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The Encino branch of the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) is rethinking the role of the traditional library in 21st century lives. Not in the way you might think, either. Unless you were thinking, “I just wish my library had a drive-thru window.”
(If you are a parent of a child who falls asleep in the car while you are driving to pick up the book you’ve been dying to read from the hold shelf at the Central Library, then you actually may have thought that before now.)
San Antonio’s newest branch library, located on Evans Road on the city’s far Northside, opens to the public on May 2. Those who use the new $7.1 million dollar facility are likely to feel instantly at home. At first glance, the renovated Mexican food restaurant feels like any traditional library. Neat rows of shelves, marked with their Dewey Decimal numbers will be tended by librarians in what will probably be a quiet, orderly space. Looking more closely, however, patrons will notice a few thoughtful updates that answer the question, “What do people need from their public library these days?”
With tablets and e-readers abounding, it’s tempting to see traditional libraries as book museums. Some do view libraries that way. When people think of modern libraries, the first thing that pops to mind is Bibliotech, the all-digital library built by Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff on the city’s Southside and now expanding to other parts of the inner city.
That’s what District 9 Councilman Joe Krier had in mind when discussions first began on the project funded by the city’s 2012 bond. Krier imagined a tech-centric experience, allowing people to get the resources they needed on their smart phones, tablets, or laptops. San Antonio Public Library staff encouraged Krier not to rule out anything as they engaged the public in series of meetings.
To Krier’s surprise, his constituents expressed support for a traditional library. In fact, they wanted more public spaces across the board.
“From the day I got in office, I was hearing, ‘We want more libraries, and we want more parks.’”
Relatively affluent residents had ample access to technology at home and work. What they wanted for their families was the experience of real books and public spaces.
“The library staff was kind enough not to say, ‘I told you so,’” said Krier, surprised at the time by the enduring popularity of traditional libraries.
During the public meetings, however, San Antonio Public Library staff members took note of some particular requests. In a district where people get almost everywhere in a vehicle, the most notable amenity will be a drive-thru window where patrons can pick up holds and return items, a first in the city and, indeed, in the city. The former restaurant’s drive -thru window made the service an easy add-on.
The window will be attended by library staff, with the former commercial kitchen into office space. Others will come inside to pick up reserved items at the circulation desk.
“I think the level of customer service will be unique,” said Encino Branch Manager Keri Moczygemba.
Moczygemba said the interior was designed in mind with the growing role technology advances are playing in delivery of library services.
San Antonio Public Library staff members realize that even in one of the city’s more affluent districts, some patrons have limited access to technology. Laptops and a bank of desktops will be available for on-site use. Meeting rooms, the teen room, and the children’s room will have Mondopads. The children’s room also will have computers with targeted learning software and controlled Internet access for homework help. New furniture will offer multiple power outlets and charging stations.
A “create” room offers wipe-able surfaces, a sink, and a window wall highlighting interior art displays. The teen space will be an inviting one for work and play. The room includes a Wii U and a PlayStation 4.
“Most teens come to the library because they want a safe place,” said Moczygemba.
By allowing the teens to practice their independence, the library also reinforces the role of public space in the life of the young adult, and helps to create a new generation of library patrons.
“We had a lot of active teens at the public meetings,” said Marcie Hernandez, SAPL’s public information officer.
Adults will be able to hold meetings, webinars, and conference calls in the libraries meeting spaces. Krier hopes to add an in-district, virtual citizens-to-be-heard opportunity in one meeting room to encourage participation without a trip downtown to City Hall.
It’s not all business at the new Encino branch. Another classic Mexican food restaurant feature, the patio, will allow the branch to host concerts, outdoor kids’ events, and cultural events. Along the patio’s southern edge, conveniently blocking the parking lot from view, stands “El Bosque,” a sculpture commissioned by Public Art San Antonio (PASA). The woven aluminum panels designed by Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock feature words submitted by the community from favorite books and stories within the growing SAPL collection.
Krier is encouraging everyone to make a trip to the Encino Branch, as well as to District 9’s new park, Panther Springs.
“Everybody voted for it, everybody should enjoy it,” said Krier.