Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The grand opening of the Eastside’s new Schaefer Branch of the San Antonio Public Library is set for Saturday, March 25. In addition to a diverse collection of new books, the Public Library has equipped the branch with spaces designed to enrich the experiences of the community it serves.
The new 11,366 sq. ft. structure was funded by $6 million from the City’s 2012 municipal bond, and was built on 5.73 acres of land along U.S. Highway 87 donated by the Schaefer Family, which has invested in the Eastside for decades. The Valero Energy Foundation donated an additional $100,000 for a children’s area, and the Boldt Family contributed $10,000 for a quiet study room with carrels. Kingdom for Kids and the Rotary Club of San Antonio donated the playground, which sits outside a picture window, creating a fitting backdrop for the children’s section of the library.
The Schaefer Branch's design reflects the community's feedback, which identified access to technology, educational resources, services for all ages, community gathering spaces, and a relevant and accessible collection as the most pressing needs.
Technology is ubiquitous throughout the building through wifi, Mac desktops, and Mondopads. Two laptop kiosks allow patrons to check out a laptop for three hours at a time simply by swiping their library card. One kiosk is devoted to teens, the other to adults.
Teens also have their own designated space, which is visible through glass walls, but clearly separate and private. The room houses the young adult collection, a bank of computers, and cushions arranged as stadium seating in front of a projector screen. Here teens can work on homework, socialize, or host club meetings.
The Public Library worked with East Central ISD to make the branch useful to the school district. Sinclair Elementary School will use the branch to host summer programs while their school library is closed. On Wednesday, students from Sinclair gave the playground a test run.
The district also will be able to use the flexible meeting spaces to host virtual meetings, adult education, and staff development across its campuses, and small businesses can make use of the conference space. Mondopads, projection technology, and wifi will enable state-of-the-art presentations and long distance collaboration.
“The library is moving toward embedded technology,” Public Library spokesperson Marcie Hernandez said.
In its market research, the Public Library found that the area served by the Schaefer Library is slightly below the median income for the state, around $45,000 a year. Around 20% of its population has an associate degree or higher educational attainment. Single parent homes are higher than the national average, as is government assistance. Community members predominantly work in blue collar jobs.
For these market sectors, the Public Library found that connectivity could make a big difference. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, 40-60% of households around the Schaefer Branch have high-speed internet, which is increasingly important for education outcomes and even day-to-day operations in a world that relies more and more on technology.
“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 they have is their smartphone, it is a totally different world that you’re living in,” said Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) when the library broke ground in 2015. “There is definitely a need for these services in the community.”
The community also wanted space for activities, such as a film club. Texas- and California-based architecture firm LPA Inc. designed the building with a predominantly open format, and mobile reading nooks and modular desks will allow its layout to change and grow with the community.
An additional $100,000 from the 2012 bond was allocated for public art in the new library branch. Local artist Cakky Brawley’s “Past, Present, Future” triptych hangs in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows at the entrance of the building. The illuminated glass panels depict a historical and contemporary map of the area on either side of a metal, sculpted compass rose. The sculpture will be visible to drivers passing the building as well, visually connecting the branch to the community.