The first movement for a public library in San Angelo began in 1902 with the organization of the San Angelo Woman’s Club. By 1904, members of this club had collected 500 volumes of history, biography and reference. The books were housed in the rear of the old Wingfield Drug Store, which was destroyed by fire only a few years later.
On January 15, 1921, Mrs. W. M. Whitfield and Mrs. E. S. Noble presented a proposal to County Judge Charlie Paul for a county library. The second public library was opened on May 18, 1921, stocked with 325 donated volumes. It was located on the second floor of the First National Bank Building. Volunteers operated the library and kept it open two days a week.
The Woman’s Club --- believing that all parts of Tom Green County should receive the benefits to be derived from books --- conceived the idea of a county federation of women’s clubs, which would help to crystallize public opinion in favor of the library movement. The organization of the Tom Green County Federation of Women’s Clubs was completed March 25, 1925, and was termed “the direct cause of the Tom Green County Library coming into being.”
Pressed by the Tom Green County Federation of Women’s Clubs, the county commissioners provided space in the basement of the new courthouse when it was completed in October of 1928.
Miss Doris Wood arrived May 1, 1929, as county librarian. She classified and catalogued 3,547 volumes, or $7,800 worth of books, and the library formally opened September 3, 1929.
During 1929, four rural book stations were established at Mereta, Tankersley, Knickerbocker and Veribest. In 1930, Christoval, Wall and Water Valley were added to the schedule. A station in the school at Grape Creek opened in 1931, and the Dunbar Branch was established in 1933. Makeshift bookmobile service was extended to 16 rural schools in 1935 by using a county car.
Ground was broken in formal ceremonies in December 1937 for the new Tom Green County Library building. Mrs. Sol Mayer, who gave $35,000 to finance the construction, turned the first spade of soil on the lot east of the City Hall. When the library opened its doors in 1938, it had a book collection of 15,406 volumes and was designed to house approximately 30,000 volumes.
Library supporters began calling for installation of a bookmobile service as soon as the new library was dedicated. In October of 1939, a commercial trailer was purchased and equipped as a traveling library. The trailer was a gift of the Massie Foundation, costing $850. The county purchased a 1940 Dodge coupe to be used in pulling this unit. The Massie Memorial Travelling Library made its initial run in November 1939.
On February 17, 1947, a new bookmobile--a large, panel-type truck--arrived in San Angelo equipped to carry 3,000 books. Total cost for purchase of the bookmobile was $3,381.96. Some $2,000 was supplied by Massie Memorial Fund and $1,000 by an anonymous donor. The old bookmobile was sold for $750.
Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new $73,500 children’s wing of the library were held August 15, 1956. Mr. Sol Mayer donated $63,500 for construction of the wing. The two-story building opened May 9, 1957, and almost doubled the floor space of the library. It housed the children’s department, an auditorium with a seating capacity of 275, and a staff room with kitchen.
A new Gerstenslager Bookmobile was put into operation on May 9, 1969. It had a capacity of 6,000 books, more than double the amount of the old bookmobile. The bookmobile made regular stops in the city and throughout the county, carrying both adult and juvenile books and materials. The new unit cost $22,882, and the Tom Green County Commissioners Court provided funds for purchase.
On May 12, 1972, the Angelo West Branch of the Tom Green County Library was opened. County Judge Edd B. Keyes signed the contract for rental of the building at K-Mart Plaza to house the branch. The branch housed some 13,182 volumes and circulated over 73,000 volumes in 1975.
The Dunbar Branch moved to a new location in August of 1975. This branch, named the North Angelo Branch, was purchased for $57,000. The building is a brick structure containing 4,500 square feet, and is located at 3001 North Chadbourne. Around 17,000 volumes of magazines, newspapers, books and large print books were housed at this facility.
By 1979 the central library had been in its building 41 years and had run out of space. When the Sears, Roebuck department store moved from downtown to the new Sunset Mall that year, the county purchased the three-story building for use as a library and county office facility.
Appropriate renovations were made and the library moved into its new quarters on the main floor of the Judge Edd B. Keyes Building at 113 West Beauregard in April 1981. The former library building was traded to the city in exchange for rural ambulance and fire service, and currently houses the Public Health Department.
When Angelo West Branch outgrew its rented quarters in the K-Mart Shopping Plaza, the Friends of the Tom Green County Library raised funds to build a new building at a city-owned site at College Hills Boulevard and Vista del Arroyo. The branch opened in its spacious new quarters in January 1983. The usage of the branch continued to increase and in 1991 the building was expanded, using funds raised by the Friends. It now houses over 44,000 volumes.
The Tom Green County Library System currently owns 288,757 volumes. The system circulated 596,547 volumes in 2008, and this circulation and use is continuing to grow.
Keeping up with technology, the library system has had an automated catalog since 1992, and it also provides free access to the Internet at all three library locations. Library Director Larry Justiss and staff members continuously strive to provide the best books and the best information services possible to the children and adults of Tom Green County.