Fairbanks Branch Library
The Fairbanks library was founded due to the work of one dedicated woman. Service first started in 1922 when Postmistress Eleanor Shobert obtained 200 volumes from the county library administration office and stored them at the post office (seen here). Shobert's husband converted an old-fashioned folding bed into a homemade bookcase that could be closed when the library was not in service. Community members could borrow books during their visits to the post office.
Shobert traveled to downtown Houston once or twice a month to return books and pick up new ones to refresh the community's collection.
Unfortunately, in February 1925, the post office burned down. The library moved to the home of resident Mrs. W. H. Ehlert until a more permanent location could be secured.
The community came together to raise funds for a new building on land donated by C. W. Hahl. Shobert was named a trustee for the project and coordinated box dinners, Silver Tea parties, and storytimes to raise the $146 needed to begin construction on the new building. The library was framed and work had begun thanks to dedicated volunteers when tragedy struck again. On a rainy day when everyone in the community was attending a school program, thieves stole all the lumber and shingles that weren't nailed down.
Citizens persevered and raised funds a second time. Materials were purchased, and finally, in 1928 a 224 square foot wood-frame building (seen here) was completed and opened.
Read an account of the early years of the branch by Eleanor Shobert.
The library was located at 5611 Fairbanks-North Houston Road and had no telephone or indoor plumbing. The building could only hold a maximum of 4,000 books.
The first paid librarian was Florence Clausen (seen here with children on the porch of the library).
That year, Fairbanks had the 10th highest circulation in the system, with 3,209 books checked out.
Eleanor Shobert is visible on the far left of this photo taken in 1930 while the branch was undergoing repair work. Land donor C.W. Hahl is visible on the far right.
During the early years, water had to be carried to the library from the Shobert well. There was no heat source during the winter to keep the building warm. A swarm of yellowjackets made their nest in the walls and visitors could hear them flying around.
Trustees of the library held benefit affairs to cover the expenses of repairs to the building. A Little Theater production at Fairbanks in 1936 permitted various repairs and upkeep to be made on their small library building.
A group of women and children gathered at the branch to weed the yard and have some tea.
The monthly salary for Florence Collins, the librarian at the branch in 1939, was around $2.25.
Starting in 1941, a small collection of books was placed in the Fairbanks School to help supplement the community's collections. In 1945, the school had double the circulation of the branch - 5,298 books checked out versus 2,523 at the regular branch. By the end of the decade, the collection at the school had been absorbed by the branch.
Just a few miles west of Fairbanks was a segregated school for Black students that had been part of HCPL since 1923. Shortly after the founding of HCPL, a small collection of books was placed in the Independence Gardens (Colored) School in the Independence Gardens community. This location was the first HCPL station opened in a Black community in Harris County. The school was in a private home that first year, and the students checked out 196 books. The library withdrew the collection in 1927 due to “unsettled community conditions” but reinstated it in January 1928.
Clara Scott, seen here with students, started teaching at the school in 1928. The collection was again withdrawn in 1933 but was returned in February 1934 upon the request of Scott. The closure was due in part to the fact that the school had an irregular schedule. As noted in the 1935 annual report, the library collection was available “only during the school term which is short [November to March] because the pupils have to work in the fields.”
The school was renamed Fairbanks Colored School in 1938, although the library continued to refer to it as Independence Gardens in the annual reports until the early 1940s.
In 1940, an adult education group was organized by school teachers. Programs included group discussion on the various phase of community life as well as Black literature. The location had a record circulation of 1,108 that year. The collection was again withdrawn in 1942. The school was later renamed Caverdale School and remained open until desegregation was mandated in the late 1960s.
In April 1947, "at the request of the Colored Home Demonstration Agent" for the community and Eleanor Shobert, the former custodian of the Fairbanks Library, a collection of 72 books was placed in the store of Mrs. J.E. Maddox, who volunteered to be an unpaid custodian of the collection for the Black community. The yearly circulation at the store hovered between 100 and 200 books a year until 1952 when the location was closed and service consolidated with the Fairbanks library.
Note: the linked historical report contains racist and insensitive language.
In 1954, circulation at the branch jumped to 22,584 from the previous year's 3,723. County Librarian Mary Owensby gave high praise to Fairbanks Librarian Verna Mae Stephens and her staff for the improvement in circulation.
With the increase in customers, the branch received its first parking lot in 1955.
In 1957, the library was updated with new flooring and a door with a "book return" slot.
Girl Scout Troop 680 of Fairbanks repainted the outside of the library in 1958. Citizens donated funds to purchase additional shelving needed to hold all of the books.
By 1966, it was obvious that the community needed a larger library. The Fairbanks building was the only remaining structure built in the 1920s, and at 224 square feet, it was the smallest branch in Harris County.
The Fairbanks Friends of the Library was formed with Betty Fowlkes as president. County Librarian Mary Owensby wrote to Commissioner E. A. "Squatty" Lyons about the need for a larger library in the Fairbanks community.
In 1968, the county looked at land at Gessner Road and Little York Road. The site would be split into a park and a lot for the new library. The County secured a federal grant of $50,000 to help cover the cost of construction. The project would cost a projected $108,805, and the new building would be 5,000 square feet and hold up to 25,000 books.
The groundbreaking for the new building took place on February 19, 1969. Commissioner Lyons, Betty Fowles, County Library Mary Owensby, and County Judge Bill Elliott are pictured here at the ceremony.
Eleanor Shobert, the first caretaker for the library, attended and presented a history of the branch to attendees.
The architect for the building was Ernest Cole, and the general contractor was the Schubert Construction Company.
The grand opening of the new building took place on October 5, 1970. The building was reported to be "most modern in design and contains sufficient reading areas, administrative quarters, and an assembly room capable of accommodating about 50 persons."
Catherine Rachel was appointed the branch librarian at Fairbanks. Newly graduated from library school when she joined HCPL in 1970, Catherine Park (as she would later be known) would become the Director of the system by the end of the decade.
Eleanor Shobert presents a history of the branch to the crowd at the grand opening of the branch in this photograph. Catherine Rachel stands behind Shobert.
Families showed up to celebrate the spacious new building.
The exterior of the new building in 1970.
In 1975, the Jersey Village Garden Club donated a magnolia tree to the library, which was planted just outside the entrance.
As the library system faced budget cuts during the late 1970s, the hours at the Fairbanks branch were cut from 54 hours to 44.
In October 1980, the branch celebrated its tenth anniversary at the Gessner Road location.
From 1980 to 1981, there were multiple instances of vandalism. The library installed burglary bars on the windows and doors and floodlights in the parking lot to deter vandals.
Despite these precautions, the book drop sign was stolen in August 1982, and then in December 1982, the outside lights were broken by vandals. In 1983, the book drop and library sign were vandalized again.
In 1984, the county approved $44,000 to fund new blinds, paint, carpet, and counters for the library. While these repairs were being made, someone broke one of the windows in the front.
The library's bad luck continued. A computer and typewriter were stolen from the front desk in January 1985. In June 1986, staff arrived at the branch one morning to discover thieves had stolen a computer, typewriter, microwave, and calculator. Two months later, the library was burglarized 3 times in 3 days. Items stolen included a computer, typewriters, a camera, cash, and 17 videos.
In happier news, the library celebrated its 16th anniversary at the Gessner Road location in October of 1986.
In April 1987, the library applied for a grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) to renovate the Fairbanks branch.
In November 1989, the library finally closed for renovation. Part of the cost of the expansion was funded by a $142,227 bequest from the estate of Elfreida C. Letz.
During this time, the bookmobile visited the area once a week to serve the community.
On Monday, January 28, 1991, the branch reopened with a grand celebration. Seen here at the party are County Judge Jon Lindsay (center) and HCPL Director Cathy Park (right).
An additional 2,100 square feet were added to the building (visible in the background of this photograph).
The expansion has allowed the branch enough room for 23 public computers and three self-checkout machines.
Former County Commissioner Lyons (seated on the right) attended with his wife Fern (far left). Lyons had attended overseen the opening of the new building in 1970 and approved the funding for the renovation before he retired in December 1989.
Prior to the renovation, the branch had an annual circulation of 101,364. Five years later, annual circulation doubled to 203,291.
Fairbanks staff in 2008.
Storytime at the branch in June 2012. A librarian reads Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak while dressed like the character Max.
Trained therapy dogs from Faithful Paws visit regularly so children can practice reading to a furry, non-judgmental audience. A child reads to a dog in September 2016.
The Cy-Fair Lions Park community park next door to the branch is a wonderful spot for outdoor programs. Here is a Color War game at Fairbanks in June 2017.
Northtale, from the Curiosity Cruiser bookmobile, visited the branch in January 2018 to share the love of reading with children in Fairbanks.
The Summer Reading Program Kick-Off Party at the Fairbanks Library in 2019. The Houston Astronomical Society brought telescopes so that families could check out the stars.
As part of the Gulf Coast Reads program in 2019, the Fairbanks branch asked County Archivist Sarah Jackson to put together an exhibit and presentation on the branch's history.
Interior of the branch in 2020. If you look closely, you can see the line right in front of the bookshelves that denotes the area where the expansion was added in 1991.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fairbanks staff transitioned to virtual and curbside services to continue offering exceptional customer service to the community.
Fairbanks staff dressed as the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg for Halloween in 2020.
On May 19, 2021, the branch reopened for the first time in March 2020. After a challenging year for the Fairbanks community, the library is back in business.