West University Branch Library
The first lots for West University Place (often called West University or West U) went up for sale in 1917. By the early 1920s, about 260 people had moved in, and the area desperately needed paved roads and schools. When the City of Houston declined to provide utilities to the fledging community, residents decided to incorporate in 1924 and build the services needed for the area to thrive.
In 1926, HCPL established a library station at the West University School. The station closed briefly in 1934 but soon reopened. Circulation at the school grew each year and by the early 1940s exceeded 10,000 checkouts a year. The City offered space at the new community center to house a new branch given high community demand. The branch opened officially in November 1941 with a card table, chair, and bookcase with just 100 books. The library was open three mornings a week.
The school continued to offer its collection through the end of the school year in 1942.
Thelma Ann Sanders became the branch librarian in 1942. Sanders (pictured here on the left) had moved to West University with her family in 1939 and lived across the street from the community center.
Sanders was a devoted librarian. She called customers when new books arrived that she thought they would enjoy. She made deliveries to residents who were too busy to come in for a book. Sanders could see the front of the community center from her kitchen window, and if she saw someone arrive with a book to return after the library had closed, she would run across the street to reopen the library.
During World War II, the community center housed the Red Cross and civil defense personnel. The branch needed to find a temporary new home, or it would be shut down, and the books returned to the Central Office. Luckily, a community resident offered his field house for the library. The building had no heat, and the librarian was responsible for all janitorial duties. The library moved back to the community center after the war ended.
In an interview with The Southwestern Times in 1946, Sanders said her burning ambition was to “have a real, full-time adequate library" for the community.
Sanders earned just $22 per month in 1947.
By 1953, the branch was in such high demand that it opened for 40 hours a week. The new full-time hours started in September. That year, the branch circulated 23 775 books, an increase of 6,767 over the previous year. The West University branch was now the second-highest circulating branch in the system.
In the 1954 annual report, County Librarian Mary Owensby notes that the West University branch loaned 43,403 books to borrowers. This shows an increase of 19,628 over the previous year. The branch was gifted several books by residents Rose Reese and Carl Victor Little.
In March 1955, the library shifted to full-time hours. That year, the branch circulated 50,468 books, second only to the Baytown branch.
The West University branch continued to be a huge success within the community. Despite holding only 4,300 books, the branch had a circulation of 82,926 in 1958, meaning every book was checked out at least 19 times that year - a phenomenal record. During that summer, the City of West University Place paid to install an air-conditioner to make the building more comfortable for visitors.
In 1959, the City of West University began planning a new community building. It was determined that the library needed a separate building with more space.
When the bond issue for a new community building was defeated, the City decided to renovate the community building instead and use the existing funds to build a new library, using a site right next to the renovated community building.
County Librarian Owensby consulted with the City on the size of the collection residents needed. Owensby recommended a building big enough to hold over 10,000 volumes with room to grow further.
The new building was completed in 1963, and the City of West University planned a big party to celebrate. At 7,000 square feet, the building was a huge improvement on the little corner of the community center.
The final cost for the project was $82,116. Architectural firm Pierce & Pierce won a first-place award for library design in the state of Texas for the building.
The grand opening for the new building at 6108 Auden Street took place on Sunday, September 8, 1963. Hundreds turned out to view the new library. A harpist was hired to play in the background while residents wandered through the building.
The second floor housed the "young people's center, reference rooms, and a study room."
While the building could hold up to 25,000 books, it opened with a collection of just 8,000 items.
Children reading on the second floor during the grand opening.
Thelma Sanders regularly wrote to authors to compliment them on their work or ask questions she or her customers had. This letter from Beryl Griffie-Williams, secretary to Ian Fleming, clarified for Sanders how the author pronounced his first name.
Other notable letters are from the author and parapsychologist Hanz Holzer and Newbery Award-winning author Emily Neville.
Library assistant Patricia Regan holds a storytime in 1964.
In July 1967, Dorothy Brackman gifted the branch seven volumes of the local paper The Southwestern Times. Brackman was the widow of Irvin H. Brackman, the editor and publisher of the paper. The volumes contained issues from the start of the publication in September 1944 through 1951 and covered the development of the cities of Bellaire, West University Place, and Southside Place.
That November, Former West University resident Mrs. Sam Robinson donated a sculpture of a fawn to the library, which was placed in the children's room.
Branch Librarian Thelma Sanders was married to Houston Chronicle columnist Allison Sanders. Sanders often highlighted the West University Library in his column and promoted the library's service to his readers. This column from the late 1960s rebutted a cartoon circulated in the area that insulted librarians. Sanders wrote, "that picture of a librarian is a libel. Some of the coolest chicks I know are librarians, and they don't look a bit like that."
A book sale at the branch in April 1971, held as part of National Library Week. This book sale was nearly cancelled due to a lack of donations until the Strake Jesuit High School donated some of the students' old books.
The branch held an open house that week as well, inviting all the branch libraries in Harris County. Sanders noted to a local paper that she would use the color coral in the library "to draw attention to the tours and open house."
On October 31, 1972, Librarian Thelma Ann Sanders retired after 30 years of service to the community. Her retirement party, held at the Steak House in the Sky (known today as the Spindletop), was publicized in The Houston Chronicle.
Marilyn Yaple became the new branch librarian in early 1973. The library received its own direct phone line for the first time; previously, residents had to call City Hall and be transferred over to the library.
The music record collection at the branch was promoted in a local paper in 1974 when a father checked out lots of records while his daughter was home sick with the mumps.
In February 1975, a new ‘No Smoking’ policy went into effect at the library, and all ashtrays in the building were removed.
In 1976, circulation reached 98,321 for the year. The City of West University Place and Harris County renegotiated their partnership; the City would handle building maintenance and the County would provide books and staff.
When the building was constructed in the 1960s, the plans called for a book lift to move materials to the second floor. However, funds ran short, and the book lift was never purchased, although an empty shaft was built in the workroom. In February 1978, the City decided that the library had waited long enough for a dumbwaiter. Construction was completed in June in time for the busy summer season.
New branch librarian Ginny Martin wrote in late 1978 of the trouble she was having with the City to schedule regular building maintenance, such as janitorial services and exterminations.
Children's programs at West University during 1979.
The library's staff in 1979, and in costume for Halloween that same year.
Problems with city services continued, with the library repeatedly suffering from burnt-out lights, roach infestations, and lackluster janitorial service. New City Manager Richard Rockenbaugh worked to alleviate the library's issues.
In October 1980, County Librarian Catherine Rachel wrote to the County Attorney suggesting a formal agreement between the City of West University and the County recognizing the partnership and respective responsibilities to the library.
Storytime with Assistant Branch Library Julia Lewitt in October 1980.
Children with their bean-bag craft in January 1981.
In February, West University arranged a welcome home party for resident William Royer, who had recently returned to the United States after spending 444 days as a hostage in Iran.
A new plexiglass safety railing was installed on the second floor in December.
It snowed at the branch on January 13, 1982.
The Summer Reading Program theme in 1983 was Reading Rodeo. Children painted the plexiglass barrier on the second floor to celebrate the theme.
Pet Show at the West University branch, June 1985.
The West University Friends of the Library group continued to support the library by purchasing materials the County could not fund. One such unusual purchase was in 1986: the Friends purchased a VHS copy of Rendez-vous Houston, a recording of a live concert by musician Jean Michel Jarre among the skyscrapers of downtown Houston. The performance was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest outdoor "rock concert" in history.
As noted in that year's annual report, a customer complimented the library and staff as "the best little library inside the loop."
Here are two children's programs from the summer of 1987: storytime at a McDonald's and the Metro Robot visited the library.
In 1988, a parking lot was added on Milton Street. The branch's roof leaked for months, and the staff resorted to covering the shelves with plastic sheeting to prevent water damage to the collection and furniture. The building's roof and ceiling tiles were replaced by November, and the exterior trim received a new coat of "chocolate brown" paint.
The staff of the West University branch in 1989.
The branch received a new air-conditioning system in 1991.
A piglet visited the branch, delighting children.
Astronaut Story Musgrave visited the branch for storytime in June 1992.
The branch received a small elector in 1994, in compliance with the Americans with Disability Act.
In the spring, the branch participated in the annual Children's Choice Award. Children cast their vote for their favorite author in a voting booth built by a local Boy Scout troop (seen here).
The branch held a Pet Show that summer.
In 1995, a book return was installed next to the front doors.
The Children's Museum visited during the Summer Reading Program and hosted a Magic School Bus Experiments! program.
Children got to meet a llama during storytime in June 1996. And Houston Astros mascot Orbit visited the branch in July.
Storytime parade around the courtyard in April 1997.
West University staff in 2005. Back row (left to right): Pat, Linda, Branch Librarian Keddy Outlaw. Front row (left to right): Nancy, Libby Nelson, and Carla.
Lemonade for Libraries
In 2006, West University residents Laurie Mills and Lori Fisher organized a lemonade stand competition to help raise funds for the library. Families operated lemonade stands during the weekend of July 14-16, with all proceeds donated to the Friends of the West University Library. The most successful lemonade stand and the most creative lemonade stand won ice cream parties.
The campaign was a huge success, raising a total of $4,100 for the branch. Over 17 stands participated in the event, with the most successful stand raising $472. The event "rejuvenated" the Friends group, which saw dozens of new members sign up.
The branch was renovated at the end of the summer. Improvements included additional shelving, more display areas, additional computer stations, and new furniture and seating compatible for laptop users. The building would also receive new carpet and interior paint. The county provided a custom circulation desk for the downstairs to replace the one added in 1986 (seen here).
The reference room before and after. As many reference resources were available online, much of the print collection was retired and the room was reconfigured to hold additional computers.
The children's area upstairs, before and after the renovations.
The renovation took only 6 weeks, and the branch reopened on Thursday, September 28, 2006.
The West University community did another Lemonade for Libraries fundraising event in June 2007.
Members of the Houston Ballet presented highlights from The Nutcracker that November.
Hurricane Ike hit the greater Houston region in September 2008. The building suffered no damage, but the library lost electricity for several days like much of the region. The branch remained open during this time - storytime was held outside in the courtyard. The branch was featured on the Texas Library Journal's fall 2008 issue, and stories from other Harris County Public Library branches were presented in the Winter 2008 issue.
The branch celebrated 50 years in the building in September 2013. Seen here at the ceremony (from left to right): Council Member Ed Heathcott, Council Member Joan Johnson, Ron Servis, Mayor Bob Fry, Margaret Triandafyllis, and Ron Lucik from HCPL.
The branch did outreach at the West University Arts Fair in 2014.
Branch staff at the West Univetry Fall Fest in October 2015.
In late 2016, the branch closed for a remodel.
By early February, the majority of the renovation work was complete and staff prepared to move the collection back into the building.
The branch reopened on March 6, 2017.
Children's program in the summer of 2017 in the newly renovated space upstairs.
The elevator at the branch, February 2020.
As 2020 progressed and the Coronavirus pandemic struck Harris County, the West University Branch staff transitioned to virtual service. The staff helped customers adjust to the new curbside service, designed customized book bundles, and recorded virtual programs to stay connected with their community. The West University staff pose together outside the building in September 2020.
The branch reopened to the public on May 19, 2021. After a challenging year for the West University Place community, the library is back in business.