Barbara Bush Branch Library
The Start - 1973
The Spring community in Harris County grew exponentially beginning in the 1960s. At the end of World War II, the town had fewer than 1,000 residents; by the early 1970s, the community had grown to 9,000. HCPL supported the growing community with regular Bookmobile visits.
A small group of citizens in the Spring area recognized the need for expanded access to county resources, including a library. Members of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) formed a library committee in September 1973.
In October, Spring Independent School District (ISD) voted to donate land on Medberry Road for use as a public library. The school wanted to be included in planning the building design, architectural style, and location. County Librarian Mary Owensby agreed that there was a need for a library in this area.
The group eventually known as the Cypress Creek Friends of the Library (seen here) was formally established in November 1973. Caroline Unick was elected president, and the group drafted a petition to circulate throughout the community. The Friends met once a month in the Spring ISD administration building. That same month the AAUW endorsed the site on Medberry Road.
In a January 1974 Commissioners Court meeting, County Judge Bill Elliot determined that the County would prioritize a new building for the Spring Branch-Memorial Library over the construction of a new library in the Cypress Creek area due to limited funds. As a result, plans for a building in Cypress Creek would be put on hold. Members of the Cypress Creek community quickly organized to get the word out about the rejection.
Judge Elliot reversed his decision a week later: the Cypress Creek community would receive a new library. The project was greenlit along with a new library in the Clear Lake area. The three new buildings were estimated to cost a total of $2.25 million.
In April 1974, new HCPL Director Katherine Skinner Brown recommended to Judge Elliott a different location on Cyresswood Drive for the branch. The Cypresswood Drive location was adjacent to the Wimbledon subdivision and near three school districts: Spring, Klein, and Aldine.
Judge Elliot selected the Cypresswood Drive location as the site for the new branch at a May meeting of the Commissioner’s Court. The developer of the Wimbledon subdivision donated one and a half acres of land to the County. The site had plenty of space for future expansion.
The April 30, 1975 groundbreaking ceremony at 6815 Cypresswood Drive for Cypress Creek Library was described as “the social event of the season” in local papers. Attendees included Spring ISD’s Milt Cooper, County Commissioner Bob Eckels, County Judge Jon Lindsay, and Caroline Unick, past president of the Friends group.
Photographs of the library’s construction in 1975 and 1976. The Friends raised funds for a microfiche reader, a printer, and periodicals on microfiche.
As construction carried on, the Friends became concerned about how the branch would be staffed. The HCPL budget had faced shortages the previous few years, and Director Brown was uncertain if she would be able to hire all 10 staff members by the time the branch opened in 1976. The Friends began planning to volunteer time staffing the branch if needed. Staffing would continue to be an issue at the branch over the next several years.
The ribbon-cutting and preview party in the newly completed library building on June 18, 1976.
The library opened to the public on Saturday, June 19, 1976, with “nearly every modern convenience and learning aid…available.” The 9,600 square foot building boasted records, cassettes, posters, games, and toys.
The branch manager was Richard Arduengo, and the children’s librarian was Ginny Martin. The branch opened with a total of 6 staff members.
Just a few weeks later, on the evening of July 20th, someone broke into the library. Luckily, the library lost only $20 in cash. Police suspected that the thief (or thieves) had been scared off, as they did not leave with the new electric typewriter and $90 calculator.
The library held its dedication ceremony on August 28, 1976.
At the ceremony, the library was presented with a Bicentennial American flag, seen here. From left to right: an aide of United States Representative Bill Archer, HCPL Director Kathy Brown, Cypress Creek Branch Librarian Richard Ardvengo.
From 1977-1978 there was significant staff turnover at the branch, with four different branch librarians: Richard Arduengo, Ann Kling Harris, Rob Safley, and Leela Krishnamurthy.
Harris and Safley are seen here with a Cookie Monster puppet in July 1977, ahead of the branch's first anniversary.
Author Stephen King visited the Cypress Creek Library on September 21, 1979 (coincidentally his 32nd birthday). Branch manager Leela Krishnamurthy organized the program. King did an author talk and book signing. King was honored with a birthday cake made by the library staff.
King enjoyed a smoke in the library. It was the 1970s after all.
The same month as Stephen King's visit, the branch transitioned from a card catalog to microfiche.
In December 1979, Branch Librarian Leela Krishnamurthy resigned.
In the winter of 1980, the Friends of the Cypress Creek Library wrote to Commissioner Bob Eckels about the continuous understaffing at the branch shortly after the resignation of Leela Krishnamurthy. The Friends asked that Krishnamurthy be re-instated and argued that Cypress Creek was the largest and busiest branch in HCPL and the community deserved better service. The Cataloging department had a backlog of up to 18 months before new materials were available for check out.
Following the uproar, the Commissioners Court increased the library budget by 18%, added two new positions at Cypress Creek, and filled two positions in the cataloging department at the Administrative office. The Cypress Creek branch itself received a 15% increase in its materials budget.
To help with staffing the branch, seven HCPL employees from other branches were scheduled to work at Cypress Creek on Saturdays. HCPL Director Cathy Park reassigned a librarian from the Detention Center outreach location to Cypress Creek.
There was difficulty filling the branch manager position because the salary was low for the Spring area at $15,672. Eventually, Guusje Moore, who had previously worked at the Aldine Branch and on the Bookmobile, was hired as the Branch Librarian.
The branch continued to suffer from staff shortages. Staff only had one day off a week and were overworked and demoralized. Patrons were unhappy with the service. Director Park continued to request funding for additional staff from Commissioners Court.
In June 1981, Branch Librarian Guusje Moore resigned. Elizabeth Hulsey (seen here) was then appointed the sixth branch manager since the library had opened in 1976.
The Friends of the Library continued to raise funds through annual book sales and partnerships with businesses such as McDonald’s. In 1982 and 1983, local McDonald’s franchises offered free hamburgers in exchange for used books. Proceeds from book sales went to library supplies and programming.
In May 1982, Hurricane Alicia hit the Houston area. Multiple trees fell on the roof and parking lot. Heavy rains throughout the year led to sinkholes along the curb of the building and multiple roof leaks, which were repaired by October.
Branch Librarian Elizabeth Hulsey is seen here handing a certificate to Melissa Hardy at the end of the summer reading program in 1982. The theme that year was Space Capers.
Children enjoying storytime at the branch in 1983.
A librarian wrote in a January 1985 report, “On Jan. 28th 1985, one of the most important events in the history of the Cypress Creek Library took place. The first books to be circulated on the Automated Library Information System for Harris County were checked out at this branch.”
From November 1985 into early 1986, the branch underwent a renovation; staff worked at other branches while Cypress Creek was closed. Unfortunately, by September 1986, after the renovation was complete, the roof was leaking again, and ceiling tiles fell.
The branch was in the local papers in 1986 due to donations from the Northwest Republican Women's Club as part of the Mamie Eisenhower Library Project.
This profile of the branch in 1987 allowed the Friends of the Cypress Creek Library to reflect on the campaign for the library and the work they had put in over the last decade to support the branch.
In November 1988, online reference requests were available for patrons for the first time. The librarian received the questions, completed the research, and would contact the patron the next day with the answer. Some sample reference questions from that time:
“What is Dolly Parton’s recipe for cabbage and chicken soup?”
“How many deaths were caused by people rocking vending machines when they received neither the products nor their money back?”
The library collection continued to expand. By the early 1990s, the Cypress Creek Friends of the Library realized that the original building was no longer large enough to meet the needs of the community. As an article notes: "Because of the immense popularity of the facility, which continues to grow because of an ever-increasing influx of newcomers to the area, there is an average of less than one book per patron."
Despite budget limitations, plans began to form for a newer, bigger, and larger-staffed library. County Commissioner Jerry Eversole backed the plans for expansion and looked for funds to allocate to the project.
In 1994, a book sale (seen here) was put on at an old bank building by the Cypress Creek Friends of the Library to help raise funds for the new building. The sale raised $8,500.
Reference Librarian Margaret Fincannon Davis shares this memory of the branch during the 1990s:
"I remember that it normally was a 40-45 minute line to check out at Cypress Creek. About the same wait time as renewing your driver’s license. (This was many, many years before any HCPL branch library had self-checkout machines.)
I saw a kid pull the fire alarm near the circulation desk. Suddenly there was a loud buzzing noise, the overhead lights were flashing.
No one in the checkout line batted an eye. They obviously did not care if the library burned down around them but NO ONE was going to give up his (or her) place in line just because the fire alarm had gone off.
Of course, since I had seen the kid trip it, we were able to tell everyone that there was no fire. That the alarm had been tripped as a prank."
In early 1995, efforts began in earnest to promote and fundraise for a new building. The old Cypress Creek building had originally been designed to hold approximately 15,000 books, but was currently holding over 67,000! The library literally could not hold any more books.
The library moved closer to getting a new facility. The Friends of the Library received permission from former First Lady Barbara Bush to name the future library after her.
The project was a giant endeavor, with business support from all over the Houston area, such as KPRC Channel 2 news anchor Linda Lorelle; State Representative Peggy Hamric; Mark Jones, editor of the 1960 Sun; The Klein Funeral Home; representatives from North Harris Montgomery Community College, and the manager of Willowbrook Mall.
In September 1996, the Friends of the Libary raised $15,000 for the new building at a book sale.
In an article that November in the 1960 Sun, Cypress Creek Reference Librarian Margaret Fincannon discussed the library’s role in the world with the increasing popularity and use of the Internet. Fincannon was dubbed a “cyber-librarian”!
The County rolled out a new service called “HARRY,” allowing customers to look through the library's holdings and reserve books while at home - something we tend to take for granted today. This was a fascinating new feature! HARRY was not tied to the Internet and could only be accessed by calling a number on a computer modem and retrieving a directory of online resources.
In June 1997, Commissioner’s Court announced that the library would receive $4 million for the new Barbara Bush building. Library staff were granted access to "Internet Email."
In August, roof leaks in the library increased, with water pouring in the building. It took six delivery tubs to contain the water.
In January 1999, the Northwest Chamber of Commerce raised $5,000 to help fund the Robin Bush meeting room in the new building. It was named after the late daughter of George and Barbara Bush, who passed away at the age of three from leukemia.
Seen here is an architectural rending of the new library, designed by Morris Architects. The new building would be two stories, 32,000 ft, and would cost $5.3 million for construction, furnishing, technology, and the book collection.
The new library would boast a staff of 44 (up from 14 at the old library) and house 116,000 items in its collection! This was a huge increase from the 15,000 books the first building was designed for.
In May 1999, the discontinuation of the bookmobile department meant that two staff members transferred to the Cypress Creek branch.
That July, the county approved $600,000 towards a collection of books for the new building.
In May 2000, the project was awarded to the Fireman Construction Company for $3.966 million.
The groundbreaking for the new library took place on June 12th. Seen here: Richard Chambers of Morris Architects, HCPL Director Cathy (Park) Ensign, County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, County Judge Robert Eckels, Barbara Bush Library Friends President Marlena Powers, and Don Weatherson of Compaq Computer Corp. Compaq donated $50,000 in computers to the branch.
Then construction began on the new library.
A letter from former First Lady Barbara Bush addressed to the Friends of the Library:
“I have a deep appreciation for the role that libraries play in the educational and cultural life of our communities, and it's an honor this marvelous facility will bear my name...
"Libraries are information centers that allow us to learn more about ourselves and the world in which we live...”
– Barbara Bush, June 12, 2000
In 2001, the library received significant donations from the Women’s Council of Realtors and from the Houston Golf Association. Two of the rooms in the new library were named in honor of these donations: the Women’s Council of Realtors Conference Room, and the Earl Elliott Meeting Room.
In June 2001, Tropical Storm Allison caused severe flooding to the area, and the library was closed on June 9th. The parking lot flooded and damaged some construction materials being stored there.
The brand new Barbara Bush Branch Library celebrated its grand opening on December 18, 2002.
The outside of the new building.
The inside of the new building with the Barbara Bush Branch Library staff.
The official dedication of the new library took place on February 7, 2003, with Barbara Bush performing the ribbon cutting.
Mrs. Bush signed autographs after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
After the grand opening, the library circulated 56,000 materials in just two months. The new self-checkout machines at the branch were very popular with customers.: 94% of all checkouts were from the self-service machines.
Mrs. Bush visited the library several times over the years and took time to read and visit with the children. This photograph is from a visit in March 2003.
In early 2006, the Fincher family honored their mother by donating to the Cypress Creek Fine Arts Association's efforts to install a museum at the site of the old Cypress Creek Library building. The project was successful and renovations for the Pearl Fincher Museum began in early 2007.
The Barbara Bush Library Friends commissioned a mural as a memorial to Kathleen "Niki" Rogers, a former library staff member, volunteer, and Friend who passed away in 2007. It was designed by artist Pat Rawlings in collaboration with a team of library friends and employees. It combines the history, wildlife, and vegetation of the Cypress Creek area with allusions to classic and current children's literature. The mural hangs in the children's area and is over 7 feet tall and 31 feet wide.
The mural was unveiled in December 2007. Sketches, models, and other media related to the mural can be found here.
In September 2008, Hurricane Ike blew through the area, causing a power outage and damage to the branch. Even without lights or air-conditioning, the branch opened its doors to families in the days after the storm. Staff used flashlights and headlamps to find books on the shelves and prepared craft activities to entertain kids.
Barbara Bush visited on January 5, 2011.
On March 2, 2012, the branch celebrated its 35th anniversary. Barbara Bush wrote to the Friends to congratulate them on the achievement and visited the branch in late March to hold storytime for the children.
Former First Lady Barbara Bush holds a baby during her visit.
Mrs. Bush's last visit to the library was March 3, 2013. On each visit, she told stories to the children, visited with the senior citizen groups and English tutors, posed for hundreds of photos with customers, and was always a gracious presence.
A short video of the branch's history was put together in 2016 to celebrate the branch's 40th anniversary. The film includes clips of Barbara Bush's visits to the branch.
In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey ripped through the area and caused significant damage to the branch. Water from Cypress Creek spilled into the first floor damaging the children's room and lobby. The floodwaters can be seen in this photograph of the front of the branch during the hurricane event.
It would take nine months to repair the building and replace the collection in the children's room.
Barbara Bush passed away on April 17, 2018. The branch became a spot for the community to honor her memory. Flowers were left on a bench and visitors shared their stories in a memory book.
The branch was ready for soft reopening in May 2018. The community was overjoyed when the doors opened.
The branch had a grand reopening on June 22, 2018, with appearances from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle.
The branch opened with a new collection, courtesy of Commissioner Cagle - the Commissioner’s Classics Corner provides access to a wide selection of classic books. The collection includes literary works from famous philosophers, political theorists, and novelists throughout recorded history.
In 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic struck Harris County, the Barbara Bush branch staff transitioned to virtual service. With the start of curbside service in June 2020, the Barbara Bush staff got creative, promoting the new service through social media in a skit entitled "Curbside Larry."
Curbside Larry, a character played by staff member John Schaffer, was an instant icon. With over 1.2 million views for his debut video on Twitter alone, an appearance on Good Morning America, as well as shoutouts by fans from as far away as Sweden and Australia, it is safe to say that Curbside Larry is the world's first viral library advocate. His video has been featured in media outlets as diverse as Buzzfeed, CBS Morning News, and Texas Monthly (who also ranked Curbside Larry as one of the Most Iconic Local TV & Billboard Legends in Texas).
In February 2021, Winter Storm Uri blew through Texas, overwhelming the power grid, leaving unprecedented snow levels on the ground, and causing burst pipes all over the city and state after nearly a week of below-freezing temperatures. The branch was used as a warming center and place to get clean water.
On May 19, 2021, the branch reopened to the public for the first time since March 2020. Staff were overjoyed to welcome back the community and begin the next chapter in the story of the Barbara Bush Branch Library.