Octavia Fields Branch Library
The Humble community has been part of the Harris County Public Library system since its founding in 1921. The first Humble library station opened in November 1921 at the Humble School. Miss M. Whiteley was the custodian of the 114 books in the collection. The books circulated very well, with more than 260 checkouts in the first month of operation.
By November of 1922, the library had 388 books and an average monthly circulation of 700 checkouts.
During the summer of 1923, the library collection moved to the Retail Merchant's Association building so service could continue while school was out of session. That fall, the collection was split between the Humble High School and Woodward School in Moonshine Hill (seen here). By this time, the library was open two days a week.
Three years later, in 1926, the collection moved to a local church, and Margaret Carpenter was put in charge. Circulation continued to increase as the library opened for an additional afternoon each week. The community wanted a separate library building, but eventually, space was set aside in the new Humble Courthouse, which was under construction at the time.
In September 1928, the library was moved to the Humble City Hall Courthouse. The space was minimal and could only be used for checking out materials. There was no room for further growth to the collection or story hours. The library was open 3 days a week.
In 1929, Mrs. John Franks took over for Margaret Carpenter temporarily until Esther Deckard was named the librarian. Deckard would oversee the branch for the next 30 years.
In 1932, the library circulated 22,907 books. Because of continuing growth in circulation and demand from the community, the library was granted permission to use the Court Room as a reading room.
That summer, the Humble branch hosted a Vacation Reading Club (a precursor of the modern-day Summer Reading Program) to "stimulate reading habits among the girls and boys." The club at Humble hosted displays of bug collections, boats, and birdhouses.
Residents called a meeting in November 1933 to discuss plans for improving the housing condition of the library through community partnerships and funds from the Civic Works administration. However, the plans were postponed and later abandoned. The library remained at the Court House.
Starting in 1934, the library was open daily from 2:00 to 5:30 PM.
In 1937, City Hall was remodeled and a new room was built for the library, providing more space for the constantly growing book collection.
Starting in the early 1940s, the branch had a weekly column, "Library Notes," in the Humble Echo Newspaper. The column described upcoming programs and new items to the collection. Browse the "Library Notes" columns on The Portal to Texas History.
In 1943, Humble residents donated 358 books and $40 (about $600 in 2021) to the Victory Book Campaign, which collected books for troops deployed overseas during World War II.
By the mid-1940s, the Humble branch was consistently one of the top five circulating branches in the system. The 1946 annual circulation had the branch behind the Bookmobile and Goose Creek (modern-day Baytown). The cramped quarters in the Court House could not dampen interest.
In 1947, a library board for the branch was finally organized. Members of the board included the presidents of the local Lions Club, Garden Club, and Chamber of Commerce. The board organized so they could begin campaigning for increased financing from the City of Humble and Harris County.
From 1947-1948, the library was open on Wednesday mornings as well, from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM.
In the 1949 annual report, the Humble Library has 195 borrowers, meaning 1 in 7 Humble residents visited the library that year.
In 1953, the library received much-needed improvements. A new sign was attached to the outside of the Court House, and the walls were repainted. Donations from the community allowed the library to purchase new blinds, rugs, furniture, and bookshelves.
Librarian Esther Deckard retired in December 1958 after serving the Humble community for 30 years. Laurene Ragsdale was named the new librarian in January 1959.
In August 1959, local citizens urged County Librarian Mary P. Butler to inform Harris County Commissioners Court about land in Humble that could be used for a library building. Butler wrote to Precinct 3 Commissioner Philip Sayers and County Judge Bill Elliot. Over the next five years, the City of Humble and Harris County negotiated on a suitable site for a new building.
In August 1964, Mrs. Tom Shelton donated a lot and house to the City of Humble for use as a library. The Humble City Council accepted the offer and authorized a budget of $500 for remodeling the house. The Friends covered expenses for the new floor, light fixtures, and wiring. In addition, the Humble State Bank donated a new sign.
The new building was ready in February 1965. The books were moved from the the Courthouse to the new building by local high school boys. The branch was renamed the Shelton Memorial Library in honor of Tom Shelton and would serve Humble for the next four years.
In February of 1968, a bond election allotted $60,000 for a new library and City Hall buildings. The family of Octavia Fields donated furnishings and shelving for the library in memory of their mother. The book drop was donated in memory of D. V. Kemp and Charlie Kersh. The world globe was donated in memory of O. D. Frank.
The branch was renamed Octavia Fields Memorial Library and had its grand opening on October 9, 1969.
Portrait of Octavia Fields.
In April 1973, the library displayed drug paraphernalia confiscated by the Humble Police Department.
In March 1975, the Humble Rotary Club volunteered their members to help staff the branch so that the library could be open on Saturdays. This change increased the branch's hours to 50 a week.
To celebrate the 1985 Summer Reading Program, Octavia Fields staff organized a balloon launch at the Deerbrook Mall. Each child who signed up for the Awesome Adventures Reading Club received a balloon with a two-sided tag to place their name and address. The balloons were then launched in coordination with the local airport to prevent any airplanes from flying through the colorful display.
By 1986, it was apparent that the branch would need a larger building. That September, County Commissioner E. A. "Squatty" Lyons requested a study to explore expanding the branch.
In April 1987, Library Director Catherine Park submitted a report on the popularity of the Octavia Fields branch, comparing it to branches supporting similar populations. The following month, the Friends of the Octavia Fields Library began scouting for land for a new library building.
During 1988 and 1989, Humble City Council and the Friends proposed several plans to use the former site of the Humble Museum as a new library building. By October 1989, plans were made to connect the Humble Museum to the existing library.
In April 1991, the Humble community began asking again for a larger library building.
On October 9, 1997, the branch celebrated its 28th Anniversary.
In 1999, the City Council of the City of Humble authorized City Manager James Baker to begin contract negotiations for a new 15,000 square foot library.
In 2000, the City of Humble and Harris County entered into an agreement that provided Harris County with the new library building for the Octavia Fields branch in exchange for a county building in downtown Humble. Construction on the new library began.
On June 27, 2001, the Humble community celebrated the grand opening of the new Octavia Fields Branch Library.
See a video of the grand opening celebration here.
Shortly after reopening, the Friends of the Octavia Fields Libary was reformed, led by Millie Arroyo.
In 2002, the Friends group celebrated community members who had provided key donations over the previous year in an article in the Humble Observer.
Octavia Fields staff dressed as pirates for the Summer Reading Program in 2007.
Children riding on the back of an antique Humble Fire Department fire truck in 2011.
The branch held a Bike Rodeo event on July 25, 2013. Families brought their bikes and followed a course through the parking lot of the Humble Civic Center, next door to the library.
In August 2016, Humble residents Alex and Mary Pollack displayed their collections of items from their travels all over the world at the Octavia Fields branch.
In February 2017, the library facilitated a presentation by Alex Pollak, a Holocaust survivor. Pollak shared his story with students from Ross Sterling Middle School.
Then in April, the branch held a library days open house where patrons could sign a guest book sharing their memories of the library.
In addition to the many programs for children, the branch also hosts a Senior Bus Trip each year. Adults aged 50+ are invited to take a free trip with the library. Octavia Fields staff posed at a Buc-ee's convenience store on a journey in August 2018.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the branch to find new, creative ways to serve the Humble community, with things like curbside service, book bundles, and virtual programming.
The branch partnered with the Houston Food Bank and the Humble Area Assistance Ministries (HAAM) Food Pantry to provide free meals each week to the Humble community.
In February 2021, Winter Storm Uri blew through Texas with freezing temperatures and snow, cause the power grid to fail and major pipe bursts throughout the state. The branch served as a warming station that week for those without power.
The branch blanketed in snow brought by Winter Storm Uri in February 2021.