The Rosenberg Library, successor to the Galveston Mercantile Library, which was founded in 1871, is the oldest public library in Texas in continuous operation. With funding provided through a bequest from Henry Rosenberg, the Rosenberg Library Association was organized in 1900 as a private corporation to give free library service to all Galvestonians. Since its incorporation the institution has been governed by a board of twenty trustees, who meet annually to elect a seven-member board of directors. The Rosenberg Library opened in 1904. A year later it absorbed the collections of the Galveston Public Library, thus formalizing its new role as the public library for the city of Galveston. From the beginning, the Rosenberg Library has been more than a simple book repository. Its early history reflects its cultural importance. Led by the board of directors, the first librarian, Frank C. Patten (librarian from 1904 to 1934), initiated several programs that emphasized community involvement. Early lecture series, for example, often attracted audiences of 700. Patten and the board worked together to develop collections that went far beyond the scope of most public libraries. As a result of their work and that of succeeding boards and staff, the library has compiled outstanding collections of manuscripts, maps, artifacts, and printed items. The Galveston and Texas History Center, for example, collects materials relating to Galveston and early Texas. Major manuscript collections include the papers of Samuel May Williams, Gail Borden, John Grant Tod, Jr., and James Morgan; the records of several nineteenth and early twentieth century businesses, including those of Harris Kempner, Henry M. Trueheart, and J. C. League; the records of several organizations and churches in the area; and twentieth-century collections reflecting recent events and activities in Galveston and the upper Gulf Coast. The map collection includes maps and charts of Texas, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and adjacent coasts dating from the sixteenth century to the present. Holdings of the museum department include historical artifacts pertaining to Galveston or early Texas, paintings of Galveston subjects or by such local artists as Julius Stockfleth and Boyer Gonzalez, and a sizable collection of Russian and Greek icons. The Fox Rare Book Room contains incunabula, first editions, and examples of fine printing.
The library staff and boards of directors have continued the tradition of varied library services. In addition to developing special collections and circulating over 250,000 books annually, the library offers art and historical exhibits, lectures, film series, computer classes, and meeting facilities for over 100 groups a year. Since 1941 the city and county of Galveston have contributed to the support of the library. About three-fourths of the operating budget comes from public funds, while the remainder derives from private endowments and gifts. The Rosenberg Library is the headquarters library for the Galveston County Library System, a structure in which the head of the Rosenberg Library is also the county librarian. In 1967 the library board of directors launched a campaign to build a wing that more than doubled the size of the original library building. Funded by the Moody Foundation and countless gifts from other sources, the Moody Wing opened in 1971—100 years after the Galveston Chamber of Commerce established the Galveston Mercantile Library.