The first public library in the City of Brenham was begun by The Fortnightly Club. This club was organized on December 8, 1895, when Mrs. H.C. McIntyre, Mrs. J.M. Key, and Mrs. R.E. Luhn decided they would form a literary club. They made a list of their friends whom they thought might be interested and these ladies became the 14 charter members of the Fortnightly Club of Brenham. Their name indicated the group would meet every other week, or fortnightly.
In 1899, The Fortnightly Club, now consisting of twenty-eight members, began working on forming a public library. One of the charter members met with Col. D.C. Giddings of Giddings & Giddings Bank to ask if he could provide space for the fortnightly activities. He replied, “yes, I have some rooms in the back of the bank. If you ladies are really in earnest, you may use them rent-free. But, I would like to ask that you look especially for books suitable for children. As long as there is a child in Brenham who wants to read good books, the rooms are at your disposal.” The club held a book reception on February 19, 1901. About 100 books were donated, and Col. Giddings added 300 volumes from his private collection. Local citizens also donated books, forming the 1,000 volume nucleus of the Library.
In January 1910, the Library was moved to the second floor of city hall located at Vulcan and North Park Streets. By 1914, the Library had a total of 5,500 volumes. In the autumn of 1933, funds from the Civil Works Administration paid for the labor to build a new Library at the corner of North Baylor and Vulcan Street and in 1956, the northeast side of the front porch was enclosed and became the children’s area.
In 1977, the Library received $33,000 from the sale of Coca Cola stocks donated by Mr. and Mrs. P.N. Roberts, Jr. in memory of their daughter, Nancy Carol Roberts. Nancy lost her life in a tragic accident in the fall of 1971. The Nancy Carol Roberts Memorial Library (NCRML) was completed and dedicated on September 8, 1974, and was located at 100 Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway.
At the time the Library opened, the building’s capacity was projected to be adequate to house between 28,000-30,000 volumes. Just ten years later in 1984, the Library had exceeded its original collection size by amassing a collection of nearly 40,000 volumes and by 1988, the Library had become very crowded. The demand for services and the growth of the community during the 1980’s resulted in an expansion project. On November 4, 1990, the new addition and expansion was dedicated, adding over 5,000 square feet to the existing facility.
As NCRML welcomed the new millennium it began upgrading technology components while maintaining traditional library offerings. For generations, the NCRML has offered critical services to address the needs of all learners and the continued demand for services combined with the growth of the community resulted in a much-needed facility expansion and modernization project. Thanks to a generous endowment from the Roberta Cole Johnson Estate, public donations, and funding from the City of Brenham, a fully renovated and modernized facility opened to the public in November of 2016.
On February 19, 2021, the Library celebrated its 120th birthday. Much has changed since the ladies of the Fortnightly Club established a public library to serve the people of Washington County. The strength of that original commitment can be seen in the support of the present Library. The Fortnightly Club contributes money raised during its annual Silver Coffee and Book Fair. Today, with a collection comprised of both standard and digital materials, the Library serves an increasingly diverse and dynamic community. The challenge for the Nancy Carol Roberts Memorial Library will be to meet the changing information needs of this expanding and multicultural population. As we look to the future, we are committed to a set of core values. Adopting these values ensures a thriving Library for us, our children, and grandchildren.