The Thousand Oaks Library Foundation (TOLF) strengthens communities by supporting excellence in the Thousand Oaks Library system through philanthropy, advocacy and outreach. ·
The City of Thousand Oaks decided to form its own library system in 1982. As plans were moving ahead for construction of a new (award-winning) ultramodern library facility, the city began a nationwide search for a library director who would bring strong leadership and innovation to this community asset.
Ultimately the City hired Marvin Smith from Fairbanks, Alaska. Smith brought with him not only a wealth of proficiency in library management, but also experience in running a successful non-profit foundation to benefit the library. He arrived with a substantial donation from one of his patrons in Alaska, which was used to establish the Thousand Oaks Library Foundation (TOLF) in 1983. The purpose of the nonprofit group (as stated in the Articles of Incorporation) is to support the library, its special collections and programs and serve as a conduit for donations. The founding board members were Leonard Alexander, Antoinette Hagopian and Roy Thorsen.
In the 1980s, libraries were encouraged at the state level to serve as repositories for regional historical archives. Because many of Thousand Oaks’ residents worked in the entertainment field and because of the City’s proximity to Hollywood, it was decided to collect memorabilia from the Golden Age of Radio. Extensive research had ascertained that no other libraries or institutions in Southern California had such a collection.
The American Radio Archives (ARA) is housed in the Special Collections Department at the Grant R. Brimhall Library in Thousand Oaks, California. The ARA was established by the Thousand Oaks Library Foundation in 1984 to preserve and document the history of radio for future generations.
Smith contracted with an expert archivist to search for a major collection that would serve as the basis of the Foundation’s collection and would entice other collectors to look with respect to the Thousand Oaks Library. The Rudy Valleé Collection, one of the largest collections available at the time, was purchased in 1987 and Thousand Oaks became a major player with regard to the Golden Age of Radio. The Rudy Valleé purchase was so large, and considered so valuable, that Smith hired a certified archivist to begin work immediately to organize and catalog the materials.
Because of the significance of the Rudy Valleé collection, many celebrities and radio historians from around the world gravitated to the Thousand Oaks Library Foundation collection including such luminaries as Norman Lear, Carl Reiner, Ron Howard, Ray Bradbury, Norman Corwin, Edward Asner, Walter Cronkite, Janet Waldo, Candice Bergen and William Shatner.
The acquisition of the Norman Corwin collection in 1990 expanded the scope of the collection and increased esteem for the American Radio Archives. Corwin was recognized as one of the greatest writers in the English language, and has been called America’s “poet laureate” of radio. The Smithsonian Museum also wanted to purchase Corwin’s collection, however Corwin selected the Thousand Oaks Library Foundation because he had confidence that the library staff and TOLF would process his premiere collection professionally and work with him to annotate the collection. Corwin loved the library and thought it was the most beautiful library he had ever been in.
The addition of Norman Corwin’s works generated significant attention among radio aficionados, and as a result many noteworthy collections were donated to the Foundation. Among the largest and most prominent were the collections of KNX-CBS, Frank Bresee, Red Skelton, Carlton Morse, Milton and Barbara Merlin, and Allin Slate, to name just a few. Support for the American Radio Archives continued as Deputy Library Director Stephen Brogden was appointed director in 2000 after Smith’s retirement. The Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters (PPB), an organization made up of broadcasting professionals, took an interest in ARA and joined TOLF in actively promoting the collection. A partnership was formed between the PPB and TOLF, and the Foundation was named as curator of the extensive PPB collection.
Today the American Radio Archives contains manuscript collections, scripts, sound recordings, books, photographs, and other materials that vividly reflect the activities associated with the Golden Age of Radio. It is one of the largest early radio collections in the world. Two books authored by Thousand Oaks Library archivists Jeanette Berard and Klaudia Englund detail both the radio and television collections. The books were published by McFarland Press. The ARA collection of materials is open to researchers and scholars, as well as to all who are interested in the history of radio broadcasting.
To strengthen its goal of supporting the Library, TOLF instituted a video rental program in 1990, which made feature films conveniently available to rent for Library patrons, and the following year launched the Library Foundation Gift Store. During this same formative period, TOLF began its sponsorship of the library’s local history resources (including the Ventura County Star/News Chronicle photos, Ed Lawrence photography collection and the Janss corporate archives) and contributed to an anthology of art books.
The Foundation also hosted many major events and initiated the Children’s Radio Theater. Among the noteworthy occasions were an 80th birthday celebration for Ray Bradbury held at the Civic Arts Plaza, taped radio shows that were later broadcast on the air, the premiere of Ken Burns’ documentary on radio, celebration of Thousand Oaks 40th anniversary attended by residents who lived in the city when it incorporated and an recognition of the of the City’s 45th anniversary by bringing those first residents to the library and asking them to donate historical photos of the development of Thousand Oaks. These photos became the foundation of “Conejo through the Lens,” a digitized local history collection that can be accessed on the Internet. The Children’s Radio Theater invited local elementary school children to participate in radio broadcasts using scripts from the American Radio Archives. The youngsters were trained by radio broadcast professions in a brief two hours to read scripts, use microphones, to serve as directors or sound effects technicians. The shows were produced and taped, and each participant was given a copy.
In 1999, PPB members including Robert Ahmanson, president of Home Savings and The Ahmanson Foundation, and Norman Corwin encouraged the Foundation to build a 40,000 square foot expansion onto the library to create a Radio Museum and broadcast auditorium. They pledged to co-chair a committee to help with fundraising as well as pledging their personal donations. Plans were drawn up for the proposed facility and approved by the Thousand Oaks City Council in 2007.
The plans for the elaborate radio museum addition were disrupted December 13, 2004 when a Department of Water and Power (DPW) transformer in Los Angeles exploded spewing out hazardous chemicals and setting off the sprinkler system greatly impacting the PPB extensive broadcasting collection housed in Home Savings. The building was shut down, and it took several years of wrangling before a settlement was reached with DPW. The Thousand Oaks Library Foundation lent PPB $87,000 to help defray legal costs. In the meantime fundraising momentum was put on hold as the major fundraisers (Ahmanson and Corwin) both passed away.
When access to the collection was finally permitted, the collection had to be removed so that the bank building, then owned by Chase Bank, could be renovated and used in its entirety. The PPB collection, all five semi-truckloads of it, was moved to Newbury Park in 2011 under the auspices of the Foundation. The movers stacked the boxes of radio history ceiling high in the 2,000 square foot warehouse and Chase Bank paid for this move.
Members of PPB hired an environmental firm to open the boxes to search for mold and/or breakage of transmission disks, tapes, scripts, books and equipment. It was necessary to rent a second warehouse to store the materials that had been processed. After nearly a year of slow and mostly unproductive progress, the Foundation took over the unpacking, moving and shelving of the collection to a clean warehouse. As curator of the PPB collection, the Foundation was making a large investment to maintain the materials including staff time, warehouse rental fees and insurance costs. The Foundation had liability for the collection but did not own it. The board offered to forgive its loan of $87,000 to PPB in exchange for the collection. The offer was accepted an transfer of the collection was made on April 14, 2014.
Disaster struck [the collection] again November 22, 2014, when the water heater in the original warehouse burst sending torrents of water onto the stored collection boxes. The moving process was delayed while clean up of materials took precedence. With hired help, under the guidance of library archivists, the entire collection was relocated. It took nearly a year to complete the shelving process due to the immense size of the collection. The TOLF holdings contain one of the world’s largest collections of radio recordings, scripts, papers and memorabilia from the Golden Age of Radio.