Lucy Fuller Gross
County Librarian 1921-1926
In May of 1921, Lucy Fuller, a native Texan who had left for New York City to pursue a library degree at Carnegie Library School and a job at the New York Public Library, returned to Texas to become the first County Librarian for Harris County Public Library.
Between July and December of that year, she and her staff established twenty-six library stations in schools, businesses, and private homes throughout the county. Materials were transferred between stations, although the county roads were often poorly suited to the vehicles available to HCPL staff on their limited budget. Throughout the county, children's storytimes were offered even in areas with populations too low to claim "branch" status.
The library system enjoyed such a successful year that the budget was increased from $6,500 in 1921 to $12,000 in 1922. By the end of that second year, the library had spent $5,748 on 8,638 volumes with a circulation of 80,869, and the number of library stations expanded from twenty-six to forty-one. The library system's success was partially due to Lucy Fuller's insistence that every library station, whether large or small, received regular visits and attention from staff, from the Harrisburg station with its 7,449 circulations to Sheldon station with 79 circulations. Fuller's partnerships with public schools, which constituted the bulk of the county library stations, were bolstered by Harris County Public Library exhibits at the Teacher's Institute of Harris and Matagorda Counties, the Houston Fair and Exposition, and the meeting of the Texas State Teacher's Association.
Until the end of 1925, library stations were established wherever Lucy Fuller could find room, whether in a drugstore, post office, or dry goods store. The Goose Creek Oil Field was significant to the Texas Oil Boom, so she approached Ross Sterling, president of Humble Oil, with a proposal for Humble Oil to provide funds for the library to rent a building to serve Goose Creek. Sterling’s counterproposal was for Humble Oil to provide funds for the library system to buy its own building.
Lucy Fuller tendered her resignation as Harris County librarian in December of 1925 as the Goose Creek Library building's construction began. In her five years as County Librarian, HCPL had grown from a fledgling system with a small budget and only one staff member into a thriving rural library system with 22,785 books, five employees, 140,340 circulations annually, and 67 branches and stations throughout the county. Having helped establish Harris County Public Library, Fuller moved to Beaumont to establish the Beaumont Public Library and become its city librarian.
Ruth Underwood Pooley
County Librarian 1926-1932
Ruth Underwood took over as County Librarian after Lucy Fuller's departure and oversaw the library system's continued development. After the 1929 stock market crash marked the beginning of The Great Depression, Underwood had to contend with a reduced budget for many years. Total spending for 1932 was just over $19,000, only a $2,000 increase from 1925. However, thanks to Underwood's leadership and an everlasting public demand for library services, total circulation for that year rose to 308,834, and the bookmobile service logged over 17,000 miles.
Elnora Edgar Buchanan
County Librarian 1932-1939
Elnora Edgar replaced Ruth Underwood Pooley as County Librarian in 1932. By the end of 1936, the library collection had actually decreased by 92 volumes down to 39,788 because the wear and tear on HCPL's books was outpacing the county's ability to buy replacements. However, demand for services saw no such decrease as circulation reached 299,000 and the need for a full-service book wagon became apparent. Edgar was able to carry on the outstanding service of the county library system established by her predecessors throughout the financially challenging times of the 1930s.
County Librarian 1939-1945
Reba Anderson began her tenure with HCPL as an assistant librarian, and following the resignation of Elnora Edgar, she was appointed County Librarian on January 2, 1939. During her time as County Librarian, many changes were made to branches and bookmobiles.
Under her leadership in 1940, the Houston Gardens branch was closed and put on the bookmobile route, and the bookmobile had its largest summer schedule to date with 68 stops.
1941 was a banner year for the library. A collection of books was placed in the National Youth Administration Work Experience Project in South Houston, the West University branch opened, and improvements were made to the Goose Creek branch. Speakers from the University of Houston lectured on the war at the Humble and La Porte branches.
In 1942, Anderson served as head of the Victory Book Campaign drive in Harris County, a national campaign to send millions of books to the U.S. armed forces.
In 1945, the last year of Anderson's time as County Librarian, HCPL served the county at 71 locations, and the bookmobile made 32 regular stops every three weeks.
County Librarian 1945-1951
Bernice Snell, seen here as a member of the bookmobile staff in 1937, was promoted to County Librarian in 1945. Her tenure through October 1951 saw a consolidation of small stations into more formal branches. The Goose Creek branch became the Baytown branch. A new bookmobile vehicle was purchased and launched in 1949.
Mary Butler Owensby
County Librarian 1951-1974
The 23-year tenure of the next County Librarian, Mary Owensby, represented a period of great change for HCPL. In the 1950s, Channelview, Spring Branch Memorial, and Jacinto City branches were opened. The City of Pasadena took over operations of the Pasadena Branch in 1953.
In 1963, the original Goose Creek Branch, which had come to be known as the Baytown Branch, separated from the County. As the County experienced rapid growth, new buildings were opened to better serve the communities surrounding Houston. The Highlands and Humble branches each received new buildings and new names: Stratford and Octavia Fields. The last of the original branch buildings from the 1920s, in the Fairbanks community, was torn down and replaced in 1970.
In 1971, on the 50th anniversary of the library's founding, Owensby commissioned a study on the library system with a projection for Harris County's future and how the library could meet the needs of the growing population outside the city of Houston. This study highlighted the need to expand service in the Cypress Creek, Clear Lake City, and Aldine areas.
Katherine Skinner Brown
Library Director 1974-1979
Katherine "Kathy" Skinner Brown (seen here on the left at the Freeman branch's dedication) was the first county librarian to receive the new title of Library Director when she took over from Owensby. During her time as Director, Brown oversaw the opening of the Cypress Creek and Aldine branches and a new facility for the Freeman Memorial Library in Clear Lake City.
By the end of her tenure, there were 17 established HCPL branches and two bookmobiles.
Catherine S. Park
Library Director 1979-2006
Catherine "Cathy" S. Park (seen here with Barbara Bush) graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree and a minor in Library Science. In 1969, she began her career at Rapides Parish Library. In 1970, she became the librarian of the Fairbanks Branch of HCPL and was then promoted in 1972 to Coordinator of Library Services. She took brief hiatus to pursue her Master of Library Science degree from Texas Woman's University and returned to HCPL in 1974 after obtaining that degree. She then took another two-year break to serve as the Brazoria County Library System director and returned to HCPL in the position of director in 1979.
At the start of the new millennium, HCPL began partnering with other local systems to expand and open new branches. The Clear Lake City-County Freeman branch was expanded in partnership with the City of Houston. In partnership with North Harris County Montgomery Community College, a new branch was added to the system in Cy-Fair, and the Tomball library received a much-needed new building. During her time as Director, Park helped design 11 new libraries and six renovation-expansions for HCPL and witnessed the library system's expansion from 17 branch libraries to 26 branch libraries. Park retired in 2006 after 26 years, making her the longest-serving director of the library.
Library Director 2008-2013
Rhoda Goldberg started her career at HCPL in 1975 in the acquisitions department before moving into Assistant Director's role. As the Assistant Director under Cathy Park, Goldberg assisted in the expansion of the Stratford branch, the recovery of the Bear Creek branch after tornado damage, and the renovation of the Aldine branch. In 2007, she was named the Interim Library Director after the retirement of Park and then became the official Director in 2008.
During her time as Director, Goldberg oversaw the Kingwood Branch's partnership with Houston Public Library. She led the system's recovery after flooding and winds from Hurricane Ike (2008) damaged several branches and led to the Kingwood and Evelyn Meador branches' temporary closure. A new building for Kingwood opened in 2010, and in 2011, Evelyn Meador reopened in a new state-of-the-art, environmentally green facility with funding assistance from the City of Seabrook. At the time of Goldberg's retirement, she had worked for HCPL for almost 40 years.
Library Director 2014–Present
During his time as Director, Edward Melton has overseen and handled several challenges for HCPL, including recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey (2017) heavily damaged four library branches. By June of 2018, only 10 months after Harvey devasted the region, three of the four branches and a temporary location were reopened in time for the Summer Reading Program, a remarkable feat.
Melton's focus on early literacy in the community included partnering with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation to open eight George & Barbara Bush Family Places starting in 2019. These specially-designed spaces feature interactive materials, early literacy kits, games, toys, music and multimedia resources, learning stations, and books.
Recent years have also seen the launch of a new bookmobile program in 2018. As of 2021, mobile services include four vehicles that travel Harris County: two Curiosity Cruisers and the Reading Express, which focus on early literacy, and GRADcafé on the Go, which provides college access and career information, resources, and opportunities.
In 2020, as the COVID-19 global pandemic forced the county to close its buildings and limit in-person contact, HCPL staff found innovative ways for the library to continue serving the public even as the buildings remained closed, which included the viral ad campaign of “Curbside Larry”.