches were established in 1915, notably in Blue Lake (July 31, 1915), Fortuna (September 1, 1915), Trinidad (September 1, 1915), Garberville (November 5, 1915), and Willow Creek (December 4, 1915). Enduring branch libraries were later opened at McKinleyville (May 9, 1916), Rio Dell (December 1, 1919), and Hoopa (1927).

An administrative office was established in Eureka to support all the Humboldt County Free Libraries, and this was separate from the Eureka Library. Eureka Library remained an independent city library and was not to join the County Library until much later.

1920's - 1972 
Tiny Libraries Thrive

Many small library outlets were established in and around Eureka and throughout the county, in schools, existing stores, and public buildings. Library services might also be set up in someone's home, in a convict labor camp tent in the mountains, in a remote pump station, or even a box of books nailed to a tree. Each book collection had a 'custodian' - a person local to the place who could care for it, and each was supplied and periodically visited by emissaries from the County Library.

160+ Branches

The ideal promoted by the American Library Association was that every child should be able to walk to a library or bookmobile stop. This wasn't possible in Humboldt, but the citizens and librarians did wonders with what they had. In the early 1920's the 'Humboldt County Eureka Free Library' boasted over 160 branches. These tiny libraries were especially vital to isolated rural communities in our huge county.

A similar urge for book-sharing within walking distance has been revived locally in the first quarter of our new century. The 'little free libraries' sprouting in front yards and former phone booths are part of a proud tradition with roots deeper than some custodians may know.

As time passed, better roads and transportation made it easier to get to a larger library, but quite a few of the original miniature libraries endured and were active through the 1960's. Some were only closed once additional bookmobile service was established in 1972. Towns with larger populations became the major outlets for County Library service, and these are the branches we know today. 

1972 - 1995

A Unified Humboldt County Library System

It wasn't until 1972 that Eureka’s Free Public Library and the remaining Humboldt County Free Libraries were consolidated into one library system. Now serving as a main library, with an enlarged collection of library materials, Eureka Library outgrew its original Carnegie building. The Eureka book collection and public service staff moved into the bottom floor of the County Courthouse until a better solution could be found. Library administration for the new joined system was housed in the basement of the Carnegie a few blocks away. 

A Central Library for the New System

A citizens committee was convened and firm plans were made to build a new central library in Eureka and have it finished by 1975. Setbacks ensued, but the citizens persisted with great dedication. In 1995, after long and vigorous effort and debate, Eureka's current library building was completed and became the hub of the Humboldt County Public Library System.

National Medal for Museum and Library Service

In 2007, Kim Yerton Memorial Library, the Hoopa branch, was one of only 5 libraries to win a National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for libraries and museums that help make their communities better places to live. Built only 15 years earlier, this joint County-Tribal library was honored for its role in serving and preserving Hupa, Yurok, and Karuk traditions, while providing opportunities for lifelong learning.


Today, the Humboldt County Library Public Library System, in cooperation with local jurisdictions, serves all county residents through a networked structure of 10 branches, a bookmobile, and the Main Library in Eureka.  Residents can walk into any branch library and get access to resources from the entire system. Internet users can download library materials from home 24 hours a day. Humboldt's more remote areas still have limited internet access, but every library provides wi-fi, and the County Bookmobile continues to travel to rural locations to deliver library materials on a regular basis.

To see a few interesting details about library use today, visit the Library Statistics page.

1995 Eureka Library Building

A sketch shows the library with its banks of windows above, among trees, and reflected in the harbou

Eureka's Main Library Building

The Eureka Main Library was dedicated in 1995 under librarian Judy Klapproth.  Designed by Robert J. Gianelli Architects of Napa, California, it is a large, beautiful light-filled building overlooking the harbor.  The modern redwood exterior shows the influence of the American Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 20th century. The library was built by the combined efforts of the many citizens of the County, the Board of Supervisors, the Friends of the Redwood Libraries, the Library Construction Advisory Committee, and the California State Library.  Construction was funded in part by the California Library Construction and Renovation Bond Act of 1988. 

Carnegie Library

Eureka's original 1902 Carnegie Library building has been preserved and can still be seen at 636 F Street in Eureka, where it functions beautifully as the Morris Graves Museum of Art.