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The City of Whittier was founded in 1887 as a Quaker colony. In 1900, the population had grown to 3,000 and the town felt the need for a public library. Concerned citizens, including the Whittier Christian Temperance Union, held the first meeting of the Library Board of Trustees on April 17, 1900. A reading room opened and was housed in various buildings in Uptown Whittier. In 1905 three lots at the corner of Greenleaf Avenue and Bailey Street were purchased with funding from the Carnegie Foundation. The new Carnegie Library opened June 29, 1907.

The current Whittier Public Library facility opened June 1, 1959 in the Whittier Civic Center. Designed by William H. Harrison it occupied 27,845 square feet, which increased to 34.543 square feet upon completion of the mezzanine in 1974. The original design was one of openness and flexibility, with an abundance of natural light.

The Whittwood Branch, also designed by William H. Harrison, opened in East Whittier in June of 1968 and reopened again in December of 2012 following a major expansion/renovation.

The Whittier History Room is located on the mezzanine of the Central Library and is home to the Whittier Local History Collection. The purpose of this collection is to collect, preserve and make available to the public materials reflecting the development of the City of Whittier and surrounding areas. The main areas of collection are Whittier history, Whittier Hills and California history. The Whittier history collection includes Whittier College yearbooks, local high school yearbooks, Whittier City Directories, local telephone books, Haines Directories, and titles by local authors. The entire book collection is cataloged and searchable through the "Local History Room Catalog Search" on the left side of the page.

There are various files and archives supporting both the Whittier Hills and the Whittier History collections. These consist of clipping files, periodicals, pamphlets and ephemera. Finding aids are available in Archives that list all items with a brief description. Selected materials have been digitized and are available in the Visual Collection.

The Map Collection contains over 250 maps. A listing of the entire collection can be found on this website. A selection of these maps has been digitized and is available online.

The Whittier Historical Photograph Collection is a collection of photographs of Whittier, the surrounding areas and its people. It is made up of several smaller collections such as the Espolt, Whittier National Trust & Savings Bank, and (most recently acquired) the White-Bailey, as well as individual gifts. This collection continues to grow and we encourage any donations that would broaden and enhance its scope and depth.

The Shades of Whittier Collection was created in 1999 with funding from the federal Library Services & Technology Act (LSTA). It is a collection of photographs reflecting the ethnic and cultural diversity of the community. The 301 photographs in the collection were donated by numerous individuals and depict not only the local area, but also the many geographic areas that the people of Whittier came from.

The Oral History Collection includes oral histories, video interviews and written transcripts. The older oral histories were done during the 1960s and ‘70s and include many old Whittier family names such as Perry, Tebbetts, Myers, Milhouse and Hodge. In the late 1990s, as part of the Whittier Hills collection, a series of interviews was conducted with individuals active in the preservation of the Whittier Hills. The more recent interviews are done in video format.

The Local Newspaper archives are digitized from 1888-1955 and are keyword searchable. 1888-1923 are available on the web. 1924-1955 is restricted to library use only. 1956 to current is available on microfilm, for library use only.

Lastly, a list of Local History Resources has been provided. This list includes links to local history organizations and relevant city departments that strive to conserve not only historic structures and neighborhoods but also natural resources of the City and surrounding hills. The Community Development website includes a listing of the City's historic landmarks and districts.