A State Archives had been established when Texans declared independence from Mexico in 1836, and three years later, Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second President of the Republic of Texas, signed a proclamation establishing a State Library and Congress appropriated $10,000. Only one book, the Edinburgh Encyclopedia--was purchased. With ongoing threats of war by the Mexican government and Comanche raids on settlements taking priority, the fledgling library never had a chance to grow.
During the early years of statehood (1845) through the Civil war era (1865), responsibility for the State Library and Archives passed between many governmental departments. And when the Capitol burned in 1881, a wealth of history and many books were lost in the fire. The State Library was housed in the basement of the new Capitol (completed in 1888) and by 1909, records show a large collection of newspapers, congressional documents, government publications, books, and artifacts available.
After signing the act that created the Texas Library and Historical Commission on March 19, 1909, Governor Thomas M. Campbell appointed the first Commissioners, who met in Austin on March 29, 1909. George P. Garrison of Austin, head of the school of history at the University of Texas, was appointed the first Chairman. Following his death in 1910, Mrs. J.C. Terrell of Fort Worth became Chairman, and E.C. Barker was appointed to the board. Other Commissioners were, George W. Littlefield, Austin; R.B. Cousins, Austin; F.M Bralley, Austin; and Richard Mays, Corsicana.
The first staff consisted of E.W. Winkler, State Librarian; Mrs. Laura V. Grinnan, Assistant Librarian; John Boynton Kaiser, Assistant Librarian in Charge of Legislative Reference Section, and E. Swiedom, General Assistant. The Commission also oversaw the needs of over 30 free public libraries throughout the state, including new Carnegie libraries in Abilene, Ballinger, Stamford, Sulphur Springs, and Winnsboro.
Winkler writes in the First Biennial Report:
The State Library is a place for information. It should have the information needed by the State officials to give to Texas the very best administration possible. It should have the information needed by the members of the legislature to give Texas the best laws that can be enacted. It should have the information needed by the historian to portray truthfully the history of...this State.