The “new” library’s librarian

Oscar Smaalders
Stanislaus County Librarian Oscar Smaalders

Oscar Smaalders, the Stanislaus County Librarian from 1968 until his retirement in 1982, was at the forefront of leading staff and the community through the library building project. Born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1924, he lived in Nazi-occupied Holland during WW II. This shaped his life-long views as a pacifist. After the war he attended the Netherlands Maritime Academy and sailed internationally on Dutch merchant ships. On a 1947 voyage to the United States, he left his ship in New Jersey and entered the country as an undocumented immigrant. He found his way to Peoria, IL, where he graduated from college with an economics degree and master’s in international relations and later a master’s in library science from USC.

His 2019 obituary noted that he was not afraid to speak his truth, even if it meant clashing with community norms or his employer, the county board of supervisors. He was one of the first members of the Modesto Peace/Life Center. He advocated for the rights of migrant workers in the Central Valley, sponsored photography exhibits at the library and made sure the bookmobile served migrant labor camps. It was also noted that he was passionate about peace, social justice, and the welfare of the earth.

Oscar retired from the county library in 1982 and moved to Lopez Island, Washington, where he continued his activism for more than three decades. He died in 2019 at the age of 95.