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Houston Public Library Records

Identifier: RG A 0013

Scope and Contents

The Houston Public Library Collection contains records of the institution's history and activities. Included are reports, photographs, internal and external correspondence, budgets, publicity, scrapbooks, branch building contruction documents, brochures, borrower's registries, strategic plans, agendas and meeting minutes. Also included are documents relating to partnership initiatives, contracts and purchase orders, and technology additions and upgrades to the library system.


  • 1879-2011


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is currently being processed. If you are looking for materials not listed in our finding aid, we will make an effort to see if we have them, but cannot guarantee they are in the collection. If materials are found, then you will be scheduled for an appointment with an archivist to view those items.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish or reproduce materials from the Houston Public Library Collection must be obtained from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center or the appropriate copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

The Houston Public Library traces its beginnings to the organization of a second Houston Lyceum on May 27, 1854, and the establishment of its subscription-based library with a collection of fewer than 100 volumes. The Lyceum had 210 members by 1881 and women became voting members of the society for the first time in 1887. With the help of the City Federation of Women's Clubs, the city received $50,000 from Andrew Carnegie in 1899 for construction of a new public library. Chartered in August 1900, the Houston Lyceum and Carnegie Library Association opened to the public on the corner of McKinney and Travis streets in 1904. Although nearly 40% of Houston’s population at the time were African American, the city offered no comparable library services to its black citizens. A committee led by educator Ernest Smith opened a small, one-room library in the Fourth Ward’s Colored High School in 1909. They also approached the city’s Chief Librarian, Julia Ideson, and Mayor H. Baldwin Rice to request a separate “colored library” grant from Carnegie. Following additional support from Booker T. Washington (whose assistant, Emmett J. Scott, was Houstonian), their application was approved in 1909. Carnegie donated $15,000 and the Colored Carnegie Library opened in 1913. A new central library building, later named for the city’s first librarian, Julia Ideson, was constructed in 1926. The Spanish Revival style building was designed by architect Ralph Adams Cram. The Colored Carnegie Library remained vital to Houston’s African American community for nearly five decades, though it reopened as a branch of the Houston Public Library in 1921. As numerous branch libraries were added over the years, library use was finally desegregated in 1953, one year before the Supreme Court decision on the issue. In 1976 a new six-story Central Library building, designed by S. I. Morris Associates, opened across the plaza from the Julia Ideson building. In 1977 the Ideson building was added to the National Register of Historic Places and soon reopened as the Houston Metropolitan Research Center.


400 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Processing Information

The collection was originally processed in 1978. Since that time, a great deal of material has been added to the collection. Archivists are currenly processing the additions. The Series, Library Branch Construction, has been processed and is open for research.

In Progress
Ginger Berni
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houston History Research Center Repository


African American History Research Center
Houston Public Library
1300 Victor Street
Houston, Texas 77019
Houston History Research Center
Houston Public Library
550 McKinney St.
Houston, Texas 77002