The Libraries of the SJSU Site at
4th and San Fernando Streets (and close by)



  More on library history
  The California Normal School housed its library collection in the main building with the classrooms. There were about 2,000 volumes in 1880. The second building, completed in 1881 to replace the original building that was destroyed by fire, included a library in the east wing that could seat 60 people. By 1889, the library collection was restored to about 7,000 volumes. Other treasures were restored by donations including ore specimens from the Quicksilver Mining Company of Guadalupe and railroad passes from Leland Stanford (president of the Central Pacific) to allow for trips to Monterey and Los Angeles to obtain materials for the library.

The first full-time librarian - Ruth Royce, was hired in 1881. She stayed for 37 years!  She was an 1877 alum of the Normal School.  Miss Joyce Backus served as college librarian from 1923 to 1965 (42 years!).

A separate library building was built at Washington Square in the early 1900s - but it was a public library built on land transferred from the school to the city. On June 27, 1901, the Trustees of the Normal School agreed that the northwest corner of the Washington Square site would be transferred to the City of San Jose so that a public library could be built. In 1903, the San Jose Carnegie Library opened at the corner of 4th and San Fernando Streets. It was constructed with a $50,000 donation from multimillionaire Andrew Carnegie.

Photo source: The California Room at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Main Library.

In 1936, the City Council of San Jose agreed to sell the Carnegie Library to the college for $55,000. The college used the building as a Student Union.

In 1941, a library building was completed, located at 4th and San Antonio Streets. A Library Annex was added in 1956 and Library North opened in 1961.

The above aerial photo of the campus in 1955
shows the Carnegie Library building in the corner of the campus that is about in the 
middle left side of the photo (in 1955, the building housed the Student Union, not the public library).
The Clark Library was later built on a portion of the empty land shown at the top of the photo.
Photo source: SJSU Special Collections at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library.

In 1961, Wahlquist North opened. It was a 6-story addition to the nearby library buildings and was constructed at a cost of $2.6 million. As described in the 1962 La Torre (SJSU Yearbook), this wing offered "a reading room on each floor, educational and instrumental facilities, typing rooms, and two conference rooms. There [were] three subject-division rooms in the fields of creative arts, language arts, and education." The building had an open book design on the exterior of the building (see this photo from the SJSU Special Collections). Also, the 1881 bell that currently resides in the Spartan Rose Garden near Tower Hall was placed in an archway near the entrance to Walhquist library (see photo from the SJSU Special Collections). This bell was originally in the second main building that was dismantled after the 1906 earthquake, placed in the third main building (Tower Hall) and then removed when the quadrangle was demolished in the early1960s.

John T. Wahlquist was President of San Jose State College (now SJSU) from 1952-1964. 

This photo of Wahlquist North is from the 1962 La Torre  (SJSU yearbook).

The Clark Library was completed in 1981. Because it could not hold the university's entire collection (over one million volumes), portions were housed in the old library buildings referred to as Wahlquist South, Central, and North at the corner of 4th and San Fernando Streets.

zThis library was originally planned as an 18-story building. However, it instead turned out to be a 5-story building costing $500,000 more than the original cost estimate for the 18-story building.

Dr. Robert D. Clark was president of San Joee State College (now SJSU) from 1964 to 1969.

The Robert D. Clark Library shown above was not at 4th and San Fernando Streets. 
It was located between Tower Hall and the Engineering Building.

Photo Source: 1990-1992 SJSU Catalog (front cover photo)

The Wahlquist Library was torn down in 2000 to begin construction of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library. One of the trees longstanding at the site had to be cut down - see photoHowever, it lives on in a different form in the new library. You can find out how by looking carefully at the pillars that run from the Lower Level to the 8th floor - one is different from the others.

The King Library had its "soft" opening on Friday August 1, 2003.  About 12,000 people visited on the first day and checked out thousands of items (one piece of art is an electronic counter on the first floor that records the number of books checked out by all of the City of San Jose libraries starting August 1, 2003). The heads of the university library and San Jose libraries - Patricia Breivik and Jane Light, respectively, checked out the first two items - a children's book on magic for Dean Breivik and a children's video for Director Light.  The grand opening of the library took place on Saturday August 16, 2003 with many free activities taking place both inside and outside of the library for the public to enjoy.

zIn 2006 the old Clark Library reopened to house administrative offices, faculty offices, classrooms, a few academic departments, Student Involvement, and a new Academic Success Center.  It was renamed Clark Hall, named for 1960's SJSU President Robert Clark.

See additional information from the SJSU Special Collections and Archives.

Background on the making of the joint library between SJSU and the City of San Jose (a Penn Institute for Urban Research report)

Timeline of the San Jose Public Libraries.

Information on public art in the King Library (artist: Mel Chin)



Return to SJSU History                                           Library website          SJSU Special Collections - SJSU history                                 June 22, 2020    

Information Sources: Benjamin F. Gilbert and Charles Burdick, Washington Square 1857 - 1979 - The History of San Jose State University; and Professor Jonathan Roth of the SJSU History Department.

This tree (the one on the left) was torn down to build the new library. However, artist Mel Chin found a place for it in another form in the new library.  Be sure to see the pillar running from the Lower Level to the 8th floor that looks different from the others. For more information about the public art in the library - click here.  [Return to narrative.]

Last Modified: Mar 8, 2022