Educational books

Unimaginable growth and change mark the first century of the Pasadena Library

The Pasadena Public Library celebrates a century of books and service, having grown with its community over many generations.

Beginning in a small room in the city’s only high school with a circulation of 1,511 books, the institution now has a two-building primary location at Jeff Ginn Memorial Drive that offers an expanse of literature, fiction, educational tools and thousands of other resources in traditional and virtual format. The library also includes a Fairmont branch at 4330 Fairmont Parkway which opened in 1992.

“The library is where I have always made my greatest personal progress – as a child, a student, a young librarian and now a director,” said Martin Shupla, who has led the library since 2019.

Library sites have included steel locker

During its first 100 years, the library transformed from era to era to reflect the times and the community.

The beginnings were modest, like a largely agricultural town. As part of Harris County’s new library system, the library would be housed in a variety of locations, including a steel locker in the lobby of the city’s main post office, a hall at City Hall, and – from the mid-1920s – the home of Pasadena Resident Ola Mae Kennedy, which was on the corner of Broadway and Vince Streets across from Pasadena High School.

The Kennedy House had a separate entrance and was open from 2-5 p.m. daily. This is where Ethel Joan Neal, 89, spent many afternoons checking books for patrons alongside her aunt, Ethel Blakesley Hargrave, who was one of the first community librarians to leave. of 1926.

Pasadena Public Library History Timeline:

Neal’s daughter, Carol Arnold, said: ‘My mum, named after her aunt Ethel, spent a lot of time in the library during this time and learned to check books and stamp dates.

“My mother, who was around 12 or 13, ran the library while her aunt Ethel was being treated for breast cancer. It was a simpler time back then.

The books in the library were from Harris County and numbered 100-200. Hargrave worked at the library for 20 years until his death in 1946. .

After two failed bond proposals to provide funds to build a library, the City of Pasadena partnered with Shell Oil Co. to build PPL’s ​​first free-standing facility, a one-story building at Tarter Street. A 1962 move to Minerva Street, later known as Jeff Ginn Memorial Drive, was a milestone.

With a seating capacity of 168, two listening booths, a community room and a central glazed patio, the new building circulated more than 200,000 books to more than 20,000 customers.

Memories of watching photos to decorate the house

During these years, the library reflected the city’s transition trajectory to a suburban community.

Winifred Farquhar discovered the library shortly after she and her family moved to Pasadena in 1963 when her husband, Charlie, joined the faculty of San Jacinto College, which was establishing her roots.

“During the early years that the SJC Library was growing, students used the public library and even used it as a place to study,” she said. “As a full-time young mother with two daughters to stimulate and entertain, going to the library was a much-anticipated and cherished adventure for all of us. I loved going to the library to sit and read current magazines. We even checked photos for the walls of our new home when our budget didn’t allow for decorative items. We also checked the records.

The children’s summer programs featured visual presentations that delighted Farquhar’s two daughters, such as that of a small ship crossing the ocean.

Arnold received her first library card when she was in first grade. She still remembers the sense of belonging she felt.

“It was really special to see your name printed on a card,” Arnold said. “I loved going to the library, especially in the summer. We would get three or four books at a time, take them back and get more.

For the Farquhar girls, that first library card was also a milestone.

“My daughters got their own library card was about to get their driver’s license,” she said.

Library Director Shupla’s favorite area as a child was picture books. It was also a place where his imagination could wander.

“The children’s section was where my friends, the cat in the hat and the very hungry caterpillar, hung out,” he said.

For many children who grew into young adults as patrons, the library was a window to the world. In addition to its print circulation, the library had an extensive periodicals section which included rows of shelves of bound volumes of Time, Newsweek, Life and other magazines dating back to the 1940s, and rolls of microfilm where the patrons could spend hours scanning decades of history in The New York Times and other newspapers.

The daughters of Farquhar — a veterinarian in the Bay Area and a writer in Austin — enjoyed those formative years spent exploring at the library, she said.

“They learned to love the words and their use grew from all those books they read at the Pasadena Public Library,” Farquhar said.

Computers cause dramatic changes

By the mid-1970s, PPL had doubled its library, and by the early 1980s was providing public access to the first generation of Apple computers. The transition from print to virtual materials—which would later be accompanied by major renovations and expansions of the Central Library building—began to take shape in the mid-2000s under then-director Sheila Henderson and assistant director Cynthia Saucier.

“When I started working at PPL, the computers hadn’t been set up,” said long-time customer Sandra Gottlieb, who also worked in the library’s circulation desk in the 1970s and pursued a career in public and school libraries. “We handed out library cards, checked out materials, and put books on the shelves, among other tasks. Now everyone checks their own gear, and computers are everywhere, along with lessons on how to use them. »

The library has remained a rich source of references and materials as it has grown with the community and has not stagnated, according to Rachel Orozco, who worked at PPL from 1983 to 1985 and is now assistant director of public services at Brazoria County Library. Services.

“Libraries continue to thrive because we move with the times,” said Orozco, who is related to the author of this article. “When new technologies emerge, we offer these services. For example, public computers and Internet services were available in public libraries before they were widespread and affordable for individuals.

But it’s the tactile connections to its community that keep the library relevant, even in the age of Google, Orozco said.

“Even with all the technology, we still want to meet people in person,” she said. “Libraries provide this opportunity through programs, book clubs, story times, study rooms and outdoor spaces. If you’re a librarian, you must like people.

For Amanda Rodriguez, who works in the children’s department at the Pasadena Library, PPL provided a support system. .

“The library has provided me with so many resources for parenting as well as for my education,” she said. “When I was a young parent, I didn’t have much support from my family, and I could always rely on the library for the resources and parenting books to help me.”

Staff members, past and present, remember the library as a place in their youth where they could turn their love for books and the library environment into a career path.

“Pasadena Public was my first job at the library,” Orozco said, citing Saucier as a mentor.

Ethel Hargrave’s mission was to make the library something for everyone. Neal can only imagine what his aunt would think if she walked into the Pasadena Public Library today.

“It’s a beautiful place,” Neal said. “Everything is up to date with computers and the technology is there. It would be a thrill for her if she could see it, and I fill myself as she sees it.