BiblioTech Closing Digital Gap in San Antonio

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Local officials, staff and residents celebrated the grand opening of the Dr. Ricardo Romo BiblioTech branch on Saturday. Located within the Gardens of San Juan Square, the new library promises to bring broadband access, digital stations and e-readers to Westside San Antonio.

Named for Dr. Romo, the President of University of Texas at San Antonio, the library is second full-service BiblioTech branch, and the first digital library in the nation to be co-located in public housing. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, County Commissioner Paul Elizondo and the Honorable Julian Castro congratulated Romo for his commitment to state-of-the-art education and digital literacy.

“I walked into that library and I could see the future,” Romo told a crowd shortly before the library’s ribbon cutting ceremony. “Ten years from now, every library in America will be either there, in this model, or going in that direction.”

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro speaks to the crowd. Photo by Scott Ball.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro speaks to the crowd. Photo by Scott Ball.

A native of Westside San Antonio, Romo grew up just a block away from the new BiblioTech location. He credits his love of learning with his time spent working at his local library.

“I didn’t read my first book until the seventh grade,” Romo said. “When I got there and worked at the library, I saw all these kids checking out books and decided I wanted to be one of those kids too, and check out a library book. The role models I was seeking, like Benjamin Franklin and Joe DiMaggio, were right there in the books. It was a great experience bringing me to a new world, a world that I did not know before.”

Bexar County residents can now access those same books via simple digital e-readers, which can hold five books and be checked out two weeks at a time. Although the Romo BiblioTech is nearly half the size of the original branch location at Pleasanton Road, officials expect the library will attract just as many patrons who want help using new technology or access to new digital materials.

Since 2013, BiblioTech has registered 65,200 patrons, and provided access to thousands of books, music and movie collections. Judge Wolff acknowledged that BiblioTech was already bringing broadband and technology tools to areas.

“Young people understand the new world that we live in, and if you’re not prepared to live in that new world, you’re going to have a very difficult time in life,” Wolff said. “We bring the information to you right at your fingertips.”

Ben, age 9, sits on a chair as he plays on a phone. Photo by Scott Ball.

Ben, age 9, sits on a chair as he plays on a phone. Photo by Scott Ball.

The Gardens at San Juan Square, a San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) community, agreed to provide the space for BiblioTech at $1 a year. SAHA plans to open a similar BiblioTech location in a the Eastside this time next year.

Organizations like VIA Metropolitan Transit have begun mirroring BiblioTech’s mission to bring free internet access to residents throughout the city. By September this year, VIA will bring wireless services to all bus routes and transit centers throughout the city, providing riders with the opportunity to read from their phones or e-readers.

Castro, who was present for the opening on non-official terms, cited the Westside library as a national model for reducing intergenerational poverty and ensuring future success.

Richard Perez (left) and Henry Cisneros (right) applaud guests. Photo by Scott Ball.

Richard Perez (left) and Henry Cisneros (right) applaud guests. Photo by Scott Ball.

“One fundamental challenge for the United States in the 21st century is that we remain the undisputed ‘land of opportunity’ among nations,” Castro said. “That means ensuring that everyone has a shot to succeed, it means not giving up on any child or family, it doesn’t matter how wealthy or low-income they are, it means that every zip code counts.

“Congratulations on getting it right,” Castro added. “With BiblioTech, extending a digital library and digital literacy efforts to the San Juan Community, you are doing something that nobody else in the nation is doing right now.”

The Dr. Ricardo Romo BiblioTech is located at 2003 S. Zarzamora, at the corner of Brady Blvd. and S. Zarzamora.

 

*Featured/top image: Leaders celebrate as confetti pours over the Dr. Ricardo Romo BiblioTech Digital Library.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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