The Austin Memorial Library is named after Bessie Sims Austin and Charles O. Austin. Mr. Austin was born in Palmyra Missouri. Bessie May Sims was born in San Antonio Texas. The project of creating a public library for Cleveland was first adopted by the Women's Club of Cleveland. The public library finally had its beginning in May 1952 in the corner of an auto-parts house. The first public appeal was for books which were collected by the members of The Women's Club and the Cleveland Boy Scouts. The club members cleaned, painted, and repaired books and one member acted as librarian.
Mrs. Bessie Austin offered land for the first dedicated library building, which is still on the present site of the library, with the stipulation that the library be named in honor of, and as a memorial to her late husband, Charles O. Austin. Mr. Austin was formerly a Texas State Banking Commissioner, a former president of the Farmers’ State Bank in Cleveland, and at the time of his death, a judge of Liberty County, Texas.
A library board was then formed, consisting of twelve members from various civic and social organizations, schools, and the Chamber of Commerce, meant to represent a cross-section of the community. Thus, the library was no longer merely a project of the Women’s Club but became a community project for all of the citizens of Cleveland.
Mrs. Austin purchased and moved to the site an 18x20 frame building with a single door and window, which served as the library until November 1957. This frame building still stands on the library grounds today. The citizens and local civic organizations gave their time, money, and labor to maintain the library while helping it grow, both in available reading materials and in popularity as a cultural attraction. In 1957, Mrs. Austin purchased a larger, brick building to be moved onto the same site, and again the community gave selflessly to make this a finer library, and its popularity and usefulness continued to grow. The brick structure served as the library until April 1973 and was subsequently used for several years as location of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce offices. This building is no longer standing.
When Mrs. Austin died in 1966, the citizens of Cleveland became the recipients of the major portion of her sizeable estate. The city was finally able to realize a dream that had been building since the Women’s Club first began their project: a modern, state-of-the-art library with all the available amenities to serve the citizens of Cleveland and the surrounding area. Work soon began, and the Austin Memorial Library building, as it currently stands, was opened to the public April 1973.
The current library was built to house 25,000 volumes (a large number for its day, but relatively small by today’s standards), a museum containing the furniture, letters, and other historic antiques that had belonged to Charles and Bessie Austin, and facilities to provide cultural enrichment for the community, such as a dance studio, auditorium, music studio, art studio, and meeting rooms. When the library opened its new building in 1973, it boasted 5 employees and 11,000 titles.
In 2006 – 2007 the current Austin Memorial Library building underwent its first major renovation. Other construction projects and evolving city plans had alleviated the need for many of the functions and civic uses the library had satisfied since 1973. A historical museum was established in the former City Hall building, which houses the Austin’s antiques, and a new Civic Center was built to handle the increasing population of Cleveland. The current building, which had been a civic center, museum and library for 35 years became simply a full-fledged, dedicated library once again.