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California Library Hall of Fame: Dorothea Nelson
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California Library Hall of Fame

 Dorothea Nelson (1903-1994) 

Born in Colorado Springs, CO, in 1903, Dorothea Dudley came to California in 1933 to attend library school at UC Berkeley. A year later she was appointed director of the Carnegie Library in Santa Maria—the small town’s only second city librarian. She stayed in Santa Maria for 34 years until she retired in 1968. Over the years, Nelson saw the population of her service area quadruple, prompting her and the library board to plan and build a new mission-style library, which opened in 1941. Nelson oversaw two building expansions in 1963 and then again in 1970, after she had retired. When reading rates began to plummet in the 1950s, due to the advent of television, she began offering Book Week open house events through the National Book Committee and became a member of the California Library Association’s (CLA) California Book Week Committee. A true champion of services to small communities, Nelson worked with a citizen’s group, formed in 1960, to address regional library services. As a result, the county’s current governance and finance zones were developed in 1961/62. She also worked to improve and expand services in nearby Cuyama, Guadalupe, and Orcutt, and built a new library in Los Alamos. In addition, Nelson was the inaugural president of the newly-formed Black Gold District of CLA, which eventually led to the creation of the Black Gold Cooperative Library System in 1964. For her 34 years of dedication and service to local and regional libraries, the library board named a conference room after Dorothea Nelson in 1969.

Dorothea Dudley Nelson was inducted into the California Library Hall of Fame in 2019. For more information about her work, please see:

  • Dorothea Nelson, “Black Gold Cooperative Library System,” California Librarian (October 1969): 233-236.
  • Dorothea Nelson, “California Library Week,” California Librarian (January 1955): 96.
  • Dorothea Nelson, “Book Quiz,” Bulletin of the California Library Association (September 1946): 15.

Photo credit: Santa Maria Public Library