The next time you visit the San Mateo Main Library take a moment to look at the big plaque on the outside of the building. It’s a list of the major donors — individuals and business organizations — who contributed to the original capital campaign. Twenty-five years ago the San Mateo Library Foundation was created and it has much to celebrate today.

But more than two decades ago, a new library seemed like a distant dream. The old building on Third Avenue (site of present library) was ugly and outdated in what it could offer in the 21st century. So the first job was to convince the community. Next came a bond measure and a competition for the state library bond. Both were successful. The voters overwhelming supported the $35 million bond and the state bond contributed $20 million. But there was still a gap. Deidre Marblestone, the first president of the Library Foundation, came to the City Council and said the Foundation would make up the difference of $10 million. They did. That was 25 years ago.

Contributors included residents of both San Mateo and Hillsborough. City Librarian K.G. Ouye was the driving force behind getting the job done. Some of the key original players were John Draper, Frances Nelson, Tish Buselle and the San Mateo Rotary Foundation.

The main library, certainly the most beautiful building in the city, has won numerous architectural and environmental awards (the latter for its greenness). It has become the de facto community living room by being so welcoming and so full of exciting books, magazines and newspapers; and things to do and learn in a comfortable setting. The foundation came to the rescue during the financial downturn when the city could not afford to keep the library open on weekends. The Saturday and Sunday hours were especially important for students who needed the library to do their homework or for people who were job hunting. The foundation has provided extra services for children, seniors and for those who need help with technology. Today, the foundation supports an extensive loan program for those who do not have computers or laptops or other tech devices. It has supported special collections in a variety of languages of books, newspapers and journals.

Foundation members have been key in ensuring the library would have a building designed for the future and resources for an enlightened community Now, foundation support continues to advance innovative programming for a 21st-century information institution such as high-tech materials handling and lending. Last year, it funded Mateo, the library on wheels.


The foundation’s main fundraising event is the Author’s Gala managed by the Literary Society. Funds from this year’s eighth annual gala, which raised $245,000, will be used to increase the number of laptops/WiFi hotspots to those in need, plus will add innovation tools to support the community’s future vitality in the digital age. These tools enable patrons to more easily apply for jobs, video interview or use FaceTime, videotelephone for work and pleasure, to complete homework assignments, and develop creative and technological skills.

This year’s author was Stanford professor Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and author of “From Cold War to Hot Peace.” The Literary Society steering committee included Alexandra Gillen, Diane Ervin, Suzanne Simms, Marian Sosnick and Wendy Voorsanger. They were assisted by Jeanne Back, Flor Santana Bernard, Sarah Block, Susan Graham, Jamie Hwang, Elise Kardos, Kim Lazarus, Linda Lewis, Lisa McDonald, Heather McLean and Mimi Mornell.


Fire hydrants in San Mateo’s Baywood neighborhood are getting a face lift with a dark green paint job and floral design courtesy of the Baywood Owners Improvement Association. Dogs, stay away.

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo.

Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at

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