Houston Public Library celebrates 50 years

The Houston Library was officially recognized 50 years ago today, on January 28, 1965, but unofficially it's been running since the 1920s.

The stone section on the right side of the Houston Fire Hall was the Houston Public Library in the 1970s.

The stone section on the right side of the Houston Fire Hall was the Houston Public Library in the 1970s.

The Houston Public Library has it’s 50th anniversary today, January 28.

They’ll celebrate with cake and live 60s music on Thursday, February 5 during WinterFest.

Public library services have been offered in Houston since the 1920s, at first offered by local volunteers.

On January 28, 1965, they formed an official Houston Public Library Association, and now for over 30 years the Library has run with paid employees.

Houston Public Library Director Toni McKilligan says library services were offered in a section of the Fire Hall back in the 1970s.

After that it moved to the old municipal hall.

Finally, in 1984, the Library moved into it’s current building, which was later expanded to the 495 square meter facility that it is today.

Reflecting on the changes in service over the last 50 years, McKilligan says the Library originally only offered books for loan.

In the 1980s they added books on tape and VHS movies, but now those have been phased out in favour of CDs and DVDs.

“Digital resources have also been added, including over a dozen on-line databases, free downloadable magazines and a provincially shared collection of e-books and audio books,” McKilligan said.

Another change is the automated system which replaced the old-fashioned card catalogue and manual check outs in the mid-1990s.

In 2008, Evergreen brought another big change.

Evergreen is an open-source software system which facilitated the development of Interlibrary Connect, “a new system of resource sharing that is revolutionizing the way libraries share material.”

Looking ahead, McKilligan says the demand for digital material will continue to increase.

“Print material will be around for a while, but it is getting more and more expensive to produce in comparison to digital media. That shift will eventually reduce print in libraries to highly specialized types of books,” McKilligan said.

The backbone of the library is providing information, but remote access to that information will likely become mainstream.

McKilligan says the Library facility will become more of a community centre for informal learning and social gathering.

“I also see libraries coming full circle and, in conjunction with technology, being gathering places where oral histories and storytelling return,” she said.

“I don’t see libraries becoming extinct. They will evolve and change as they have done for over two millennia. Typically libraries are community leaders in introducing and supporting new trends in technology, so the future of libraries is really in the hands of the user.

“What do patrons want? What do patrons need?” asked McKilligan.

“The answers to those questions always have and always will shape libraries.”