It has been important for people living in Portola Valley to have ready access to books even before the beginning of the modern town. When residents built the first school in Portola Valley in 1894, they included a small library. Later, in the early years of the twentieth century a little building stood in the circle of redwoods beside the surviving 1909 historic schoolhouse. At first it was a residence for the teacher (called a “teacherage”) because Portola Valley was too remote for any commuting teacher. It eventually became a library.
It hasn’t been easy to keep a library close by, as Portola Valley has always been somewhat remote and has a small population. For several years a bookmobile served as the local library. When the town was incorporated in 1964, the Town Council set up a Library Study Committee, and the Friends of the Library of Portola Valley was established the next year. The goal was to bring in a San Mateo County Branch Library. In 1967 a little library opened in an empty storefront in the Village Square. Many residents surely remember it.
Several things happened in the next years. Emma and Carroll Roush gifted the Friends with a piece of property on Nathhorst for a library site. As real estate prices rose, the land significantly increased in value. Along with various fund-raising drives aimed at creating a nest egg for a building, by 1970 $53,000 had accumulated in the Library Building Fund.
In 1975, the Town purchased Portola Valley School, and it became the Town Center and a logical place for a library. The Friends sold the Nathhorst site, more funds were raised, a grant was obtained, and in 1980, a 4000 square foot library with a collection of 20,000 books opened in a wing of the former Portola Valley School. It served the community until 2006.
In 1988 the first computer was installed for use by the public, and the technology has advanced ever since with more available computers and periodic free lessons for patrons. In 1993 the library staff unveiled a CD-Rom computer catalog linking all the county libraries, giving patrons instant access to the entire county’s collection
In the early 1990s, the county reduced funding for libraries and there was concern about a possible decrease in open hours or even closure of small libraries, such as ours. After two years of negotiations, headlines and editorials, the Council agreed to accept a complicated funding formula and to join a newly created Joint Powers Agency involving the county and eleven cities. The financial crisis was over, at least for the time being.
The Town Council has maintained strong support for a local library through all the re-locations and several renovations. The Friends have continued their work through the years as well, donating funds to the county for books for their library as well as other libraries in need of support. They have provided children’s programs, audio-visual equipment, summer reading programs, furniture, landscaping…an endless list of enrichments for the library.
When a new Town Center became a necessity, there was no question that a library would be included. In 2006, deconstruction of the former Portola Valley School (and the library housed there) began. The school district offered two former kindergarten rooms at Corte Madera School for a temporary library during construction of the new facilities. Once again, thanks to the generosity of residents, the beautiful new Town Center with its state-of-the-art library opened in September 2008. For the first time in the 118-year history of libraries in Portola Valley, patrons can visit a building that was actually planned to be a library.