The East Central Independent School District will get its first public library in fall 2016, making it the third library on the Eastside and the 29th in San Antonio. The City allocated $6 million from the 2012-2017 Bond Program and the Schaefer Family donated 5.73 acres for the library that will bear the family’s name as the Schaefer Branch Library.
During a ground breaking ceremony on Thursday, San Antonio Public Library Director Ramiro Salazar said the library's formation resulted from a grassroots effort called the District 2 Branch Library Initiative. The advocacy group called attention to the area's "digital divide," or lack of high-speed internet access, and the community's need for a local library. Salazar said the construction of the library "speaks to advocacy."
“They were very passionate. They were very articulate," Salazar said. "We feel that libraries need to be more readily available. This issue of the 'digital divide' is a real issue."
Councilmember Alan Warrick II (D2) said the two other libraries on the Eastside, the Carver Branch Library and the library at Theodore Roosevelt High School are too far away for those living in the East Central ISD community to easily access. Warrick said he was at a community meeting at the Carver Branch Library last week and people were lining up outside of the library before it was open to use the free internet.
"A lot of people take (internet access) for granted because they have internet access everywhere, but when people don't have computers or the only internet access that have is their smartphone, it is a totally different world that you're living in," Warrick said. "There is definitely a need for these services in the community."
The community needs other library services like a meeting and study room, too, he added. The Schaefer Branch Library will have a digital meeting room, flex space, study rooms, children's center and teen center, and 16 adult computer stations.
"Not only will they be able to access the internet but they will be able to print materials, use color printing processing to help them with their business needs, educational needs, so we're excited about that," said City Manager Sheryl Sculley.
San Antonio Public Library computer systems are interconnected so library visitors have access to the same material at all locations.
"I know Mayor Ivy Taylor would have wanted to be here because she was adamant about ensuring that this project be in the 2012 bond project," Sculley said.
Mayor Ivy Taylor was unable to attend the groundbreaking ceremony because she is in Bonn, Germany supporting the UNESCO World Heritage nomination for the San Antonio Missions.
Sinclair Elementary Principal Janice Williams said schools in the district have opened their libraries to the public during the summer months for students and families to utilize the space and resources. She said 160 to 170 community members came to Sinclair Elementary, which opens its doors on Monday from 2-6 p.m., each Monday for the past two weeks.
"We tried it last year with just one school and the reading levels of the kids rose about two to three grade levels, the kids that weren't reading were reading over the summer, and stopped that summer drag," she said. "So having (a library) that's open all year around ... can you imagine?"
The library's interior will also feature a "suspended illuminated sculpture" by local artist Cakky Brawley. "The artwork depicts a globe and two maps that reference the past, present, and future of the library site," according to Thursday's event flyer. Public art elements at the library will cost an estimated $100,000.
*Featured/top image: San Antonio Public Library Director Ramiro Salazar, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Schaefer family representative Sam Schaefer, and Council Alan Warrick II shovel dirt to signify the start of construction. Photo by Joan Vinson.