The Texas State Library was established on January 24, 1839, by a joint resolution of the Third Congress of the Republic of Texas, providing for a library for the use of the republic and appropriating $10,000 for the purchase of books to be deposited in the office of the secretary of state. The first purchase was an eighteen volume set of the Edinburgh Encyclopedia for $250. The Republic of Texas faced bankruptcy throughout its nine years of existence, and there were no further expenditures for the library. Ashbel Smith, however, charge d'affaires to England and France 1842–45, arranged with Joseph Hume, a member of the British Parliament, a system of exchange of documents between the two governments. Exchanges were also proposed by some of the states of the United States. After annexation further accessions were provided for by an act of the Second Legislature in 1848, which authorized and required the exchange of "copies of all Laws, Judicial Reports, Maps, Charts, and other productions of a Literary, Scientific, or political character, printed or published, by order of the Legislature, or at the expense of the State, with the Library of Congress, the executive departments of all the states of the Union and with foreign powers." Under this act $300 was appropriated to pay the expense of transportation, and the secretary of state was to act as librarian. At this time the books for the use of the Supreme Court were also in charge of the secretary of state during the recesses of the court. This arrangement proved unsatisfactory, and in 1854 an act was passed which established a separate library for the Supreme Court. In 1856 another appropriation, this time of $5,000, was made for the purchase of books for the State Library. Selected by Elisha M. Pease, the books embraced a "large number of choice and standard works." In the bill of February 14, 1860, was an appropriation of $1,500 for the State Library to be expended under the direction of the board of commissioners of public grounds and buildings. After the Civil War the office of state librarian was established, and Robert Josselyn, one-time secretary to Jefferson Davis, was appointed to the position at a salary of $1,000 per annum, which, however, was not paid, because no appropriation was made for the purpose. Josselyn was shortly removed, with all other officials, by Gen. Philip H. Sheridan as an impediment to Reconstruction, and the library was again placed in the state department and so remained until 1876. The catalog Josselyn completed before his removal shows 5,000 volumes in the library, which was then housed in a large room on the third floor of the Capitol building.
In 1872 Joseph Lancaster was appointed librarian by Edmund J. Davis. He described the library as a "wreck of grandeur;" many books were mutilated, others had been stolen. Everything needed a thorough cleaning, but there was neither duster nor broom to accomplish the work. On April 29, 1874, at the close of the Reconstruction era, an act was passed authorizing the governor to appoint "a suitable person to take charge of the public halls of the capitol, including the Senate chamber, hall of the House of Representatives, public library, the capitol grounds and State Cemetery, with all the public property belonging thereto, who shall be a practical horticulturist." The Department of Insurance, Statistics, and History was established under the Constitution of 1876, and in addition to his other duties, the commissioner of the new department was to have charge and control of the State Library and of all documents transferred under the law from the other departments. The first commissioner was Valentine O. King, and in the years 1877 to 1880 a large number of documents, chiefly the Nacogdoches Archives, were transferred from the state department. This was the beginning of the Texas State Archives division of the Texas State Library. King later donated his valuable collection of Texana to the library. The Capitol was destroyed by fire on November 9, 1881. Maps and charts in the library, the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, Lord Kingsborough's Collection of Mexican Antiquities, 120 volumes of Debates in the English Parliament, several bound volumes of the Diario Gobierno, thousands of volumes of books and pamphlets were lost. For the next ten years what was left of the library was without a habitation and almost without a name.
It was not until 1891, three years after the completion of the present Capitol, that the work of building the library began anew, largely as the result of the influence and aid of Governor James S. Hogg. That year the office of historical clerk was appointed, and two years later a Spanish translator and an archivist were added to the staff. The library was housed with the Department of Insurance, Statistics, and History, although in the new Capitol the doors of a large room in the north wing of the second floor were marked "State Library." This room, however, was occupied by the Supreme Court Library. By 1901 the volumes in the library numbered 25,000, bound and in pamphlet form; four-fifths of these, however, were government documents. The beginning of the collection of early Texas newspapers dates from this period. In 1902 a Texas Library Association was organized, aided by the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, and in 1909 obtained legislation for the organization of the Texas State Library and Historical Commission (now the Texas State Library and Archives Commission). The act divorced the library from the Department of Insurance, Statistics, and History, new quarters were secured in the room occupied by the Supreme Court Library, and a librarian and assistant librarian were appointed. The commission was to consist of five members, including the superintendent of public instruction and the head of the school of history of the University of Texas as ex officio members; the other three were to be appointed by the governor. In 1919 this law was amended, and the governor was given power to appoint all five commissioners to serve for six-year terms. Under the original act the Library and Historical Commission was authorized to maintain a legislative reference and information section. A county library law was passed in 1917, and thereafter traveling libraries, each consisting of about fifty books, were sent out to rural schools and communities that did not have library service. In 1919 the work for the blind was inaugurated, and later an annual appropriation was made for the service. In 1920 and 1921 county libraries were provided for; to insure the successful operation of the law the office of library organizer was authorized in 1927. The library has Cadwell W. Raines's Bibliography of Texas and Year Book for Texas, 1901. A Handbook of Texas Libraries has been issued at intervals by the Texas Library Association.
Although Texas could boast of having able state librarians and employees, the chief problem the Texas State Library faced for more than half a century was that of inadequate housing. By the 1950s the situation had become alarming, and the archives division was forced to move to a quonset hut in northwest Austin. In January 1957 Governor Marion Price Daniel, Sr., went before the Fifty-fifth Legislature and recommended that a state archives and library building be erected to house the divisions of the State Library. Before the legislature adjourned in May, the funds had been provided, and the new building was dedicated on April 10, 1962. Built of granite from the same quarry that supplied materials for the Capitol, the outer walls are made of sunset red granite. The building is 257 feet long, 77 feet wide, and 60 feet tall. It has five main floors and seven stack floors. The stacks are not open to the public. Of the 100,000 square feet of floor space, the library occupied 66,000 square feet, with the remainder occupied, until they moved out in January 1974, by the General Land Office; in 1974 there were several state offices located on the fourth floor of the building. The structure is highlighted by the flags of Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States. Embedded in the stone on the west portico are brightly colored mosaic shields of each nation. Smaller bronze emblems decorate the metal doors at the front. On each side of the entrance are quotations from the Constitution of the Republic of Texas and Texas's Declaration of Independence, cut into the stone, along with the Texas seal. The rear of the building is embellished with six terra-cotta seals of the nations. The first floor foyer is a Texas showcase. It has been set aside for an educational project that reflects the history of the state. Historic maps, manuscripts, and artifacts are displayed in the room. In the terrazzo floor is the wreath-and-star emblem of Texas. The main walls are polished granite, and the upper wall is sandstone. Above the center of the area is a large circular light fixture, depicting the lone star of the state with a fifty-star border. A forty-five-foot Texas history mural decorates the upper walls of the lobby. It was made by the English artist Peter Rogers, in association with his father-in-law Peter Hurd, the noted western artist, and was designed in three main parts, depicting the story of Texas chronologically from left to right.
The Texas State Library services include preservation of historical documents, including past and current documents of the state government, aiding research workers, publication and display of valuable Texana, and a wide range of activities to help improve library facilities throughout the state and to stimulate use of available libraries. It is organized into five general divisions: administrative services division, archives division, division for the blind and physically handicapped, records management division, and division for library services and development (including information services department, technical services, and department of library development). The Texas State Library also administered federal and state programs to encourage library development. The federal Library Services Act (1956) and its successor, the Library Services and Construction Act (1965), provided categorical grants to public libraries. The Texas Library Systems Act (1969) was the first legislation to provide state funds for public libraries. It gave the Texas State Library and Historical Commission the authority to organize systems and enabled the legislature to appropriate funds for these systems. That same year the Legislative Reference Library was separated from the State Library. The Regional Historical Resources Depository Act (1971) gave the Texas State Library responsibility for administering the establishment of regional depositories in academic and other libraries in order to maintain and make available the inactive records of cities, counties, and special governmental districts. In 1972 the new Records Management Division was moved to a building in north Austin with 180,000 cubic feet of storage. In 1977 an additional facility, the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, was built in Liberty, Texas. Also in 1972 the Texas State Library and the Texas Historical Commission began a campaign to recover items belonging to the state archives. In 1973 the library building was named to honor the revolution era hero Lorenzo de Zavala. In 1973 the governing commission's name was changed to Texas State Library and Archives Commission. By 1982 space again was a problem: only 1,000 cubic feet was left to store historic records in the main building, the Records Division at 4400 Shoal Creek had filled 160,000 cubic feet of its 180,000, and yearly material required from 15,000 to 25,000 cubic feet. As one of two regional depositories of federal documents, the library received from 50,000 to 60,000 documents published each year. By 1985 a moratorium had been placed on accepting new materials from state agencies, and the library had turned down gifts of historical manuscripts from private donors for lack of space. That year the legislature authorized the expansion of the Records Center Building from 48,000 to 82,000 square feet. In 1989 the Local Government Records Act placed with the State Library responsibility for reviewing and sanctioning records management programs in each of the more than 8,800 local jurisdictions in the state. In 1991 state and local records management functions were combined into a single State Library program.
In 1991 the state archivist asked the attorney general to encourage former governors Bill Clements and Dolph Briscoe to turn over their papers. A 1947 law requires that records kept by governors are to be placed in the state archives. Clements had already given over 500,000 documents to Texas A&M University and had plans to give A&M the rest of the papers from his first term. The attorney general had already ruled that former governor John Connally's papers be turned over to the state. Of recent former governors only Mark White had agreed to turn over his papers to the State Library. The State Library preserves a record of the state's government and history; aids state and local governments in records management; provides information and reference services to state officials and the public; offers library services by mail to the state's blind and reading impaired citizens; and encourages and supports the development of the state's public libraries. These functions are performed, in turn, by the State Archives, State and Local Records Management, Information Services, Talking Book, and Library Development programs. Included in Information Services is the Texas State Publications Depository Program, authorized by legislation to collect publications produced by state agencies. state supported academic institutions, and other state sponsored entities, and to distribute these publications through a depository library network throughout the state. The State Library is also one of two regional depositories in Texas for United States government documents and publications.