Santa Cruz County History - Libraries & Schools

The History of the Santa Cruz Public Library System: Part 4-- Minerva Waterman, Librarian 1890--1941
by Margaret Souza

Minerva Waterman, who became a librarian through a quirk of fate, ended up serving in that role for 51 years, and in the process became the guiding force behind the development of the Santa Cruz Public Library System.

She worked first as a rural school teacher, but was called home in 1889 to help care for her ailing father; she took the assistant librarian position only as a temporary way to work near home. Just one year later she was elected to the post of head librarian - a position she held until her retirement in 1941.

Miss Waterman's first task was to create a functional catalog system, as there was no standard method in use at the time. In her own careful handwriting, she not only made file entries by author and title, but also added brief, perceptive statements about each author and book, based on her own reading.

The space at City Hall proved to be inadequate, and civic interest focused on securing a permanent, suitable facility for the library. In 1901 the trustees approached Andrew Carnegie regarding a major gift to build a local library; their effort was successful, and in 1904 the Santa Cruz Free Public Library opened its doors at the corner of Church and Center.

1904 Post card of the Carnegie Library (Main Library)
1904 Post card of the Carnegie Library (Main Library)

Minerva Waterman had goals for her library that exceeded its modest budget, so she turned to the community for help. Countless fund raisers were held on its behalf. Miss Waterman also actively sought and received personal collections from many influential citizens. The donation of the Otto Kunitz Music Library in 1937 formed the nucleus of [what would become] the Art and Music Room, a concept that was years ahead of its time.

Other innovative programs sponsored by the library included lectures and art exhibits. Keeping up with modern times, phonograph records and stereoscope views (in sets of 25) were added to the circulating collection in 1910, and in 1925 a parking lot was added for the convenience of patrons.

Miss Waterman's long tenure also saw the expansion of the system to include branches at Seabright, Garfield Park and East Santa Cruz, and a contract to extend services to the county. And until the school district established its own library in 1940, the public library also served the area's high school and elementary schools.

On the occasion of Miss Waterman's retirement in 1941, the Santa Cruz Sentinel observed,

"Through the years the various trustees of the library performed their duties well, but Santa Cruz will always remember that at the head of the growing institution throughout the most vital 51 years of its expansion was Miss Minerva Waterman, with her vision, energy and initiative."

Copyright 1984 Margaret Souza. Adapted from The History of Santa Cruz Public Library System, an unpublished manuscript. Reproduced with the permission of the author. Post card from the Santa Cruz Public Libraries' collection.

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