Consistent source of funding “ensures that the Mill Valley Public Library can continue to innovate and offer programs our patrons appreciate and have come to expect,” says City Librarian Anji Brenner.

Mill Valley City Councilmembers and Mill Valley Library Foundation board members at a recent City Council meeting. Courtesy image.

Nearly 110 years since it opened on Lovell Ave., the Mill Valley Public Library, now just up the road on Throckmorton Ave., is ushering in the kind of sustained financial health that most public libraries can only dream about.

The local institution has a library-loving Almonte couple, and a unique public-private partnership between the City of Mill Valley and the Mill Valley Library Foundation, to thank for it. The Mill Valley City Council this week voted unanimously to release $350,000 – a bit less than half of a $661,419 donation in 2016 from the Zimmer Family Living Trust – to MVLF, allowing the nonprofit foundation to begin paying out annual, perpetual grants to the library. The payouts kick in with $65,000 from the foundation in July.

“Funding from the Mill Valley Library Foundation and generous donors like John Zimmer allow the Library to offer more interesting and robust programming than would otherwise be possible,” City Librarian Anji Brenner said. “A consistent level of funding from the Foundation, along with the Friends of the Library’s annual donation, ensures that the Mill Valley Public Library can continue to innovate and offer programs our patrons appreciate and have come to expect.”

​The agreement between the city and foundation comes on the heels of nearly two years of discussions, said Mill Valley Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters. “The benefits will be enormous and lasting for our library and community. Endowing this vital resource ensures our library will remain the gem that it is for decades to come.”

In 2016, the City Council accepted the donation, which came several months after the death of John Zimmer, who lived in the Almonte neighborhood. Zimmer and his wife, Jan Willard Zimmer, were huge fans of local public libraries, and they left behind $3 million of their estate to be divided equally among the Mill Valley Library, the Larkspur Library and the Corte Madera branch of the Marin County Free Library. The foundation received the $350,000 in January and implemented an endowment spending policy that will begin the annual payout of grants. The endowment currently sits at approximately $2.3 million, according to foundation officials.


“Crossing over our endowment into a perpetual payout mode is a major milestone for our 36-year old Foundation,” Foundation Board Chair Andrew Shapiro said. “The City’s transfer of a part of the Zimmer family’s generous legacy to the Library, allowing us to accelerate this milestone, demonstrates a unique public-private partnership here in Mill Valley. From this solid base, we hope to further grow our endowment, and the vital sustainable support it provides our Library, in the years to come when government budgets might not be able to do so.”

The formalization of the foundation’s endowment will provide for annual grants to the Library in perpetuity, city officials said, “supporting a range of superb and popular programs, including After Hours, technology equipment and classes and programs for young children and teens, as well as select capital improvements. In 2018, the library offered more than 1,400 free programs attended by 44,000 adults, teens and children, according to library officials. In 2015, Library Journal magazine named the Mill Valley Public Library a finalist for Best Small Library in America, recognizing its creativity, excellence, breadth and range of free programming.

The Mill Valley Public Library has an annual budget of $2.6 million and is funded primarily through tax revenues. It’s supported by two separate but complementary non-profit organizations: the Mill Valley Library Foundation and the Friends of the Mill Valley Library. The Friends, which largely support the library via its regular book sales both at the library and online and through its membership dues, and the Foundation contribute nearly $180,000 a year of private funding.

Founded in 1983, the Foundation continues its fundraising efforts, including community events such as its Storybook Ball and Beyond The Book Bash, in alternating years, and an annual year-end appeal, to further grow its endowment. This year, the foundation is also rolling out a legacy giving program to directly accept and manage gifts similar to the Zimmer bequest. As the Foundation’s endowment grows, the amount of annual grant support to the Library for its future needs will also grow, Shapiro said.

The Mill Valley Public Library opened at 52 Lovell Avenue in 1911, later moving to its current location at 352 Throckmorton Avenue in 1966. In 2011, to celebrate its centennial, the library produced and hosted a seemingly endless array of events, from First Fridays featuring notables like Daniel Ellsberg, who made the Pentagon Papers public in 1971, to the 100 Book Reading Challenge, in which adults committed to reading nearly two books a week for a year, as well as an Experience Backpack program, which provided “all the materials for a unique Mill Valley experience,” including things like maps, binoculars, a narrative guide and a digital camera.

The library serves a population of 15,000 with nearly 10,000 cardholders and a collection of nearly 320,000 items (print and digital). It welcomes 230,000 visitors per year and offers more than 1,400 free programs annually.

The 411: The Mill Valley Public Library is at 352 Throckmorton Avenue. MORE INFO.

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