A Brief History Of Friends of the Palo Alto Library

Going Strong Since 1938

Palo Alto’s public library system is over 100 years old, having been established in 1902. By the 1930s, the city’s library had become recognized as a vital part of the community’s cultural infrastructure in an area where education and learning were central aspects of everyday life. In 1938, a group of library lovers met at the Mayfield (now College Terrace) branch library and formed the Friends of the Palo Alto Library, whose objective was to support the library and enrich Palo Alto’s cultural environment.  According to the San Jose Mercury-Herald, the group was “the only such organization in the state and perhaps on the Pacific Coast…”

The Friends remained an informal society at first, and concentrated on organizing speakers and events related to the library. Sources indicate that the group was revived and reorganized by twenty-five community leaders in 1947, in order “…to provide a body of informed citizens, who will see that the library is given proper recognition…” Throughout the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, FOPAL was a leading advocate in the community for the libraries in an era of expansion and growth in Palo Alto.

In 1966, The Friends of the Palo Alto Public Library formally filed Articles of Incorporation with the State of California. The Articles were accepted and approved by the State on April 15th, 1966, a date that may be regarded as the official birth of the organization as a legal entity. According to the Articles of Incorporation, the purpose of the organization is to “maintain an association of people interested in enriching and publicizing the resources of the library, and to support library activities in the interest of the community.” The Internal Revenue Service recognized FOPAL as a 501 c 3 tax-exempt non-profit organization on August 4th, 1967.

FOPAL has been a membership organization since its inception, with revenues based at first on dues and later from book sales. Some members felt that in order to exploit the potential for large donations from philanthropists and corporations, an alternatively structured organization was required. In 2001, FOPAL set aside $30,000 in seed money to found the Palo Alto Library Foundation, which became established as a separate entity.

Book sales as a means of raising funds began in the 1970s. Occasional sales of withdrawn library books and book donations were first held in the Main Library, and then moved to the nearby Community Center. Some sales were also held at a local church hall.  In 1985, regular monthly sales began in two classrooms at the  former Terman Jr. High School site, and since then have become FOPAL’s major source of revenue. The sales proved to be very popular with the public, and eventually expanded to seven rooms in the former school. When the Palo Alto Unified School District re-opened Terman in 2002, book sale operations were moved to the Cubberley Community Center. Despite a fire in August, 2010 that destroyed the portable building used as the main sales area, revenues from the monthly sales have continued to grow. In addition to the monthly sales,  FOPAL’s online sales of higher value books has been a steadily increasing source of revenue. During 2004 – 2012, Friends of the Palo Alto Library donated over $2 million to purchase much-needed library books, media, online resources, equipment, and unique programs for Palo Alto’s five public libraries.