A look back on the history of the Friends organization 

PASO ROBLES — The Friends of the Paso Robles City Library located in the lobby of the Library and City Hall is reopening on Jun. 16!

In a gala celebration with balloons, cookies, and a free book for all, they are excited to see everyone after a long and challenging year. 

A look back on the history of the Friends organization shows what a key role this group has played in keeping the library flourishing over many years and how important it is that its store can be back in service again.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

The organization shares that the City of Paso Robles can be very proud of its book-loving heritage. As early as 1878, the Young People’s Society of Christian endeavor set up a reading room in the Adams Building on Spring Street. 

In the early 1900s, Andrew Carnegie agreed to give the City $10,000 to fund the building of a library, and the city pledged $1000 a year to maintain it as part of the deal. By 1910 the beloved Carnegie Library was up and running, sitting in the park that is the heart of the town.

In 1978 the City Library of Paso Robles faced hard times and a budget cut to bare bones. Passage of Proposition 13 threatened to have a devastating effect on funding. 

Library hours were shortened, and there was no money for the acquisition of new books or other materials. The Librarian at the time, Ann Martin, called an emergency meeting. In May of that year, The Friends of the Paso Robles City Library was born. As stated by its first president Pat Johnson, its purpose was to “focus community attention on library services, facilities and needs; and to stimulate gifts to the library and increase the services offered by it.” The group started with only about eight members, but after one year, had garnered 150 new memberships. 

In June of 1979, they ran their first book sale, selling used and duplicate books for “15 cents an inch”. That year they donated a listening center to the Children’s Library as well as funds for the purchase of large print books for the Adult Library and a contribution towards the Summer Reading Program. The Friends were off and running.

As the town prospered, the library outgrew its space in the Carnegie Building, and the community raised the funds for a new larger library. As the designs for the new building were being completed, Molly Edmondson, a long-time member of The Friends Board, had the idea to establish a Friends Store in the lobby. She met with the City manager about what space could be provided and argued with him about a rental fee and insurance coverage. 

Of course The Friends had no idea how much money they could make with the store, so the remarkable Molly Edmondson convinced him to provide the space rental fee and have the insurance covered in the plan for the rest of the library. She and Helen Way, The Friends treasurer from 1994 to 2010, made up a dynamic duo. 

They traveled up and down the coast to see what other existing Friends stores were selling and how such an operation would work. From then on, the store was theirs to run, and they made sure that proceeds from The Friends Store continuously supplied the library with extra funding for books and materials and helped see the Library through hard times when the City budget was tight.

As the years passed, The Friends Store has seen a variety of improvements. The City gave permission to punch a window through the shop wall, so passers-by could see what the store had for sale. The inventory was refreshed and enlarged. Bookshelves were put in the corridor outside the store allowing room for more gift items inside. The inventory was refreshed and enlarged. The account books were brought into the computer age. The membership base was enlarged, and newly invigorated members established an annual “Christmas Extravaganza” sale to garner more funds as well as managing the ongoing biannual book sales held in the city conference room.

Today The Friends Organization of the Paso Robles City Library gives over $30,000 a year to the Library. It is The Friends who finance the Library’s beloved fish tank, many of its databases and programs, as well as providing funds for books and materials. Recently a former volunteer left a generous bequest to The Friends, evidence of the ongoing support this community has for its library.

The Friends of the Paso Robles City Library, along with its sister organization, the Library Foundation, continues today the long Paso Robles tradition of valuing reading and knowledge, making sure everyone in the community has a place to go to learn, to discover, and to grow.