The library in McAllen, Texas used to be stacked not with books, but with housewares. What makes this award-winning library special is that it used to be a Walmart. Now, at the size of more than two football fields it has become the community’s home away from home.
Ema Torres is one of the library’s keepers. She grew up in neighboring Edinburg, 14 miles away, and after working as a librarian in Houston, she says she’s happy to be back home. Especially now as the reference librarian of the new and improved McAllen Public Library, which serves approximately 70,000 visitors a month.
“It’s beyond their expectations,” says Torres about the new and improved 123,000 square foot building. “It’s not just about books and being a library, it’s a community building…I see more students here, professionals, business people…I’ve seen more new people, complete families coming…They walk in with a sense of ownership, and I work here. How fantastic is that?”
Torres used to work at McAllen’s old 40,000 square foot library before the new one opened in December of 2011.
“It’s like going from a casita to a mansion with everything new,” laughs Torres. “For one thing, we have a computer lab with over 60 computers and capacity for 100.”
Kate Horan, the interim library director, says a pretty extensive study about the former library located the present needs of the community – which is more than 85 percent Latino.
“It was no surprise that the building was too small,” says Horan. “The old building built in 1950 did not have a teen section.”
In the approximate 18 months that the new library has been open, Horan says it is confirmed teens really need their own space.
“What I like is that people can study and read books and all kinds of stuff,” says Adrian Rebollar, 16, who used to go to travel outside of McAllen to go to different libraries before the new one was built. “Sometimes I’m on the computer, and I take my little niece to the playroom.”
This is the first summer of the library’s existence, and Torres says the meeting and teen room, with its shag carpet and modern furniture, are always packed.
“It gets them engaged,” says Torres. “They can hang out and meet…The children’s programs are always at capacity.”
Sunday seems to be the most popular day, engaging entire families.
“They are lining up at 1pm for the library to open,” says Torres. “I’m just so thankful that we had visionaries that were able to envision this for the community…It’s a place of pride.”