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“Without libraries, what have we? We have no past and no future.”

—Ray Bradbury
Rancho Cucamonga Takes Library to New Level

If only the small, branch library on Base Line Road had kept the Nancy Drew series in its collections, perhaps things would have turned out differently.

But it didn’t.

And those books, along with some other things, lit a fire under Councilwoman Diane Williams after she moved to the budding community of Rancho Cucamonga with her family in 1973.

Today, thanks to Williams’ persistence and the work of many other library supporters, the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library boasts two locations offering hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, and other materials as well as numerous regular programs and special events that attract thousands of children and adults every year.

It also has two very dedicated groups working to support its mission: The Rancho Cucamonga Friends of the Library and the Rancho Cucamonga Library Foundation.

“They really help us move beyond the ordinary to extraordinary,” Rancho Cucamonga Library Director Julie Sowles said.

Ordinary is a good word to describe the 11,000-square-foot San Bernardino County branch library that housed a mere 51,000 books and had served the area since before the fast-growing city incorporated in 1977.

“It was dark, and the people were cranky,” Williams said. “It was just your typical small town branch library.”

One day, Williams took her daughter there to check out books from the Nancy Drew series, but library staff told them the county library system didn’t have any “formula books.”

“I offered to buy a set for the library, but they said we can’t because of all the red tape,” Williams said. “I got more incensed about it.”

In 1982, Williams formed the Friends of the Rancho Cucamonga Library to see what she could do to bolster the library’s offerings, especially when it came to children’s books and programing.

The group—which was just Williams, her husband and their two kids at first—started collecting book and magazine donations and selling the donated items at large outdoor book sales.

Williams also began publishing a bi-annual newsletter to promote the library. She gleaned many of the recipients’ names and addresses from the donated magazines.

One newsletter recipient gave $100 to the library every year without fail, and when she passed away years later, she bequeathed more than $200,000 to the library system, Williams said.

Back in the 1980s, city officials weren’t interested in breaking away from the county system to start their own library despite Williams’ persistent pleas for them to do so.

Williams contended the county was collecting more in library-related property taxes than it was investing in the branch library serving the city.

So in 1990, she pulled papers to run for City Council and won a seat.

In December 1993, the Board of Supervisors officially released the city from the San Bernardino County Library, and Rancho Cucamonga struck out on its own.

The new two-story, 22,000-square-foot Archibald Library housed more than 75,000 books and materials when its doors opened in September 1994. Williams was the first to apply for a library card.

“There’s not a word in the English language that can tell you how I felt at that time,” she said.

As the city grew, so did its library, adding a branch at Victoria Gardens, the Virtual Library and the popular Bookmobile.

While the Friends of the Library donated more than $100,000 annually through its used book and magazine sales, the library didn’t have anyone collecting the big bucks for more ambitious projects.

So, in 1996, the Rancho Cucamonga Library Foundation was formed to serve as the library system’s big moneymaker. The nonprofit, which is lead by community members, hosts fundraisers throughout the year to raise money for the library.

“It really is so much more impactful when you have these volunteers who are teachers and real estate agents in our community going out and talking to people about the future of our library,” Sowles said.

The Foundation is currently focused on the second phase of the Biane Library second floor expansion.

"We believe the library is the cornerstone of lifelong learning throughout our community, and we’ve committed to raising $1.5 million to establish the Second Story Interactive Discovery Space that will provide families and people of all ages, from all over the region, the opportunity to grow and learn through play, discovery, imagination and creativity,” Library Foundation President Kristine Scott said.

The Rancho Cucamonga Public Library has come a long way since that small, branch library on Base Line Road. Last year, the system was visited more than 600,000 times, and it loaned out more than a million items to patrons.

Click here to learn more about Rancho Cucamonga Library Services.
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