Summer Reading Programs at HCPL from 1921-1940

Summer Reading Programs at HCPL from 1921-1940

School's Closed - and So Are Many Libraries 

When establishing the new library system in 1921, County Librarian Lucy Fuller worked with teachers throughout Harris County to find suitable book locations in each community.  Most of the early library locations were stationed in primary schools.  This meant that students throughout Harris County had access to a wide selection of books to complement their lessons.  Parents and other community members could also visit the school libraries and borrow books as school schedules allowed.  

While this service model benefited the quick growth of the system - as the county did not have to pay to maintain the buildings or staff salaries - there was a definite downside as schools closed down during the summer months.  During summer months, HCPL often only had a quarter of its branches remain open—in the summer of 1936, for example, only nine branches remained open out of 38 total locations!  Summer closures would leave the community without a library for several months unless someone from the community offered up their home or business to hold the books.  The libraries in Crosby and Humble moved to private businesses during the summer months until the communities raised funds to construct dedicated library buildings to ensure year-round access to the books at a central location.  The book wagon would visit as many rural communities as possible, but most locations were usually limited to weekly stops, given the size of the county.


Summer Vacation Clubs

Many school book collections would be sent to one of the larger branch libraries during the summer.  Those libraries, in turn, would focus on programming to encourage children to visit and continue practicing their reading over the summer vacation.  Branches would organize "vacation" reading clubs with daily activities for children to participate in.  Librarians would create lists of "constructive" books for children to read, often a mix of fiction and nonfiction.  Some branches formed "clock clubs," requiring children to read 24 books during summer vacation.    Prizes and certificates were given to children who reached their reading benchmarks.  Prizes varied yearly, but the library occasionally gave books as prizes, such as in 1933 at the Goose Creek, Humble, La Porte, and Clinton (Galena Park) libraries.  The prize books were donated by community members, which was important as the library often faced budget woes during the first few decades. 

Each library would arrange its own special clubs depending on the interests of the local children.  The Vacation Reading Club at the Humble Library in 1932 used captivating displays of bug collection, boats, and birdhouses to encourage frequent visits.  Children in the White Oak community formed a puppet club in the summer of 1935.  That same year, children asked for a club specializing in animal stories at the Seabrook Library.  In 1936, the La Porte Branch Library planned a treasure hunt open to "any school-age child of the Bayshore section, whether a permanent or a summer resident" – a nod to the popularity of nearby Sylvan Beach as a summer vacation spot.  

Local newspapers published articles promoting summer reading clubs at the libraries and, at the end of summer, announced some of the names of children who completed their challenges.   In 1936, 53 children were awarded "diplomas" for completing their summer reading course at the La Porte Library – including four children who walked six miles round trip each week to pick up their books.


The Bookmobile Changes Everything

When the HCPL bookmobile debuted in the late summer of 1937, it began a wave of change for the library system.  Sixteen school locations were permanently closed, and each subsequent year, another handful of locations closed or switched to bookmobile service only. 

HCPL continued to transition some of the less permanent library stations to bookmobile service.  As many schools began to open their own school district-led libraries, HCPL began to consolidate into a system of branch libraries with their own buildings and bookmobile service.  This transition eventually expanded vacation reading clubs to almost every HCPL location.   

From the HCPL Digital Archive

(1924, September 13). Books loaned to children in farm sections.

1932 Annual Report, Harris County Public Library

1933 Annual Report, Harris County Public Library

(1935, May 30). County library plans program. From HCPL Scrapbook (1934-1937)

(1935, May 31). County library maps program. From HCPL Scrapbook (1934-1937)

(1935). History of the Crosby Library.

(1935). History of the Humble Library.

(1936, May 30). Library plans treasure hunt for children. From HCPL Scrapbook (1934-1937)

(1936, May 30). Library stations hunting new homes as school term ends; new "wagon route" started. From HCPL Scrapbook (1934-1937)

(1936, May 31). County library schedules will change this week. From HCPL Scrapbook (1934-1937)

(1936, September 5). 53 are awarded library honors. From HCPL Scrapbook (1934-1937)

(1936, October 1). Winners in summer reading work named. From HCPL Scrapbook (1934-1937)

(1936, October 24). County library stations open. From HCPL Scrapbook (1934-1937)

1937 Annual Report, Harris County Public Library