When Jeanette M. Drake came to Pasadena to become its third City Librarian in 1919, the Pasadena Public Library consisted of only the castle-like main library located on the corner of Raymond Avenue and Walnut Street and three small branches—the North Pasadena Branch, the East Pasadena Branch, and the Northeast Branch—one of which was simply a room inside a storehouse and the other two were old buildings that had been repurposed for library use. Its reputation as a modern and efficient library, which had been engendered by the early efforts of the previous head librarians, Sarah Merritt and Nellie Russ, was steadily growing but the Library itself was still relatively unknown outside the Pasadena community.
Miss Drake arrived to change all that. Originally from Illinois, she was one of the first women to receive a Bachelor of Library Science degree from the University of Illinois in 1903. Her library career began shortly after graduation at the Wisconsin Free Library Commission where she was an organizer, a position that required her to travel to various small towns classifying and cataloging collections that had been started by women’s clubs. These collections were usually housed in rooms inside a store or church, and Miss Drake credited the organizations that maintained them with helping the library movement, as many of these reading rooms would later evolve into libraries. In 1905 she became a librarian in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she was able to apply the theoretical knowledge and practical skills gained from both school and experience to managing a library. Three years later in 1908, she moved to Wisconsin to take up a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin’s Library School where she taught the technical and administrative aspects of librarianship. In 1910 she again moved, this time to Sioux City, Iowa, to serve as city librarian for its library system. There, she demonstrated her executive and leadership abilities to reorganizing and modernizing the Sioux City Public Library. She was there for seven years when she was called to California to head the circulation department of the Los Angeles Public Library. This move was by and large a very good one for Miss Drake whose reputation as an excellent librarian had caught the attention of George Ellery Hale and other members on the Pasadena Library Board. When Nellie Russ retired, it was on the recommendation of Dr. Hale and his associates that the Library Board selected Miss Drake to head the Pasadena Public Library.
Realizing the spatial limitations of the main library and the other three branches, one of her first priorities as head librarian was to make more room to accommodate a growing collection and the increasing number of library visitors. At first this goal was achieved by simply rearranging the interior of the main library to create more usable space and also to make the inside appear more spacious. But as the population of Pasadena grew so did the need for more library services and resources, and it was soon apparent that larger quarters were needed.
It was with a sense of urgency and purpose that Miss Drake set out to persuade city officials to expand and modernize Pasadena’s library system. Thanks to her persistent efforts over the years, the Pasadena Public Library saw the construction of a children’s library, three new structures for the existing three branches (which were then renamed), and the Central Library, which replaced the library on Walnut Street and Raymond Avenue, between 1922 and 1931.1 She worked closely with Myron Hunt on the new library building. Many of her suggestions assisted Hunt in designing the Central Library, and today visitors and staff can still see evidence of her immense influence. Features such as patios for adults and children to read outdoors, an entrance for those in wheelchairs (west side by auditorium), a teen reading room, and lecture rooms for meetings and group discussions were suggested by her to benefit library patrons. For staff, Miss Drake wanted their work to be efficient and their time here to be comfortable, so she had Hunt add electric book lifts, electrically operated windows, a functioning kitchen with a stove to make hot meals and individual locked cupboards for people to store their food and utensils, and a roof garden with a view of the San Gabriel Mountains where staff could go during breaks.2
She was a firm believer that the library is an integral part of the community that provides to the information as well as the social needs of its citizens, and throughout her administration she was committed to expanding the library’s reach to other communities in the Pasadena area and adding and improving services that not only made the Library but the City stand out as a leader in library services. An important decision Miss Drake made shortly after becoming City Librarian was to move the juvenile collection to a new children’s library that was built adjacent to the main library. This move was partly done out of necessity because the space inside the main library was too cramp for the collection but also because she recognized the need for a separate children’s department that could better serve the needs of young readers. She established two new branches in underserved communities. In 1920 the Foreign Branch was opened inside the Garfield School to serve non-English speakers, and two years later the Lamanda Park Branch opened inside the Emerson School. After the Central Library was built with a children’s room, the building that was the former children’s library was moved to Morningside Street and reused as the new building for the Lamanda Park Branch.
In addition to being a place where patrons could find books and get answers to their questions, Miss Drake wanted the Pasadena Public Library to be a cultural and community center where people could come and see art exhibits and listen to lectures or participate in discussions. Thanks to her many suggestions made to Hunt, the Central Library offered exhibit space for the display of paintings, photographs, and the arts and crafts of people from different cultures. She allowed and encouraged local organizations to use the library and invited speakers to come and give talks on interesting topics in the auditorium.
During her tenure, the Pasadena Public Library experienced phenomenal growth, thanks in part to her vision for the library. Her advocacy for more space gave rise to better and larger facilities that could accommodate larger collections, which in turn contributed to an increase in the number of book borrowers and overall library usage. By 1936, seventeen years after she took the helm, the Library had become not just an information center but an educational institution that was internationally known. And after so many years as head librarian and accomplishing so much for the library, Miss Drake thought it was a good time to retire.
The news of her retirement was somewhat bittersweet to her staff with whom Miss Drake shared a mutual respect. At a dinner held in her honor on April 19, 1936, the library staff presented a one-act play which they had written for this occasion and which was performed that evening for her pleasure. It’s a short fun play that is very fitting for someone of Miss Drake’s profession, for it honors both her work and her passion. Though she had no part in it, she was in many respects the star of the show. (Click on the “full screen” function to read the play.)
This original copy of the play is one of those unique gems that are sometimes found in an institutional archives. Like all archival records, it reveals an aspect of an institution’s history, giving us an insight into its people, culture, values, and character at a particular point in time; but this record also gives us something more—a glimpse of the Library’s heart and soul. It reveals the camaraderie and the collaborative effort of the library staff who helped Miss Drake make the Pasadena Public Library a great public institution and also the creative spirit that brought them together to imagine, write, and carry out this one-of-a-kind whimsical play; and this creative spirit lives on to this day—invigorated by the people who now work here—manifesting itself in the programs and services we offer to the public and in the fun activities we do for ourselves. It is what continues to make the Pasadena Public Library a great library.
1The East Pasadena Branch, which opened in 1910, became the Hill Avenue Branch in 1925; the North Pasadena Branch, which opened in 1908, became the La Pintoresca Branch in 1930; and the Northeast Branch, which opened in 1918, became the Santa Catalina Branch in 1931.
2The storage compartments are still there in the staff kitchen. The garden no longer exists. It was located in the rooftop walk area that is between the staff lounge and the page work room.
Burr, A.R. (1930, August 10). An unique civic institution and the woman who evolved it. Los Angeles Times, p. J11.
Diehl, G.A. (1927, February 11). Recent library history: Developments of institution under Miss Jeanette M. Drake seen of unusual character. Pasadena Star News, p. 16.
Haverland, S. (n.d.). Jeanette May Drake. (n.p.). Drake, Jeanette, 1919–1936. Pasadena Public Library directors and personnel, Personnel Collection, Library Directors Series (Box 2, Shelf 3). Pasadena Public Library Institutional Archives, Pasadena, CA.
Interesting personalities among Pasadena women. (1931, November 27). Pasadena Star News, p. 3.
J.M.D.: A tribute. (1956, September). The Grapevine, 9(1), 2–3. Drake, Jeanette, 1919–1936. Pasadena Public Library directors and personnel, Personnel Collection, Library Directors Series (Box 2, Shelf 3). Pasadena Public Library Institutional Archives, Pasadena, CA.
Sees library educational in values. (1927, February 11). Pasadena Star News, p. 14.
Biographical Record, Pasadena and Vicinity, DOE–DR. (Located in Centennial Room, R920)
Central Library building, history and architecture, Central Collection, Building Series (Box 1, Shelf 3). Pasadena Public Library Institutional Archives, Pasadena, CA.
Drake, Jeanette, 1919–1936. Pasadena Public Library directors and personnel, Personnel Collection, Library Directors Series (Box 2, Shelf 3). Pasadena Public Library Institutional Archives, Pasadena, CA.
Marquis, A.N. (Ed.). (1918–1936). Who’s who in America (Vols. 10–19). Chicago: A.N. Marquis Company.
The Grapevine (Oct. 1955–Jun. 1958, Vols. 8–10) Pasadena Public Library staff newsletter, Pasadena Public Library Collection, Newsletters Series (Box 10, Shelf 2). Pasadena Public Library Institutional Archives, Pasadena, CA.