School Libraries

By: Janelle Paris

Type: General Entry

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: February 19, 2019

The development of school libraries in Texas was slow and sporadic. Since few library records were kept by county and urban school districts in previous centuries, data were not gathered on the earliest attempts to establish school libraries. However, fragmentary records can be gleaned from the early publications of various libraries and associations. Before 1854 schools across the state undoubtedly had small collections of books. One of the earliest accounts of a school library shows that a New Braunfels school started a library in 1854. Another early library was established in 1881 at St. Edward's Academy in Austin. Although the state Constitution of 1845 provided for the establishment of free schools, it was years before the state had a well-organized, satisfactory public school system. Beginning about 1884, school districts started to build permanent facilities and to plan for future growth, and school libraries became more numerous. Ball High School in Galveston established a library in 1884. The same year a school library was started in Omen. In 1885 the Weatherford High School library had its beginning. A Tyler school, encouraged by Anna J. H. Pennybacker, began to build a book collection in 1887. Alvin High School started a library in 1890. Other school libraries established in the nineteenth century included Paris (1893), Houston (1894), Waxahachie (1897), and Dallas (1898).

The establishment of the Texas Library Association in 1902 provided a professional organization to nourish the fledgling school libraries. In 1909 the Texas Library and Historical Commission (later the Texas State Library and Archives Commission) was founded. Its first biennial report (1910) cited the remarkable growth of Texas public school libraries: in ten years (1900–10) they had multiplied from 450 to 1,978. The school library as we know it today is largely a twentieth-century product. The earliest libraries were primarily storehouses for supplementary reading materials with accidental relevancy to the curricula. Most of them suffered other deprivations as well: no local support, lack of standards for evaluation and operation, no trained personnel, and no precedents for procedure. Pioneer libraries, without state and local funds, had to discover methods of survival. Often the teachers of a school provided the initiative to start a library and with the students' help raised money for its upkeep. Methods devised to secure funds for the collections included box and pie suppers, benefit dances, book showers, candy sales, fashion shows, teas, magazine-subscription drives, Thanksgiving offerings, and performances of such entertainments as plays, operettas, and literary programs. One community turned its dog-tax money over to the school library. Another school raised a pig and sold it for book money. In lieu of raising funds to establish and maintain a library, many schools in the early 1900s leaned on the public libraries for assistance. The Fort Worth Public Library reported book loans to schools as early as 1904. The Rosenberg (Galveston), San Antonio, Waco, and Houston Lyceum and Carnegie libraries all placed books in schools. In 1915 Port Arthur maintained a combined public and high school library in a school building. The El Paso Public Library supplied both books and library instruction to the high school. Tyrrell Public Library in Beaumont scheduled stops of its unique book wagon at the city schools beginning in 1929. The need for library materials was also met in part by loans to schools from such sources as the People's Loan Library of the University of Texas and the "traveling libraries" sent from the Texas State Library.

The growing importance of school libraries was recognized by the establishment of a library section in the Texas State Teachers Association in 1915. This group worked toward elevating standards in school libraries and toward developing professional status among Texas librarians. In 1917 the State Department of Education assumed the responsibility of classifying and accrediting high schools. Efforts by the department were directed toward raising library requirements. The first county school library was established in Dallas County in 1927. The county superintendent's office circulated books to teachers in the schools. In 1934 forty-eight counties had some form of countywide school library service. During the 1930s and 1940s training opportunities for school librarians increased. The College of Industrial Arts (Denton) established a full-time library science curriculum in 1929–30. By 1953 the University of Texas, Our Lady of the Lake, Prairie View College, and the seven teachers' colleges were offering library courses.

In the early years of the Great Depression many school library services were curtailed. However, in 1939 the Texas Work Projects Administration assigned workers to school libraries. One source reports that in 1940 1,471 WPA workers were employed in 1,196 school libraries. In 1946, for the first time, a school library specialist was added to the State Department of Education staff. This significant development laid the groundwork for a statewide program focusing on improving school libraries. The plans included new librarian-certification requirements, demonstration school libraries, and higher standards for school library services. The Gilmer-Aiken Laws of 1949 enabled schools to employ professionally qualified librarians as state-funded special-service teachers. Small districts were able to enter into cooperative agreements and hire multischool librarians. In spite of intrinsic weaknesses in the plan, the number of schools served by certified librarians increased. By 1954 814 professional school librarians worked in the state.

The 1960s brought many changes to Texas school libraries. The traditional book-oriented libraries responded to newer educational demands. Their collections expanded to include audiovisual materials and equipment. Federal funds began to flow into the schools to support new media centers and the enrichment of older ones. Libraries became more relevant to the curriculum-educational necessities rather than supplements. School units grew because of racial integration and consolidation of school districts. Twenty new education service centers provided a wealth of additional media opportunities. The 1970s and 1980s brought continuing changes to school libraries. The training of certified librarians was elevated from undergraduate to graduate level in 1979, and the number of library-science courses for the learning-resources endorsement was advanced from eighteen to twenty-one semester hours. New approaches to teaching and the broadening of school curricula have increased the importance of school media centers. Higher standards from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the increased use of supportive library personnel, and a State Department of Education mandate effective in 1985 all served to strengthen school libraries. Library networking and the use of computers in schools and library administration offer many challenges and advantages to the librarians serving in Texas schools today.

Katherine J. Adams, "The Beginnings of Library Education in Texas," Texas Library Journal 62 (Spring 1986). Frederick Eby, The Development of Education in Texas (New York: Macmillan, 1925). A. E. Skinner, Texas Library History: A Bibliography (Phoenix: Onyx, 1983). Texas Library Association, Handbook of Texas Libraries 1 (1904).

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

Janelle Paris, “School Libraries,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995
February 19, 2019