Atascocita Branch Library
Prior to the 1990s, the Atascocita community was served by the Octavia Fields branch library in Humble. As the Atascocita population grew in the 1980s, residents began to see a need for a new library. Odell Dreyer (pictured here in 2007), a retired teacher who volunteered at the Octavia Fields branch, met with County Commissioner E. A. "Squatty" Lyons in October 1987. Dreyer urged Commissioner Lyons to support funding for a new branch in Atascocita.
The search was on for land on which to build the library. Dreyer and other supporters of a new library approached the land manager for Gibraltar Savings Association in November 1987 to see if the bank would donate land for the new library building. In March of 1988, Gibraltar Savings included land for a library in the master plan for the Atascocita area.
A teacher from the nearby elementary school had her students write letters of support for the new library and sent copies of them to HCPL Director Cathy Park.
In 1988, Director Park viewed a site for the library on the corner of West Lake Houston Parkway and Upper Lake Drive. She endorsed the property to Commissioner's Court and recommended that the Octavia Fields branch remain open. It was also decided that a Friends Group would be formed for Atascocita once the groundbreaking began.
Some time passed, and Gibraltar Savings merged with other lending institutions. All of their assets, including the land for the library, were transferred to a new institution. The original library site was abandoned. A new site was proposed but deemed unsuitable.
More time passed, and Commissioner Lyons retired. In 1990, the new Precinct 4 County Commissioner was Jerry Eversole, pictured here with Assistant Director Rhoda Goldberg and Director Park. A meeting was held with Commissioner Eversole about library funding issues and the continued need for a library in the Atascocita area. Residents were encouraged by the meeting with Commissioner Eversole and felt that the project had County support again.
Odell Dreyer, Becky Berry, and other Atascocita residents formed the Patrons of Atascocita Library (PAL), and the group met regularly at the Merchants Bank in the Atascocita Town Center. Director Park visited one of the meetings, and there was a collective feeling of excitement around the possibility of the library actually coming to fruition.
PAL eventually became the Friends of Atascocita Library (FOAL). The group began looking for a new site for the library. They also began raising funds for purchasing furniture and other equipment the eventual library would need.
At the August 1992 FOAL meeting, it was announced that the acquisition of a four-acre Pinehurst site for the library was in process, and fundraising began in earnest. A sign dedication ceremony was held on the land on September 24, 1993, to show that the library would soon be a reality.
On October 27, 1994, a groundbreaking ceremony was held during which FOAL presented a $20,000 check to HCPL to cover the costs of books for the branch.
At the next meeting of the FOAL, the Commissioner's Court recognized the group's achievements and declared November 1, 1994, to be "Friends of the Atascocita Library Day".
On May 5, 1996, the library held an opening reception courtesy of Precinct 4. Commissioner Eversole, Director Park, and 150 members of the community attended. Linda Bryson was named the first branch librarian.
The building was 12,000 square feet, housing a collection of 60,000-65,000 items. The Adult and Children's sections had tables and space able to accommodate up to 88 people. IT installed 2 copiers and 12 public access catalog computers.
The branch had a meeting room able to hold up to 50 people and a conference room available for smaller meetings. There was also a staff workroom and kitchen facilities.
At the time of opening, popular items at the branch were the Goosebumps series, books about dogs, and the microfiche of The New York Times newspaper.
At the opening, Commissioner Eversole presented the library with a framed plaque commemorating the achievements of the Friends of the Atascocita Library. Becky Berry, President of FOAL, accepted the plaque with Odell Dreyer and Margaret Curry at her side.
Shortly after opening, a tile wall designed by Jo Webb was installed on the outside front of the building right by the entrance doors. The mural features an outline of the shape of Texas in bluebonnets alongside other local flowers.
In June of 1996, the library circulated 23,735 books. Unfortunately, by the end of the summer, the building had roof leaks and wet carpet.
In 1997, the library was graffitied, and three snakes were found in the library.
However, the branch did celebrate its first anniversary in May of that year with a huge party (seen here).
In March of 1998, the Friends of the Library donated three PCs to the branch. At this point, the branch had a total of five computers for patrons to use, in addition to 12 computers that were used for accessing the library's catalog.
Popular items to check out that year were VHS tapes and the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
In October of that year, Assistant Librarian Gary Collum married Desk Assistant Sandy Williams.
At the end of the year, carolers visited the branch to celebrate the Christmas season (seen here).
FOAL had started a golf tournament fundraiser in 1995. By 1999, the event pulled in sponsors like Coca-Cola. The proceeds from the tournament helped purchase books, supplies, and furniture for the branch. Commissioner Jerry Eversole, Becky Berry, and Linda Bryson pose with a golf club in a promotional photo for the event.
In June of 1999, the Pokémon books were popular, and the branch had a summer carnival including a children's mini train (seen here).
In October of 1999, the most popular book series was Harry Potter. The third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was released in July and the branch could not fill all the requests. The branch had two very well-attended Harry Potter parties that year. Pictured here is a giant Hogwarts Castle that staff constructed for one of the parties.
In November, the Harris County Mosquito Control department put on a children’s program with live mosquitoes, mosquito eggs, and larvae.
Internet classes were so popular that the branch had a three-month waitlist.
In 2000, librarians used the funds donated by the Friends to purchase CDs of popular teen artists, including N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, and Britney Spears.
The branch held its annual Easter Egg Hunt in April. Other programs that year included a cake decorating class and another summer carnival.
Tropical Storm Allison hit Houston in June 2001. There was no damage at the Atascocita branch. However, fellow north Harris County branch Baldwin Boettcher suffered severe damage, and two staff members from Baldwin Boettcher came to work at Atascocita while their branch was repaired. Circulation increased at Atascocita due to the closing of the Baldwin Boettcher branch.
In September of 2001, the branch reports slower traffic and less circulation in the branch due to the events of September 11th.
On October 14, 2005, the branch opened an exhibit on Elizabeth I. During the next six weeks, the library hosted more than 10 programs related to the exhibit, including costume parties and high tea with an Elizbeth I reenactor. Over 10,000 people came to visit the exhibit, including school groups from Humble High School and Kingwood High School. Visitors to the exhibit were hosted by volunteer docents who explained the panels and discussed British history.
The event was a culmination of years of planning and organization between the library and FOAL. Key support was also provided by Humble Independent School District, Barnes and Novel, National Charity League, Jesse Jones Nature Park, Kingwood College, and the Humble Observer.
In February 2006, Beth Krippel (seen here) became the Branch Librarian, transferring over from the Katherine Tyra @ Bear Creek branch.
The branch celebrated its 10th anniversary in May. Director Park presented a keynote address at a ceremony that honored past presidents of the Friends group as well as the librarians that had served the branch over the previous 10 years.
A newspaper profile in October highlighted the branch and its programs, including an Open Mic night and Teen Halloween Haunt for teens that felt too old to trick or treat but still wanted some Halloween fun.
Atascocita Branch Library staff in 2007.
In September of 2008, Hurricane Ike hit the Houston area, knocking out power for several weeks. Atascocita staff continued to hold storytimes to keep a sense of routine for children, even while the branch was without lights or A/C for three weeks in the hot Texas summer. Staff provided service to the community using flashlights and paper records for checkouts. Librarians carefully selected children’s books that dealt with tragedies and difficult situations to help kids during this time.
In February 2010, the branch hosted a Jazz Cafe event, featuring young musicians playing the saxophone, trumpet, and keyboard piano.
The FOAL held another book sale in April of that year. The Friends are able to buy hundreds of new books each year for the branch thanks to their fundraisers.
BOLT - the Board of Library Teens - put on a puppet show in September 2011 to entertain younger customers at the Atascocita Branch.
Another popular teen event in 2011 was a Cosplay Chess game in late October. Teens dressed as their favorite characters from books, movies, and videogames, and battled for victory.
The branch held a huge Star Wars party on July 6, 2012, complete with lightsaber practice and battles.
A young fan of the Atascocita Branch left this kind message on Valentine's Day, 2013: "I love the library. This is where I found my first book."
On March 14, 2013, the branch celebrated Pi Day. Children competed in a Pi Reciting Contest, with the winner Victoria making it all the way to the 91st digit!
During the summer reading program in 2014, Cinder the Fire Dog visited the Atascocita Branch Library with Tom Petty for a fire safety program.
At the Halloween Party that year, children listened to Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson, before building gingerbread haunted houses.
In June 2015, Houston Astros mascot Orbit visited the Atascocita branch. Orbit spoke to children about the importance of reading and signed autographs for young fans.
In August, the branch held its annual End of Summer Reading Program party. Pictured here is the first-place winner of the singing contest, belting out his best rendition of "Let it Go" from the Disney movie Frozen.
Storytime is always popular at the Atascocita branch. In February 2016, the branch had a Texas-themed storytime. Children dressed up in their cowboy and cowgirl best.
Later that year, the branch purchased some snowballs so Atascocita teens could have a snowball fight outside of the library.
Through a grant provided by Best Buy, the branch started a robotic program called WeDo's Robotics in 2016. The program was featured in the news in March 2017.
In October of 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. The Atascocita branch was thankfully not damaged. However, the nearby Kingwood branch experienced significant flood damage. The Atascocita branch helped serve the community over the next several months until Kingwood reopened again in 2018.
On December 8, 2017, it lightly snowed in Atascocita.
In May 2018, as part of the annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebrations, families gathered outside to see a Lion Dance.
The branch received new benches in September 2018 thanks to Paul McCain, who crafted the benches as part of his Eagle Scout project. Branch Manager Beth Krippel is seen here with McCain.
Trunk or Treat at the Atascocita Branch Library parking lot on October 26, 2019.
When the building closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Atascocita branch staff continued to provide the best service possible, utilizing options such as curbside service and creating book bundles for customers. Atascocita staff also filmed many virtual programs and storytimes, such as the puppet show seen here.
Atascocita staff continued their annual tradition of Bobtober in October 2020. Every October, staff member Kimberly Darneille brings a skeleton named Bob to the branch to hang out at the library and help spook visitors to the Haunted Library event. While the branch remained closed due to COVID-19, Bob had his usual fun in and around the branch, which staff documented on social media.
The Atascocita community, which waited a decade for a library, shared their support and appreciation for the library and its staff during the closure. They received some good news in late 2020 when Harris County Commissioners Court approved a million-dollar expansion of the branch. The work will begin shortly after the branch celebrates its 25th anniversary in May 2021.
Becky Berry, when speaking about the expansion, noted: “With no community center in Atascocita, our library serves multiple purposes – voting booths during elections, space for community meetings, and multiple library and community programs, so this 25th birthday is very special."
An exciting new chapter lays ahead for the Atascocita Branch Library and its community.