Spring Branch Memorial Branch Library
Before a Branch
Harris County Public Library operated a station at the Spring Branch School from 1921 to 1937. As the schools in the area consolidated during the 1930s, circulation steadily rose, with 4,044 books checked out in 1936. When the library system received its first bookmobile in 1937, the station in the school closed, and the school was placed on the bookmobile route. In 1939, boys at the school borrowed all available books on astronomy, keeping the bookmobile busy for months.
A library station opened in the community of Spring Branch in 1940 to reach adults that did not live near an existing branch, station, or bookmobile stop. The station closed in May 1944 but opened again in February 1946. By the late 1940s, the station closed permanently, and the bookmobile served the community for the next several years.
In March of 1955, the Spring Branch Oak Civic Club women met to discuss the need for a library in the Spring Branch Independence School District area. The group spoke with County Librarian Mary Butler and submitted a petition to Commissioner's Court for a new library branch. In early May, Commissioner's Court approved the petition, and preparations immediately got underway.
St. Francis Episcopal Church on Piney Point Road donated the use of a small building for the library. The women of the Civic Club collected donations of furniture and shelving from the community. The County provided the books, and Emma Lee Fry was named the Librarian.
On June 6, 1955, the Spring Branch-Memorial Drive Library opened. The building was open 12 hours each week, and by the end of the first month, 1,100 books had been checked out to almost 200 new patrons. The community responded very positively to the new library, and by the end of the first year, 7,497 books had been checked out from the new branch. Comparatively, the bookmobile stop had only 40 regular customers.
The library quickly grew out of the space in the church, and by April 1958, the board was considering a move to a larger building on the grounds of the Spring Branch Memorial Drive Dad's Club. The County also looked for available space on one of its properties.
Around the same time, Emma Lee Fry had to take a break from the library as she was pregnant. Her replacement, Edith Spang, had recently moved to Houston and looking to make connections in her new neighborhood. Spang's first big assignment was moving the books into a new building.
(Warren would return to work at the library a year or two after giving birth to her second daughter, Elizabeth.)
In May 1959, the library moved to a County-owned house and garage at 900 Corbindale Road. The library reopened to the public in October 1959. Ingeborg Prahl joined Edith Spang, and the library was open for 24 hours each week. The new facility had 4,000 books and 2,400 registered users.
"The little cottage contained four rooms plus a bathroom complete with bathtub. The kitchen area was our staff lounge, my office, and periodical storage. The other rooms were divided between adult, juvenile, and the youngest children. The grand opening of the new library was somewhat marred because it had rained, and we had laid down newspapers to protect our freshly painted mustard-colored floor. The newspapers stuck creating an interesting collage."
The library relied on fundraisers to help purchase additional books for the collection. In 1961, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, students, and local merchants donated materials and time to build a container for a newspaper recycling program. The library sold the papers and purchased new books for children and teens.
The library was the most rapidly growing branch in the system. During the summer months, more than 30,000 books were checked out to eager young readers. The County renovated the garage attached to the cottage, which became a reading room. The building relied on a space heater during the cold months and a window air conditioner in the summer. At one point, a hive of bees moved into the air conditioning unit and swarmed the building occasionally.
The branch was featured in the local Sunday news program "The Magic Room with Marc Cramer" in April 1962.
The Friends of the Spring Branch-Memorial Library was organized in 1963 to organize fundraisers and support for the library. The library held only 10,000 volumes, but more than 11,000 books circulated each month - the shelves were often bare. The Friends focused on processing new donations and starting a new record collection and a campaign to expand the building.
The group met with County Commissioners E. A. "Squatty" Lyons but remained frustrated with the budget issues HCPL was facing. The Piney Point, Bunker Hill, Hunter's Creek, and Hedwig Villages council members approved funds to purchase additional books for the library.
Pictured here are the four winners of the Tom Sawyer Reading Club in 1963. Together the four read 640 books during the summer. They are shown here at the library with R. R. Dykstra, secretary of the Friends group.
Photographs of the exterior and interior of the Spring Branch-Memorial Library during the early 1960s.
Some of the most popular books at the branch in March 1965 were:
The Flight of the Falcon by Daphne Du Maurier
The Man by Irving Wallace
Herzog by Saul Bellow
Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld
Legend of the Seventh Virgin by Victoria Holt
Sixpence in Her Shoe by Phyllis McGinley
This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart
Queen Victoria: Born to Succeed by Elizabeth Harman Pakenham Longford
The Friends continued to meet with Commissioner Lyons about expanding the building. Lyons advised the group to draw up plans and a budget for the expansion, and he would look for surplus County funds to match what the group could raise.
The group began a bridge tournament in September 1963 to help raise funds for a building expansion. The tournament lasted nine months and raised more than $2,500. When the County couldn't move forward with the expansion in 1964, the Friends ran the tournament for a second time and raised another $2,500. In early 1965, the County contributed $5,000 to the project.
The expansion added 920 square feet to the building and included a covered walkway to improve the entrance to the building. The County also agreed to fund janitorial and garbage service for the branch, which pleased Edith Spang: "For the last six years, I've had to take the garbage home with me to dispose of it!"
The construction work began in June 1965, on the library's 10th anniversary. The library remained open while construction was underway, as it was the busy summer season. Nearly 28,000 books were borrowed from the branch during June and July 1965.
On Saturday, September 18, 1965, the library held its dedication ceremony and grand opening for the new annex. Awards were presented to children who participated in the summer reading program, and staff provided a tour followed by coffee and doughnuts. Edith Spang is seen here on the far left as Commissioner Lyons cuts the ribbon on the building.
The building could now hold 25,000 books and had central air-conditioning and heating. A small courtyard stood between the two main buildings. The Holly Train Garden Clubs sponsored the landscaping project, which included plants rescued from the lot before construction began.
The exterior of the branch in the early 1970s.
A 1971 study looked at the services areas of current HCPL locations and made projections about future growth in the county. The Spring Branch-Memorial branch was noted as having the largest book collection as well as the second-highest circulation (the West University branch had only 53 more books checked out). However, the study found that the current site was small and high demand from the community meant that the building was little more than a book station with minimal space for programming or study.
The Friends of the Spring Branch-Memorial Library circulated a petition in the community attesting to the need for a larger building and increased book collection. More than 1,250 adults and 600 students signed the petition, which echoed the findings of the 1971 study. R. R. Dykstra, then-president of the Friends group, offered $5,000 towards the construction of a new 10,000 square foot library building.
In 1974, Commissioner’s Court approved plans to construct a new building. New HCPL Director Katherine Brown met with the mayors of the Memorial Villages to discuss the plans for the library. Harris County eventually asked the villages for approximately $100,000 to cover the projected costs. Hunters Creek and Hedwig Village each gave $25,000 to the project. Piney Point contributed $5,000.
The Friends were heavily involved in the architectural plans, providing their recommendations for the new building.
In July 1974, the County tried to determine if the County and the surrounding municipalities could jointly own the library. According to the Laws and Constitution of the State of Texas Article 4413(32c) - the ‘Interlocal Cooperation Act’ - the building could not have joint ownership. Still, the villages could commit to jointly supporting a county-owned library. An agreement was signed between Harris County, Hedwig Village, Piney Point, and Hunters Creek for the ongoing operation of the library.
Commissioner’s Court approved preliminary plans by the firm McGinty Architects.
The new Spring Branch-Memorial Branch Library under construction in 1975.
The new building opened in November 1975. The building's design would win an award in 1977 from the Houston chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Edith Spang retired in 1977. Of the new building, she wrote:
"It was bittersweet to give up the little white cottage with its Polly Kefaurver decorated children's room, the piles of gift books stashed in the bathtub, the sight of the high school boys studying with their knees around their ears at the small children's table, but the little library had to have the chance to grow, and grow it did. Today when I pass the library and see the swarms of cars in the parking lot, I feel a surge of contentment because the library is still so needed."
The building's interior.
Staff of the branch in August 1985.
The Friends continued to fundraise, setting up an annual book and plant sale each spring. In 1985, they raised $3,400 to purchase additional books for the branch.
Two guinea pigs visited the branch for storytime in July 1986.
The economic downturn in Houston in the second half of the 1980s had many people leaving the area. In a September 1986 newsletter, The Friends noted that they had received a record number of donations recently from people moving away.
Spring Branch-Memorial Library staff members Maria Madrid and Leila Raven next to a map of Harris County Public Library locations in October 1987.
Madrid started at HCPL in 1974 and has been at Spring Branch-Memorial since 1977. She recorded an oral history in November 2020 of her 46-year career with the library, sharing her favorite memories of programs, customers, and the community.
Piney Point Mayor Joe Stockdale organized with other village officials to support the library in 1993. The library needed more books and minor improvements to freshen up the building nearly 20 years after opening. Stockdale hoped that an increase in volunteers and fundraising would bring the community together and benefit the library.
In 1994, the library received a fresh coat of paint and new carpeting through a donation by the Friends group. The Friends also began their Buy-A-Book fundraising program that year to restock the shelves.
In March 1996, the original building (which had been converted into office space for the HCPL Bookmobile staff) was surveyed and found to have asbestos. Assistant County Librarian Rhoda Goldberg was interested in having the building demolished and replaced with a second parking lot.
However, after surveying the lot, the architect recommended against a parking lot as the space was too small. Instead, the architect suggested preserving the existing trees and turning the space into a small garden with a walking path.
The reading garden was designed by Friends' Landscaper Bob Green and dedicated to former branch librarian Edith Spang. The garden was opened on Friday June 4, 1999. HCPL Director Cathy Park gave a speech at the ceremony that highlighted the incredible contribution Spang had made for the library and the community in her nearly 20 years as the librarian of Spring Branch-Memorial Library.
"She was the first librarian in the library building on these grounds and the last librarian. She put her heart and soul into providing the community with the information and reading material they needed for 40 years. The 18 years she actually worked in the library and the 22 years as a member of the Friends. This library is her second child."
The library offered its first computer training class in 2000.
Staff in the sunny, inviting atrium in 2002.
Staff behind the circulation desk in 2002.
Halloween program at the branch in 2012.
Animal petting zoo during the 2014 Summer Reading Program.
Outdoor children's program at the Edith Spang Reading Garden in 2015.
Every spring, the Friends of the Spring Branch-Memorial Library put on a Plant and Book Festival. Visitors can purchase used books or donated plants, and all proceeds are used by the Friends to support the library. Flowers for sale covered the front steps of the building in March 2015.
The Festival was highlighted in a March 2017 issue of Absolutely Memorial Magazine.
Spring Branch Memorial Library staff dressed as Waldo in 2017.
The front desk of the branch in the fall of 2018.
The branch upcycled their old card catalog into storage for a seed catalog for the community.
In December 2019, the library was gifted two handmade DVD display cases. The cases were built by Jonathan Swagery as part of his Eagle Scout project.
In January 2020, the branch received new tile floors. During construction, the branch remained open, rotating the collection through the building as the crews ripped out and installed the new floor.
As the Covid-19 pandemic struck Harris County in March 2020, the Spring Branch staff transitioned to virtual service, offering a wide variety of storytimes, read-alongs, game nights, and craft programs.
In November 2020, while the branch remained closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the County installed new shelving. The building was shut down for three weeks, as the old shelves were removed and the new bright white shelving was brought in and set in place.
On May 19, 2021, the branch reopened to the public for the first time since March 2020. The staff were overjoyed to welcome the community back to the building. The branch used the Reading Garden to resume outdoor programming for the summer and fall, such as Read with a Furry Friend.
To learn more about the Friends of the Spring Branch-Memorial Library, visit: https://www.friendsofsbml.org/