Katherine Tyra Branch Library at Bear Creek
Prior to the 1980s, the only library on the west side of Harris County was in Katy. In a 1971 study of the HCPL system, the Houston City Planning Department recommended a new branch built in Precinct 3. The 1979 Library Bond Referendum provided the library with the funds to build many new branches and renovate several of the oldest buildings.
For two years, Bear Creek community residents pushed for a library in their area. The county eventually selected a site near Addicks Reservoir for the new branch. The groundbreaking for the Bear Creek branch was held on September 7, 1982, at 16400 Clay Road.
Construction continued until 1983.
On May 15, 1983, the branch held its dedication ceremony and grand opening, presided over by Commissioner Robert "Bob" Eckels. Commissioner Eckels speaks from the podium in this photo; HCPL Director Cathy Park is seated second from the right.
The branch circulated 1,381 items on its first day and issued 393 new cards. By the end of the first two weeks of operation, 12,000 items had been checked out, and more than 2,200 people had signed up for library cards.
During the first summer, 250-320 children regularly attended storytimes.
In August 1983, Hurricane Alicia caused heavy winds and rain. The library closed on August 18th. There was minimal damage with water coming in the front door, wet carpet in the book drop closet, and some leaking windows; however, 1984 was full of numerous leak problems for the branch.
On August 6, 1984, a tornado hit the parking lot between the library and the Harris County Justice Of The Peace, but there was no damage to the library building. The outer windows were resealed and re-caulked.
In June of 1985, heavy rains caused new leaks in the roof.
Despite the issues with leaks, the branch had become one of the busiest in the system. In the July 1985 statistics, Bear Creek was behind only Cypress Creek and Freeman Memorial in total circulation for the year, both of which had substantially larger collections (seen here).
In October of the same year, the staff began learning a new computer-based checkout system.
In January of 1986, the roof was finally re-tarred and graveled.
Around the same time, the downturn in the oil business in the area led to greater demand for materials on resume-writing, typing, small business management, and entrepreneurship.
By August, circulation was at a high, despite more vacant homes in the area. In September, the branch held a program called “Job Search for the Over-40 Executive."
The branch had experienced a high degree of turnover in its first four years. In addition to having three head librarians, the branch had been without any head librarian for a 10-month stretch. The community voiced concern about the staffing issues as the library made plans to build a new branch in nearby Katy (what would become the Maud Smith Marks Branch Library).
The branch continued to suffer water damage from various leaks. The branch flooded on January 17, 1988, when an outside faucet was left on, causing damage to the sheetrock, carpet, furniture, and some office supplies. By May, the sheetrock and carpet were replaced, and the walls were repainted.
That spring, a local newspaper wrote about voting for the Children's Choice at the Bear Creek Library: "any child through the eighth grade who can write his favorite author's name may vote in the Children's Choice election."
In September, repairs were made to waterproof the windows.
However, in February of 1989, mold was discovered in the workroom closet, and in May, water began to create a pool between the A/C units on the roof, causing leaks by the circulation desk in rainy weather. In September 1989, heavy rains caused new leaks and soggy carpet in the Adult Fiction area.
In February of 1990, the branch was temporarily closed due to a bomb threat, and in March of the same year, a foul-smelling liquid was poured into the book drop, resulting in the disposal of 20 books.
The June 1990 statistics show that Bear Creek had the highest circulation in the system, with 57,579 items checked out, almost 13,000 more than the next highest branch, Freeman Memorial. This figure smashed the system record the branch had set the previous year by more than 10,000 items.
That summer, the branch received a new index table and chairs (seen here), courtesy of the Friends of the Bear Creek Library, which raised about $3,000 for new furniture.
In a March 1992 report, the branch manager notes that patrons prefer CD-ROMs over microfiche for research projects.
On Saturday, November 21, 1992, at 3:00 PM, a tornado hit the library, with 75-100 patrons and staff inside. There was no warning of the approaching danger until the power failed - then those trapped inside could hear the high winds and see the dark sky outside. Everyone took shelter under tables and desks. For three long minutes, the tornado moved over the library.
The winds blew most of the roof off the building, and windows were shattered. In addition, the force of the winds flipped two of the air-conditioning units on the roof, and shafts from the units fell through the ceiling.
Shortly after, the police arrived and evacuated the building. A few people sustained minor cuts from broken glass, but miraculously, there were no major injuries.
Rainwater continued to pour in as the ceiling tiles collapsed. By 3:45 PM, the water was ankle-deep in some areas.
That evening, County Commissioner Steve Radack arranged for 48 inmates from the county jail to help recover books, equipment, and furniture from the branch. The inmates worked until 2:00 AM removing all of the library materials from the building and placing them in U-Haul trucks, which were then taken to the Administrative office on El Rio for storage (seen here).
On November 24, 1992, the county inmates came back to the library to remove the damaged carpet.
At the Administrative office, staff began sorting through the recovered materials. Because the collection had been hastily boxed up, it took several weeks for staff to complete an inventory. Everyone was pleased to find that only 5% of the collection was lost - primarily some nonfiction adult books and a portion of the microfiche collection.
Many of the Bear Creek staff felt traumatized by the experience during the tornado. In this photograph, Assistant Director Rhoda Goldberg (seated on a book tub) listens as the Bear Creek staff share stories about the disaster.
Administration quickly arranged for the bookmobile to regularly visit the Bear Creek community while the library was closed. Over 800 books were checked on during the first visit on December 4th. In addition to the bookmobile, customers were directed to visit nearby Katy, Northwest, Spring Branch Memorial, and Fairbanks branch libraries.
Many staff members were relocated to the bookmobile or neighboring branches, while the reference librarians went to Administration to begin rebuilding the collections for both the Bear Creek and the new Maud Smith Marks branch.
The damage to the building was extensive: $100,000 in damages to furnishings and materials, $31,000 for cleanup supplies, and another $250,000 in repairs and furnishings. The branch would not re-open for a full year while repairs were made.
In December of 1993, the branch finally reopened after repairing the tornado damage; however, throughout that year and into 1994, there were still humidity and leak issues due to heavy rains.
In April of 1994, before the ease of printing color pictures from the internet, kids resorted to cutting out pictures from library books for their school assignments. More than $500 worth of books were lost, and the librarians contacted the principals and teachers of local schools to ask them not to assign projects that required photos.
In June of 1996, patrons were upset when library fines increased from two cents a day to ten cents a day. And in October of the same year, there were continued problems with the A/C and high humidity levels caused copiers to malfunction, cracks in the plaster, and condensation leaks. All of which started to make the need for a new building seem vital.
In June of 1997, staff attended a training on how to use the internet.
On October 22, 1999, the building was rededicated as the Katherine Tyra Branch at Bear Creek. A passionate reader, Katherine Tyra had served as the Harris County District Clerk from 1991-1995.
Staff member Lyn Mochizuki was recognized as the 1999 Employee of the Year for her dedication and excellent customer service.
Unfortunately, we do not have a good record of major events at the branch from 2000-2009. The branch flooded in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area. The records and mementos at the branch were all destroyed. Photographs of the construction, grand opening, and tornado damage were stored at the Harris County Archive, thankfully, but there are obvious gaps in the story.
If you have a photograph or story of the Katherine Tyra Branch Library @ Bear Creek to share, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to complete the branch's story.
Storytime during a Dr. Seuss Birthday Party on March 2, 2010.
In March 2011, children got up close with a very large snake during a Snake Education Program.
On June 12, 2014, the branch held a bubble festival as part of the Summer Reading Program.
On July 22, 2014, they held a science fair with volcano models, a study on preserving fruit, and how to make slime and lava lamps.
In 2015, HCPL migrated to a new catalog system called SirsiDynix Symphony. After their training was complete, staff celebrated with Symphony chocolate bars.
In August of 2016, shortly after the launch of the very popular Pokémon Go game, the branch held a Pokémon party.
To celebrate the end of 2016, the branch held a giant New Years' Eve party for families, which closed with a balloon drop at the stroke of "midnight."
Branch staff regularly held storytimes at Clay's Restaurant just down the street from the library, as seen in this photograph from 2016. Community partnerships like this would become very important for the Katherine Tyra branch staff in the following year, as another disaster loomed.
In August 2017, the branch was substantially flooded due to the effects of Hurricane Harvey. In this aerial photograph, the branch is surrounded on all sides by dirty floodwater.
About nine inches of water entered the building, knocking items off the bottom shelves. The extreme heat and humidity in the building caused additional damage to the book collection. By the time the building was safe for staff to enter and evaluate the damage, mold had begun to grow on items that were not even affected by the floodwaters.
A majority of the collection, furnishings, and equipment were lost. The building needed extensive repairs and a brand new collection.
Recovery took several months. Once the building was dry, construction crews tore out the damaged flooring and walls. Branch Manager Amy Campbell filmed this video of the building while new drywall was being installed.
Much of the Bear Creek community was devastated by the flooding due to Hurricane Harvey. Branch staff regularly held outreach events in the community, including at Clay's Restaurant, H-E-B, and the Bear Creek United Methodist Church. The first pop-up library was on October 5th, just four weeks after the building had been emptied after the storm. Over the next seven months, Katherine Tyra branch staff would present 135 programs and run 54 pop-up libraries in the Bear Creek community.
Hurricane Harvey had destroyed the collections at three other branches: Baldwin Boettcher, Barbara Bush, and Kingwood. HCPL Director Edward Melton wanted to reopen the Katherine Tyra, Barbara Bush, and Kingwood branches before summer 2018; repairs at Baldwin Boettcher would take more time to complete. Staff at Administration began ordering new books and audio-visual materials for the Katherine Tyra branch. As the building repair wrapped up in the spring of 2018, staff from across the system gathered at the Katherine Tyra branch in early April to unpack the new books and DVDs and get the branch ready for reopening.
With a completed building and a new collection, the branch reopening on April 30, 2018, with a big celebration. Community partners that had served as outreach locations while the branch was closed were recognized for their service to the library. Representatives from H-E-B and the Bear Creek United Methodist Church attended, as did many retired HCPL staff members who had seen the branch through the tornado disaster recovery in the 1990s.
The branch was also celebrating its 35th anniversary. Returning customers enjoyed cake and live music while perusing the shelves of branch new books.
By reopening before the summer break, the branch could return to the normal services that the Bear Creek community relies on once school is out. The branch had a full schedule of Summer Reading Program events and operated a Kid Cafe as part of the Summer Feeding program.
That fall, the branch held a Halloween Spooktacular in October 2018.
In this picture from that November, Children's Librarian Melinda Brinkley runs a Toddler Time program in the children's area.
Lily's Library Tales storytime on June 15, 2019. Lily, a certified therapy dog, and her person Ms. Betsy hold weekly family storytimes in the children’s area of the Katherine Tyra branch.
As 2020 progressed and the Coronavirus pandemic struck Harris County, staff transitioned to virtual and curbside services to continue offering exceptional customer service to the Bear Creek community. Staff held virtual storytimes and programs, and since curbside service started in the summer of 2020, staff have been busy filling the many, many holds placed their devoted patrons.
While the branch staff miss their daily face-to-face interaction with customers, they have found new ways to connect with the community.
In February 2021, Winter Storm Uri blew through Texas with abnormally freezing temperatures and snow, causing major issues to the power grid. The Katherine Tyra branch was used as a warming station for those without access to power or heat.
Having survived a tornado, a hurricane, and a pandemic, the Katherine Tyra Branch Library at Bear Creek is ready for the next adventure.