Fort Worth resident Erika Talavera, mother of four children in elementary school, is a regular at La Gran Plaza, but she has not visited a public library.

Talavera’s kids were thrown off track by the pandemic, and she is hopeful that a library planned at La Gran Plaza will help them refocus.

“Hopefully, they get a lot of foot traffic,” she said in Spanish. “My kids haven’t been focused on school after this unusual year.”

By the end of 2021, the Fort Worth Public Library South Seminary Branch, 501 East Bolt St., will become La Gran Biblioteca, a new library located inside La Gran Plaza, a shopping mall with over 200 stores, half a mile away from the existing library.

La Gran Biblioteca, 4200 South Freeway, will serve a predominantly Hispanic community similar to its already-established community but at a grander scale inside the predominantly Latino shopping space.

Fort Worth Public Library Library Director Manya Shorr won the Texas Library Association’s Texas Librarian of the Year award in 2021. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

The relocation will make the public library the first of its kind inside a retail center in Fort Worth, Library Director Manya Shorr said. 

The planned change has upset some longtime patrons. Fort Worth resident John Therrell, 65, loves the Fort Worth Public Library Seminary South Branch, which he’s used since it opened in 1967. 

He is not keen on the library’s planned move inside La Gran Plaza.

“I absolutely love that (current) location. If anybody has driven around La Gran Plaza, they will see that there is absolutely no good parking. It is so inconvenient,” Therrell said.

Shorr acknowledges the concern, but said, “To me, the benefits outweigh that inconvenience,” and she hopes the longtime patrons will adjust.

The key benefits library officials cite: The proposed location will increase the library’s foot traffic; increase the number of kids with library cards; offer a bigger space within the mall where families can gather. Officials hope to reach a much broader audience within the mall.

La Gran Biblioteca’s Branch Manager Ariel Corral will be overseeing operations at the new location. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Ariel Corral, La Gran Biblioteca’s branch manager, expects foot traffic to double from the branch’s current annual attendance of 80,000 people, despite the new location being only 2,928 square feet, much less than the Seminary South Branch. A gathering space outside of the library will be available for programming, and the team has been given access to the mall’s main stage for events.

Shorr and her team have been planning for the relocation for a couple of years so they have been hiring staff with language in mind. The current Seminary South Branch’s staff all speak Spanish, except for one employee. A third of the book collection at the branch is in Spanish.

La Gran Biblioteca’s staff plans on expanding their Spanish book, movie and CD collection. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

The Seminary South Branch offers a range of Spanish CDs, books and movies in its collection that the staff hopes to expand, Corral said.

The library staff has not been advertising the relocation to patrons until the city of Fort Worth signs a contract with the management company. As part of the move, the Genealogy, History & Archives Unit of the Fort Worth Public Library will move from the Central Library to the Seminary South Branch’s building.

The Hispanic chamber plans to have a big role in the library’s grand opening and patronage inside the mall, Anette Landeros, Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president, said. Landeros believes that the mall’s family-oriented patrons are the perfect demographic for the new library.

One issue in La Gran Plaza is that shoppers don’t always travel between El Mercado and the main retail center. The library’s placement will aid the mall with the issue while exposing families to the wonders of books, Shorr said.

La Gran Plaza is a family hub, Landeros said.

“There is a tremendous amount of effort to provide programming at La Gran Plaza. La Gran Plaza is more than just a mall to the families. There is something for everybody there,” Landeros said. “I am excited because we are introducing the beauty of library culture to all the families that already patron La Gran Plaza.”

A bridge to an untapped community

The La Gran Plaza location will create a bridge to a new group of community members and add to the experience of the families that already go there to shop, Landeros believes.

Shorr and her team have been doing research on other retail space libraries like Bookmarks in NorthPark Center in Dallas, a library inside the NorthPark mall. 

Manya Shorr, the library director, said La Gran Plaza struggles to get patrons to travel between El Mercado and the main shopping area and that La Gran Biblioteca will possibly fix that issue. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

“They’ve had a branch of the Dallas Public Library inside NorthPark for about a decade now,” Shorr said. “They bring in about 90,000 people a year. We bring in 80,000 at this location (Seminary South Branch). It’s such a vibrant space that has learned to fit its community better.”

76115 Demographics

Total Population: 3,875
Male: 51%
Female: 49%

Race:
White: 11%
Hispanic: 80%
Black: 9%
Asian: 0%

Age:
18 or under: 31%
19 to 64 years: 62%
65 and over: 7%

Education:
No degree: 44%
High school graduate (includes equivalency): 36%
Some college: 16%
Bachelor’s degree or higher: 3%
Post-grad: 0%

Median Household Income (in 2019 dollars): $49,833

La Gran Biblioteca will be near the exit of El Mercado where a RadioShack used to be. The entrance to the library will be hard to miss. Shorr plans to have the walls painted vibrant colors to match the shopping center’s aesthetic.

“We are a community space, so we want families together,” Shorr said. “Honestly, we don’t think we will have to do much to get people in there.”

Corral and her staff believe a Spanish high school equivalency class will prepare residents for the GED high school equivalency exam.

In Fort Worth’s 76115 ZIP code, 44% of the population does not have a high school diploma.

“The program is free, but they still have to pay to take the exam,” Shorr said. “The dream is to raise private money to sponsor students to take the test so that it is free.”

The library also offers free portable Wi-Fi hotspots that patrons can check out. Corral hopes that patrons will take advantage of the programming that will be offered at La Gran Biblioteca.

“We’re going to have so much more space for programming over there (La Gran Plaza),” Corral said. “It is going to be incredible.”

Cristian ArguetaSoto is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at cristian.arguetasoto@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Cristian ArguetaSoto

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. He can be reached at cristian.arguetasoto@fortworthreport.org or (817) 317-6991.

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