New Library Flourished Where Old Walmart Failed
McAllen, Texas is a moderately sized city of about 130,000 people, near the Texas-Mexico border. It used to have a Walmart where its public library located, and the conversion from a big-box store to a library has a lot of people excited. When the old Walmart moved out, the city was left with an empty big-box store about the size of two and a half football fields.
The city took advantage of the empty big-box and relocated its cramped library there. The new McAllen Library won the 2012 Library Interior Design Competition, sponsored by the International Interior Design Association. It features meeting space, a computer area, and color-coded sections for children, teens, and adults. Its design is open and features a decent amount of ambient light.
The change seems to be working. Since the library opened last December, usage is up–23% in the first month alone. In a time when library budgets and staffs are shrinking, the McAllen Library is a possible model for making a library a more relevant part of the community.
A few years ago when I was in upstate New York, I had to find a place with wifi to work for the day. Panera limits you at lunchtime, so I went to the library in downtown Saratoga. It’s not nearly as big as the McAllen library, but it features a very nice coffee shop that competes with Starbucks for ambiance and menu–though I don’t remember if the coffee was strong and bitter like Starbucks. If not for its chronic parking problems–the parking lot could be three times bigger and still be filled. Its good coffee shop makes it a place to go, and not just to check out books.
It’s got plenty of electrical outlets–at Barnes and Noble you have to queue up so when the person currently using the outlet leaves, you’re next. All and all, if I lived near downtown, it would be a great place to go to write.
If libraries are to continue to flourish, they will need to find a solution specific to their locations. The McAllen model wouldn’t work in Hillsborough County (where I live now) because we have a unified library system in an enormously large county. Even the nicest library in Tampa wouldn’t be attractive to someone who lives in the far reaches of the county.
But with e-books on the increase and publishers continually concerned about granting e-books to libraries, evolution is required for them to remain a vital part of their communities.