While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Diana J. Kleiner
HPL Logo
Houston Public Library Logo. Courtesy of Houston Public Library. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Houston City Hall
Houston City Hall, Home of the Library in 1878. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

HOUSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY. The Houston Public Library began with the efforts of a group of Houstonians to develop organizations similar to Benjamin Franklin's Philadelphia subscription library, Junto, and the American Philosophical Society. Local interest, starting in 1837, succeeded in producing a debating society, a circulating library and reading room, a mechanics'-institute lyceum, and the first Houston Lyceum, chartered in 1848, all prior to the current institution. The Houston Public Library traces its beginnings directly to the organization of a second Houston Lyceum on May 27, 1854, and the establishment of its library with a collection of fewer than 100 volumes. Andrew Daly was the probable author of the first constitution and bylaws for the society that oversaw the originally private institution. Lectures and debates began in 1854, and gifts from Sam Houston and others increased the collection to 760 volumes by 1857. During the Civil War, lawyer Decimus et Ultimus Barziza housed the collection, and after the war the society assumed a new identity as its professional membership increased. New quarters were obtained in 1877, when the Lyceum acquired the library of the Houston Academy and moved into its building. It remained there until 1878, when it moved to the Market House of City Hall with a collection of nearly 2,400 volumes, including periodicals. Musical and literary entertainments, begun in the 1870s, led to the founding of the Apollo Club, which in 1882 became the basis for the library's music department. The Lyceum had 210 members by 1881, and women became voting members of the society for the first time in 1887. Between 1887 and 1904, however, the library and society became separate institutions.

Carnegie Library
Carnegie building, home of the Houston Public Library in 1921. Courtesy of the University of Houston. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Julia Ideson Building
Julia Ideson Building, the current home of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, a branch of the Houston Public Library. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

William Marsh Rice's donation of $200,000 in 1892 for a public institution led to efforts by Houston women's clubs and local government to initiate the development of a free public library. The library opened to all users for a fee in 1895; Margaret Hadley Foster, a former Ladies Reading Club staff member became the Lyceum's first librarian. In 1897 the library moved to the Mason Building. City appropriations for acquisitions and a free public reading room for all citizens began in 1899, when Andrew Carnegie agreed to donate $50,000 for a new building (see CARNEGIE LIBRARIES). Chartered in August 1900, the Houston Lyceum and Carnegie Library Association, with the help of the newly formed City Federation of Women's Clubs, raised funds to purchase an appropriate site. In that year the institution incorporated and selected a board of trustees. The city's first central public library opened in 1904 in an Italian Renaissance building in downtown Houston, at the site of the former Thomas M. Bagby residence, and was renamed Houston Public Library at a board of trustees meeting on October 11, 1921. The Carnegie building was replaced in 1926 by a new central library building designed in the Spanish Revival style by architect Ralph Adams Cram of Cram and Ferguson, Boston; the library was subsequently named for librarian Julia B. Ideson, who first oversaw the 14,000-volume collection and who remained with the institution for its next forty-one years. The first two permanent branch libraries were opened in 1925 and 1926. Library use was desegregated in 1953, one year before the Supreme Court decision on the issue.

Public Library
Houston Public Library. Courtesy of Houston Public Library. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In 1976 a new six-story gray granite building, designed by S. I. Morris Associates on the block across the plaza to the west from the Ideson building, replaced the former central library. In 1977 the Ideson building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1979 it reopened as the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, which houses the library's Texas and local history collection, archives and manuscripts, and special collections. In 1989 the 1976 structure was named the Jesse Jones Building. By 1990 the Houston Public Library system had grown to thirty-three branches. The collection contained almost 4,000,000 volumes, 1.6 million microforms, 679,000 government documents, and 130,000 films and audiovisual items.


Mrs. Henry Fall, ed., and Mabel F. Smith, illust., The Key to the City of Houston (Houston: Federation of Women's Clubs, 1908). Orin Walker Hatch, Lyceum to Library: A Chapter in the Cultural History of Houston (Texas Gulf Coast Historical Association Publication Series 9.1 [September 1965]). Texas Public Library Statistics for 1990 (Austin: Texas State Library, 1991). WPA Writers Program, Houston (Houston: Anson Jones, 1942).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Diana J. Kleiner, "HOUSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY," accessed August 11, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lch02.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on March 27, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...