Fondren Library, Rice University

By: Kay Flowers

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: April 18, 2017

The Fondren Library of Rice University, on the Rice campus three miles southwest of downtown Houston, serves as the research library for the university and a public library. It was founded and endowed as the Rice Institute Library by William Marsh Rice in 1891. It has always been privately funded from the university endowment. Rice opened in 1912 but did not get a librarian until 1914, when Alice Dean, of the Rice class of 1916, became acting librarian. The institute library was originally located on the second floor of the administration building (now Lovett Hall), but careful and extensive purchasing increased holdings until they overflowed two additional floors and expanded to several departmental libraries in other buildings. By 1946, when Dean officially became the librarian, plans were underway for a central library.

The Fondren Library, made possible in part by a gift from the Walter W. Fondren family, was built in 1947–48. Under librarian William Dix, appointed in 1948 after Alice Dean's retirement, the collections were moved into the new building, which officially opened in November 1949. The new facility held the entire collection and provided reading space and study carrels for faculty. In 1953 Dix was succeeded by Hardin Craig, Jr., a member of the history faculty. The collections continued to grow, and toward the end of Craig's tenure the library was again experiencing space problems. With the help of a grant through the Higher Education Facilities Act and a gift from the Fondren Foundation, a new wing for the library was planned to include additional stack space, over 200 study carrels for students and faculty, and a center for rare books and manuscripts. The Graduate Research Wing of Fondren Library, containing the Woodson Research Center, was completed in 1968, the year Richard O'Keefe became university librarian.

Fondren has continued expanding in size and services. Since 1967 the Regional Information and Communication Exchange, established by grant to provide information to area businesses, has become a complete fee-based information and document-delivery service for corporations in the Southwest. In 1979, when Samuel M. Carrington, Jr., became university librarian, the Fondren Library celebrated not only its thirtieth anniversary, but also the addition of its millionth volume, a milestone in the life of any library.

By 1985 the Fondren Library collections consisted of over 1.2 million volumes, 11,000 serial subscriptions, and over 1.6 million microforms, including newspaper and periodical backfiles, as well as research collections. A staff of thirty-eight professional librarians and ninety-eight paraprofessionals maintained these resources for the university. Among the special collections in the library are the papers of Julian S. Huxley, an early member of the Rice Institute faculty; documents pertaining to the reign of Maximilian and Carlota in Mexico; the Masterson collection of Texana; and the papers of Texas entrepreneurs such as W. H. Hamman, W. B. Sharp, J. L. Autrey, H. W. Masterson, and W. W. Fondren. Also, the Fondren Library now houses the archives of NASA space programs, from the Mercury flights through the Skylab projects (see LYNDON B. JOHNSON SPACE CENTER), and is the general repository for the university archives. The general collections are strong in the scientific and engineering disciplines but also include special art and music libraries, as well as the O'Connor Center for Business Information. The Fondren Library has been a federal depository for government documents since 1968 and is a patent depository as well, with holdings from 1961. The Friends of Fondren Library, a support group of 1,200 members, publishes Flyleaf, a magazine reporting Fondren's major activities, major collection additions, and other items of interest to library supporters.

Fredericka Meiners, A History of Rice University: The Institute Years, 1907–1963 (Houston: Rice University Studies, 1982).


  • Education
  • Museums, Libraries, and Archives
  • Libraries

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II


  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Kay Flowers, “Fondren Library, Rice University,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 02, 2021,

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January 1, 1995
April 18, 2017

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