Galena Park Branch Library
Before a Branch
Before 1935, the town of Galena Park was known as Clinton. The Clinton School was one of the first schools to have a book station with the Harris County Public Library. The school was first referenced in the 1922 annual report, and the 1923 annual report noted that more than 3,100 books circulated at the school.
In the summer of 1924, the school was remodeled, and a special library room was added to the building.
During the first half of the decade, students regularly checked out more than 3,000 items each year. In 1925, the station had the 7th highest circulation in the entire HCPL system.
By the end of the 1920s, the school averaged more than 4,000 books circulating each year.
Children stand outside the school on "Circulation Day" in this photograph from 1929. "Circulation Day" was the day that the HCPL Central Office delivered new books to the school.
Circulation continued to grow, with 7,368 books checked out in 1932.
Students at the school participated in the 1933 Vacation Reading Club. Over the summer break, students in six communities completed a guided reading course of fiction and non-fiction titles. Students who completed the course "with honors" were gifted a book at the end of summer.
A schoolboy carries a case full of books into the Clinton School in this undated photograph.
A request for a post office in Clinton was denied around 1935 because there was another Clinton, Texas already registered. Community leaders changed the town's name to Galena Park in honor of the Galena Signal Oil Company of Texas, the first oil company built in the town. The library reports continued to use the name Clinton (for the school) for the next few years.
HCPL closed the station in March 1938 and put the school and community on the new bookmobile route. As the decade closed, the population of Galena Park grew rapidly as the Houston area developed into an important port.
In September 1944, a small branch was opened in Galena Park, with Katherine Bell as the custodian. The branch may have been located in a local school. However, the branch was closed in the fall of 1945, and the community was back on the bookmobile route.
In January 1948, Mrs. L. D. Dare requested a branch library for the community. The library could be housed in a new community building already under construction. While the request was received too late to be in the upcoming County budget, the County agreed to supply books if the community could provide everything else. Sheffield Steel donated furniture and shelving. And in early June, Harris County Park Commissioner Carl Brinkley sent a trunk of books to the library for Galena Park’s collection.
On June 22, the branch opened with 1,776 books. Katherine Bell returned as library custodian. The library was open five days a week, for three hours at a time. By the end of June, the library had 106 registrants who checked out over 400 books.
In 1949, Galena Park officially became a county branch. The County agreed to supply the books and a salary for the branch custodian, while Galena Park was responsible for building maintenance and utilities. The County's wage only covered three days per week, so Galena Park City Council agreed to pay the custodian to operate the library for an additional two days each week.
The library was open each week Monday through Thursday and on Saturday for three hours each day. The branch held an Open House to celebrate its first anniversary on June 28, 1949. A special story hour was held for children.
Katherine Bell resigned from the branch at the end of the summer, and Annie B. Becker was hired. The total circulation for the year was 12,519.
In 1952, the branch moved from the Recreation Building to the old Galena Park City Hall building on Third Street. The City of Galena Park paid for the move, and an interior remodel. The new site was more accessible to the community, and circulation at the branch increased by 43% the following year, with 16,473 books checked out.
In 1954, the branch received a fresh coat of paint and new shelving to accommodate the collection's continued growth. The community responded to the improvements by checking out more and more books each year - 22,081 books checked out in 1955 and 24,926 books checked out in 1956.
Pictured here is the branch in 1955.
In 1957, the mayor instructed the water department to improve restroom facilities at the library. Given the branch's success, The City of Galena Park began purchasing books each year to supplement the collection provided by the County.
The City of Galena Park added an additional room to the building and renovated the entire space in 1958. Pine paneling and shelving were installed. County Librarian Mary Owensby noted that the building was much more attractive in that year's annual report.
The branch was profiled in local papers for National Library Week in April 1959 (seen here).
In the summer of 1959, the mayor of Galena Park bought an air conditioner for the library after visiting the branch and experiencing the summer heat in the building.
In the late 1950s, the Jacinto City Library opened nearby. Jacinto City residents used the Galena Park Library to model how the County and the City could share responsibility for a branch library. The two communities and branches have strongly supported each other over the decades. Several of the schools in Jacinto City are part of the Galena Park Independent School District, and the two branches often held exhibits for students artists from GPISD schools during the 1960s.
The North Channel Sentinel had a regular section called Jacinto City Party Line, which often featured updates and news about the Jacinto City Library as well as the Galena Park Library. For example, in 1966, a Jacinto City resident donated 48 Harlequin romance books to the library, which were split between the Jacinto City and Galena Park branches.
By 1963, the librarian was Margaret Bell. In an interview for National Library Week that year, Bell noted that the library had 2,800 regular patrons and 3,000 books borrowed each month on average. The library was open Monday through Friday in the afternoons, with no weekend hours. The library had a second, small expansion later that year.
In June 1965, Library Director Mary Owensby advised the Galena Park librarian to discard old and worn books. County employees were sent to help weed the collection. Around this time, the library began opening on Saturdays so patrons could visit outside of the regular workweek.
In 1966, the Mayor of Galena Park, Alvin Baggett, made an effort to build a new library for the community. Galena Park’s City Council voted on a $50,000 proposal for a new building, but it failed to pass. and the plans were abandoned.
In March 1969, the library hours were expanded to 46 per week, and the two librarians were made full-time. Harris County assumed responsibility for paying staff salaries. Librarian Marie Wright had a salary of $400 per month, and assistant Margaret Bell had a salary of $350 per month.
County Librarian Mary Owensby commissioned a study in 1971 on the system's 50th anniversary. The report noted that the Galena Park branch, with a collection size of 6,395 volumes, had a circulation of 47,231 (more than seven checkouts per item). The building, at 400 square feet, was tied for the 5th smallest in the system.
The study suggested combining the Jacinto City and Galena Park branches, as "the citizens of these two well-developed cities should have an opportunity to have access to a public library of more depth in its resources and services than presently available." However, the authors noted that "such a change will probably cause considerable controversy and some localized opposition from patrons who reside in the immediate vicinity of the present libraries."
Given the separate agreements the County had with both the Galena Park City Council and the Jacinto City City Council, no plan was made to create a joint-use branch.
The Galena Park branch is seen in this graphic (number 4), just south of the Jacinto City branch (number 8).
The library was expanded again in 1975 when a third section was added to the building and the entire space was remodeled. The building was 1,066 square feet.
By February 1986, the library showed signs of wear, with several leaks, an outdated (and illegal in the city) gas heater, two electric heaters, and no central air conditioning. Water and tar also leaked into the building from the roof, dripping down onto the shelving and carpet during the hot summer months.
That September, plans were made to move the library into another building on 100 North Main Street. The 3,000 square foot library would be under a lease agreement paid by Harris County. The monthly rent was $900.
While still in the old building in February 1987, 80 children showed up for a popular Star Wars viewing party. Unfortunately, a handful of rowdy boys set off the fire extinguisher, and the library was so full of fumes it had to be evacuated.
In April 1987, the old building was closed, and staff began moving the books. The new space was three times the size of the old building. The increase meant more shelf space for books and audio-visual materials, a lounge area for viewing periodicals, and room for a copy machine. For the first time, there was a physical division between the adult and juvenile areas. The staff had a workroom and a separate bathroom.
The library reopened on Monday, May 4, 1987.
In June 1988, the library had a cute bubble-blowing contest for kids. Some of the youngest children learned how to blow their very first bubbles at the event.
In 1990, Commissioner Jim Fonteno wrote to the Galena Park Director of Public Works to encourage the City of Galena Park to take over monthly rent payments for the library. The building was within Galena Park city limits, and Galena Park was the only County/City partnership library where the County was covering the facility costs. Galena Park City Council agreed to assume the monthly rent, and in 1991, Harris County handed over the lease agreement to the city.
In 1992, the City of Galena Park sought Harris County Community Development Agency (HCCDA) funds to construct a new library building. Director Catherine Park pledged more staff and materials if a new library was built. The official proposal can be read in full here.
The Friends of the Galena Park Branch Library was organized in April 1992 to support the project. The group hosted a Christmas Open House in December 1992 (seen here).
In June 1993, Harris County Commissioner’s Court authorized $679,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds for the Galena Park Branch Library. The City of Galena Park agreed to donate the land for the building, which was valued at $130,000.
The site, at 14th Street and Parkside, was dedicated in October 1993. The library received a Challenger monument and several framed photos of the Challenger and its crew to hang in the current facility. Seven “lovely” pear trees were planted in memory of the seven crew members who died during the shuttle lift-off in 1986.
Community members and the Friends of the Galena Park Branch Library began a Buy-A-Brick campaign to raise funds for the book collection. Sponsors could buy bricks from the old Galena Park Junior High School to be engraved and placed in the new Galena Park Library. The entire wall of bricks can be seen in this photograph from February 2020.
In October 1994, a public hearing was held to determine a new location for the building. The new site was just one street over, at 15th Street and Keene. Around that same time, the building closed for a day during a massive rain event that brought up to 28 inches of rain to the area and flooded local rivers.
With the new site for the library secure, the construction project went out to bid. HCPL Director Cathy Park in an article at the time:
"Even though many use on-line libraries, there will always be a certain segment of the population who will use the library and who prefer books to a computer screen ... The library is also a social outing for many people, especially those over 50. I don't ever see a time when libraries are obsolete. They offer too many services that are not available in other forms."
On July 4, 1995, the new library site was dedicated, followed by a family festival. The festival proceeds were donated to a furniture fund for the new library. Construction on the building began in August 1995.
On October 31, 1996, the old building was closed so staff could begin moving into the new building.
The new Galena Park Branch Library opened on Wednesday, December 11, 1996. The new building, located at 1500 Keene Street, was 5,800 square feet.
View more photographs of the grand opening of the branch here.
In June 2001, the library lost A/C for a week due to Hurricane Allison. Though the temperature hovered between 85-90 degrees, the branch stayed open to offer relief and access to resources for the community.
Scenes from the Hispanic Heritage Festival event at the branch in October 2008.
Children with Coastie the Coast Guard robot during a Summer Reading Program event in June 2009.
Children inspect insects and their habitats up close during a Summer Reading Program event in July 2010.
The branch closed in March 2012 for six months for renovations and expansion. A Federal Community Block Grant provided funding for a new 1,000 square foot meeting room/computer lab, new carpets and paint, and additional computers and laptops. The branch reopened to the public in September 2012. The new space brought the total square footage up to 6,900.
View more photographs of the construction here.
Children reading on the floor of the branch in 2014.
Water balloon fight at the branch to celebrate the end of the Summer Reading Program in August 2016.
The branch closed for renovations in December 2017, but reopened in April 2018. The reopening featured performances from the choices at MacArthur Elementary and Galena Park Elementary. Sisi Medina was named the new Branch Manager.
Children's area at the branch in October 2018.
The branch in March 2019.
When the building closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Galena Park branch staff continued to provide the best service possible, utilizing options such as curbside service, virtual programs, and creating book bundles (seen here) for customers.
In February 2021, Winter Storm Uri swept across Texas bringing extreme cold temperatures and snow, disrupting the power grid, and leaving many without power for days.
Water pipes in the ceiling of the Galena Park branch burst during the freeze, causing significant water damage to nearly the entire collection and the shelving, furniture, and carpet. In this video taken just three days after the pipes burst, Branch Manager Sisi Medina documents the extent of the damage to the library. As Medina notes in the video, books far away from the burst pipes were still damaged by the days of exposure to water.
View more pictures of the damage here.
The branch was closed as teams worked to mitigate the water damage and repair the pipes. New books and shelving needed to be ordered to replace everything lost during the winter storm.
Starting in May 2021, the Curiosity Cruiser dropped by the branch each Wednesday to run a Pop Up Library for the community. While customers could still pick up their holds from nearby Jacinto City Branch Library, the Cruiser gave the community weekly access to a browsing collection.
The branch held its annual Booapalooza event in October 2021 in the parking lot and nearby park. Galena Park branch staff organized trick-or-treating, games, and contests with support from the Curiosity Cruiser team.
As repairs neared completion, the branch resumed curbside service in December 2021. While 2021 was certainly been challenging for the Galena Park branch staff and their community, the branch is on track to reopen in early 2022 with a brand new collection and lots of enthusiasm.