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Branigan Library receives bequest, NEA grant


Thomas Branigan Memorial Library (TBML) has received a $200,000 bequest and a $15,000 grant.

The bequest comes from the estate of Las Cruces resident James Leroy Mealy, who died in early 2019, according to city documents. His estate included the bequest to the library, the city said, and “a future amount is pending final liquidation of estate assets.”  

There are no restrictions on how the funding is to be spent. The city council authorized acceptance of the bequest as part of its June 15 meeting agenda.

The National Endowment for the Arts grant is to help the library host the NEA Big Read in Las Cruces between September 2020 and June 2021. The Big Read “broadens understanding of our world, our communities and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book,” the city said.

The Las Cruces Big Read will focus on “When the Emperor Was Divine,” by Julie Otsuka, “a fictional account based on the true history of Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II,” the city said.  

TBML “will partner with various groups, such as the New Mexico Japanese American Citizens League, to help provide historical context and cultural understanding and to guide conversations surrounding issues in the book that are still relevant today,” the news release said. 

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,600 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $22 million to organizations nationwide.

The first library in Las Cruces was a collection of 500 books that the Women’s Improvement Association (WIA) kept at various member’s homes and then in a small office they had on Water Street, according to www.las-cruces.org/1617/Thomas-Branigan-Memorial-Library. In 1927, 33 years after the WIA was founded, when the WIA Club House was built, the books were moved there. Members took turns acting ast as librarian.

One of the WIA members was Alice Branigan, who, along with her husband, Capt. Thomas Branigan, was active in the community. When Alice died in 1932, she left her estate to various civic organizations, and bequeathed (for those days) a considerable sum of money to the town of Las Cruces for a public library to be named in honor of her late husband.

TBML opened to the public in November 1935. Children’s Story Time began at the library in 1937. The new library opened at its present six-acre site at 200 E. Picacho Ave. in 1979.