Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Bexar County officials marked the grand opening of the third BiblioTech library Thursday on San Antonio's Eastside.
The newest – and largest – of the County's three digital libraries is named after the Rev. E. Thurman Walker, former pastor of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, and features a reading room with 50 desktop computers, two smaller conference-style reading rooms, a community room, children's area, and a maker's space. The maker's room is unique to the Eastside branch and features creative tools for audio and video production, three-dimensional printing, and robotics development.
The BiblioTech libraries, the first all-digital public library system in the nation, offer downloadable books, magazines, movies, and other media accessible through smartphones, tablets, and other digital devices. The branches aim to expand recreational reading and internet connectivity, particularly in communities lacking internet access.
The $1.3 million public-private partnership between the County and the Hidalgo Foundation placed the branch inside the mixed-income East Meadows housing development, at 1203 N. Walters St., with the aim of bringing more recreational reading, internet connectivity, and technological opportunity to the community. Patrons have the ability to take home e-readers and wireless hotspots in addition to accessing the library's digital resources and educational programs.
"This third Bibliotech branch is a natural progression of our mission to all our Bexar County residents, and that's to bring the technology, education, opportunity, and to promote reading as a recreation in all areas," said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. "Particularly in those areas where that [digital divide] line is drawn, and people don't have access to it. That's where we want those libraries to be."
Since opening the inaugural location on the Southside in September 2017, the County has hosted 515,000 on-site visitors, circulating 524,000 e-books, and renting 17,000 e-book readers across its South and Westside locations. The County reported in September 2017 of having roughly 87,000 accessible e-books.
Laura Cole, the administrator of BiblioTech, told the Rivard Report that while there's an upward trend in the circulation numbers, she's hoping to see good attendance and high participation numbers in the branch's educational programming.
"We want to see how our people are actually engaging the active learning that goes on in the space," Cole said. "Ultimately, the kinds of things we want to see are things like improvements in standardized test scores for the schools around this area."
She said that in addition to educational programming in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, the new location would eventually offer GED testing as well.
During his remarks to a crowd of about 100 gathered for the opening, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) said that he was most excited to see what the branch will do to advance STEM-related careers in his precinct.
"Forty-three percent of the jobs we have today will be replaced by a robot or a computer," Calvert said. "You're still going to need somebody to fix that robot, and you're still going to need someone to program that computer. That will be our children in this community. They will start to unlock careers they never even thought about because of their exposure here at BiblioTech."
Tracy Wolff, founder and president of the Hidalgo Foundation, raised approximately $1 million in private funds for the location, with the remaining $300,000 coming from Bexar County. The San Antonio Housing Authority leases the 4,200-square-foot, facility to Bexar County for $1 a year.
JoAngelina Walker-Waters, who was married to Walker until his death in 2009, said "my heart rejoiced on May 17, 2017, when the Bexar County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to name this facility after Dr. Walker." She said the establishment of the facility in his name solidifies the memory of a little Eastside boy who grew up to become a community educator and pastor.
"Pastor Walker used to tell our children knowledge is power, and if you can read you can do anything that your heart desires," Walker-Waters said. "Today I submit to you that access is power. ... We cannot assume that everyone has [internet] access in their homes. So today, this community has been empowered by access."