After the local Walmart moved to a different location within the city, McAllen, Texas, was left with a vacant big-box store. In 2007, a citywide survey was done on the vacant space and the direction the city wanted to go with it. The city also desperately needed a larger library. “We had more than outgrown the stacks and needed about quadruple the parking spaces we had,” Kate Horan, library director, emphasized. This led the city to purchase the vacant store with the purpose of transforming it into a bigger and better library.
Repurposing and moving
City officials were adamant that they wanted to do something unique and forward thinking, so they searched throughout the U.S. to find what they wanted this new library to look like. Plans were put into motion in 2009 with the entire store needing to be gutted and repurposed so that it would not look like an old Walmart store. The only portion of the store they were not able to repurpose was the auto center, which was torn down.
The majority of the work consisted of gutting and cabling in order to get the new library networked properly. With the help of a federal discount program for cabling, they were able to save money. In November 2011, the old library was closed down. Over 300,000 books needed to be moved from the old location to the new location before the library’s new location opened its doors in December 2011. However, Horan insisted, “We didn’t just move the old library into the new library.”
Opening up opportunities
Moving from a 4,000-square-foot building to a 120,000-square-foot building allowed the library to branch out and connect with more community organizations. With the children’s area now the size of the entire first floor of the old library, the McAllen Public Library is the largest single-story library in the U.S. “We’re not just a huge building,” Horan commented. “We attract huge crowds.”
It hosts a farmer’s market out front every Saturday and a trick-or-treating opportunity for children around Halloween. It also have an English as a second language program and allows guests to hear from and meet visiting authors. For the sixth year in a row the library will host the south Texas book festival.
The inside of the library has a theme of movement and migration. Throughout the building, the Fibonacci sequence can be seen in various ways. Horan explained, “It is designed to move people into the building to see everything the library has to offer.” It also incorporates the area being well known for bird and butterfly migration.
Inside the library, the increased space allows them to offer a variety of work areas and new experiences for visitors. The lobby contains a gallery with rotating artists. A bookstore and cafe are available inside, too. The MPLab offers opportunities to test out both 3D printing and virtual reality. Sixteen indoor and outdoor meeting spaces are available for rent. Visitors can also take advantage of study rooms, a computer lab with 101 workstations and printing, copying, faxing and scanning services available. For students, the library also holds a study zone with free homework help after school two days a week.
Providing community services
Library personnel have also undergone training to make the McAllen Public Library a family place library. One way they do this is by providing services for even the youngest of patrons while showing parents how to be a child’s first teacher. Horan considers these services “the bridge between birth and school.” This is shown through the Little Learners program, which teaches pre-reading skills to young children.
Repurposing vacant big-box stores seems to be becoming more prevalent throughout the country as well as more successful. Typically repurposing tends to be more cost effective then demolishing and rebuilding. “We’ve gone viral multiple, multiple times,” Horan commented.
A library has also become a place to do much more than simply borrow books. “A library can be a place not only as a repository of books but also for workforce development,” Horan explained. The increased space allows them to provide more programs to the community, including those that can inspire teens to go to college and a recent job fair, which was attended by thousands. “We’re relevant and having a positive impact on the community,” she stressed.
For the past six years in a row, McAllen Public Library has been awarded the Achievement of Library Excellence award by Texas Municipal Library Directors Association.