As Richardson celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2023, it is important to look back at where the city came from. From its founding in 1873 as a small railroad town to its current-day status as a city that is home to businesses and institutions that help develop the technology that changes the world, a lot has happened over the past 150 years. In the months leading up to the 150th Anniversary Celebration on June 24, Richardson Today will be telling some of these stories and exploring the people and events that helped shape Richardson into the place it is today, including a look this month at the history of the Richardson Public Library.

A 1959 architectural rendering of the Tyler Street Library.

Libraries are the center of learning for a community. From children to adults, libraries offer something for everyone.

Richardson residents have had access to a public library since 1944, when the Dallas County Library opened a 400-volume Richardson Branch inside the Richardson Hardware store. A year later the materials were moved to Cash Dry Goods, located in Downtown Richardson at 108 E. Main St. The proprietor, Jessie Durham, or Miss Jessie as everyone called her, served as librarian. Cash Dry Goods operated until January 1963, at which time it was the oldest business in Richardson still owned by the original owner.

Miss Jessie lived most of her life in a home at 813 W. Belt Line Rd., until her older years when she moved next door to her brother’s house. Durham Park is named for the Durham family because the park is located on land that was their farm, as well as in recognition of Miss Jessie’s contribution as Richardson’s first librarian and her generosity in letting the library reside in her store.

In 1958, residents approved $100,000 for the construction of a new library. The following year the library opened at 310 Tyler St. The 5,800-square-foot, red brick building sat behind the police station and consisted of two rooms separated by the circulation desk. The population of Richardson was then about 12,000, up from just 1,200 when the library was first established in Cash Dry Goods.

Library dedication in December 1970

This building was an attractive setting for 11 years, but as the City and library continued to grow, the building became too small, and Head Librarian Marguerite Anderson began to lobby for a new building. In 1965, a bond election was held for the financing and construction of a facility to be located on Arapaho Road. The new library was built at an overall cost of $2 million and opened in December 1970 when Richardson’s population numbered 52,807. At the time, only the first two floors, and a small portion of the third, were open to the public, allowing for future growth.

When Louise Frederick became City Librarian in 1971, she had a staff of 26 full-time employees and eight pages. One of these employees was Julianne Lovelace, who would go on to serve as Library Director from 1987-2001. At a discussion held in 2019 to celebrate the Library’s 60th anniversary, Lovelace said one of the most important things she witnessed while working at the Library was the expansion from six days a week to seven days a week, something that occurred in 1985.

“[Opening on Sunday] was a really big step because it meant spreading our staff out over seven days a week instead of just six days; six days is not an easy thing to do,” she said. “Seven [days] was really quite a step for us, but it was something that the community really wanted and I think it has been very, very successful in enabling a lot of people who could not come to the Library to become Library users.”

The Library continued to expand, with the basement reference department opening in 1980 and the third floor opening in 1995 in conjunction with a major library remodeling project funded through the 1993 Bond Program. With all four floors open, as of 2023, the Library has 248,333 volumes in its collection.

Richardson’s first librarian, Miss Jessie Durham, and Library patrons at Cash Dry Goods in 1955

Today, the Library’s second floor includes the C-Tech (creative technology) maker-space area, which includes a 3D printer and other creative technology tools. This is just the latest example of the Library leading the way with technology, as the Library was the first City of Richardson department, and first library in the state of Texas, to have a website. The site, which launched in 1996, was designed by Technical Services Supervisor Steve Benson, who served as Library Director from 2008-14.

“I had taken some classes at SMU on IBM computer language, so we cobbled together a really primitive webpage, although it was pretty advanced at the time,” Benson said at the 60th anniversary discussion in 2019. “It was little icons, which were revolutionary, next to a line of text. … We put it together and let it run a couple of months before we showed it off to the city manager. He thought it was pretty cool and gave us the go ahead to make it more advanced, complete and official.”

Throughout the years, the Library has continued to be a trendsetter. In 2004, the Richardson Reads One Book program was launched, the first One Book program in North Texas. The title that first year was “Pay It Forward” by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The next phase of the Library will kick off later this year when a full renovation funded through the 2021 Bond Program gets underway. Included is increased program space, upgraded heating, air conditioning and plumbing systems, new stairways and new centralized bathrooms, plus upgraded security and technology systems.

“The Library will continue to be a community space where technology is emphasized and people can meet to work, play and learn together,” said Library Director Jennifer Davidson. “It will be a place where diversity and the freedom to read is celebrated through multicultural programming and by providing access to our wonderfully diverse collection of physical, as well as digital materials, which are available 24/7 through our website. We will continue to provide the resources so everyone can apply for a job, ask a question of a professionally trained librarian, submit government forms or simply connect with others online.”

The Library has come a long way since its days in Cash Dry Goods. Next month, we will explore Richardson’s history of being a cultural arts center by taking a look at the history of the Cottonwood Art Festival and Wildflower! Arts & Music Festival.