Turning one hundred is a big deal and Fairbanks Branch Library has treated it as such! Library staff and community celebrated the library's centennial on September 24 and nearly 700 people attended including community leaders, longtime library patrons, and supporters along with current and former staff members as well as Harris County Public Library administrators. The Centennial festivities featured one of Harris County Public Library's Curiosity Cruisers--a super library on wheels, a maker gallery, Oculus Quest virtual reality headsets, crafts activities for kids, and, of course, birthday cake.
While it was outwardly an anniversary celebration with all the trappings, it was also a chance for current library staff to express their thanks to community members and others who help keep the library a beloved neighborhood institution. "This library wouldn’t exist without this community," says Suellen Dunn, Branch Manager of Fairbanks Branch Library, "The celebration really was a day of gratitude. We wanted to say thank you to everyone who makes this place so vital and exciting, from the Bane Park Rangers to the Lions Club and the City of Jersey Village, to special individuals who go above and beyond behind the scenes to help us do what we do."
Dunn and her team worked with HCPL's Maker Central to create special plaques that they presented to community members as a token of their appreciation. Each plaque, laser-cut in eye-catching blue anodized aluminum, contained a customized message of gratitude.
Recipients of these gifts included neighborhood organizations and their representatives: the Houston Cy-Fair Lion's Club and president Paul Yancy, City of Jersey Village Parks & Recreation Department, and Dept. Head Isaac Recinos, and the City of Jersey Village City Manager Austin Bleess. The library also recognized longtime supporters: The Friends of the Fairbanks Library's president Jean Higgins for 20 years of service and Rebecca Armon for service above and beyond. Other recipients included HCPL administrators: Edward Melton, HCPL's Executive Director, Linda Stevens, Division Director for Programs, Partnerships & Outreach, Theodora Muokebe, Division Director for Branch Administrative Services and Tanisha S. Cummings, Project Specialist & Safety Officer.
From Humble Beginnings
In 1922 the branch started as a single homemade bookshelf in the local post office. Not only was it a place to trade books, but it was also a place to do other things like conduct community business. When the small postal building burned down in 1925, they lost about 200 books.
"The people who started Fairbanks Branch were not rich people. These were working people who came together to give their children something they never had," says Dunn, "The first thirty years of the library were tough, but these folks kept it going through the Great Depression and World War II. The library you see today is not the same building, but it is most definitely their legacy."
The community came together to sell box dinners, and hold story times. The group managed to raise about $146 for materials so that they could reopen. In 1928 they purchased a small “cookie box” building that was only about 224 square feet and held about 1,000 books. It was so small it didn’t even have running water.
Over time it became apparent that the library needed more room to be fully functional. In 1966 the Friends of the Fairbanks Branch Library was established by Mrs. Betty Fowlkes, who hit the ground running when she was appointed their chairperson. She wanted to find someone who would help get the library up to a more operational setting. She went to different civic and service organizations but could not come up with the entire amount needed to expand Fairbanks Branch Library. She continued her quest by receiving permission to try for a loan from the federal government.
Harris County was approved for a $50,000 loan in federal funds and the County said they would match it in order to build the library. The new building turned out to be about 5,000 square feet, about twenty times bigger than it was before.). They broke ground in 1969, and by1970 the new library hosted its grand opening.
In 1987, after a long string of bad luck that included broken front windows, stolen computers, and more, Fairbanks applied for and received a grant to renovate and expand from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. In 1989, they were given $142,227 for the expansion from the estate of Elfreida C. Letz. During its renovation, they enlisted the Harris County Public Library Bookmobile to come and give the community access to books while the building was under construction.
Today, the branch is home to a variety of programs for all ages, including English classes for non-native speakers, story times, genealogy programs, and more. There is something for everyone to be found there. Fairbanks Branch has come a long way from its once homemade bookshelf. The library now houses over 42,000, there’s public access to computers, the yearly circulation averages at 200,000 per year, and they’ve also installed a new Story Walk at the park across from the Fairbanks Branch parking lot.
Looking forward to the Next 100 Years
It is safe to say Fairbanks Branch Library's founders wouldn't know what to do with the computers, DVDs, and photocopiers that the 21st-century version of their humble post office bookshelf now houses. But, they would recognize (and one hopes, approve of), the large selection of books on its shelves and the library's continuing mission to foster community and lifelong learning.
So what will the next 100 years hold? "We see kids coming back at 30 with their own kids," says Dunn, "That’s a vision of the next 100 years: this library as a touchstone—a truly positive influence on the lives of families, generation after generation."
If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in and say hello and join us as we journey into another century on the pathway to knowledge.
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