Afia Natoma, 40, reads a book at the Central Library in downtown Fort Worth. Natoma recently moved to Fort Worth from Canada. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Tucked away in a quiet corner of the Fort Worth Central Library, Afia Natoma spent an afternoon reading her Bible. She often visits the library to read in the calm atmosphere. 

Natoma sometimes uses the printer and internet, too, but she has to take the bus because there isn’t a library near her neighborhood, she said.

The Fort Worth Public Library intends to improve public access with a master plan that includes expanding facilities and adding more libraries around the city.

“The facilities master plan clearly demonstrated what I knew, which is that we don’t have enough libraries, and we don’t have them in the right places,” Director Manya Shorr said. “This may have slightly changed now that we’ve opened a library up north.”

In Fort Worth, 80% of the libraries are inside the loop of 820, but only 40% of Fort Worth lives within that area, Shorr, 46, said. This means areas of population growth are dramatically underserved, she said.

Natoma, 40, and her husband live in the southwest area of the city. Her husband attends Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and she uses the bus so he doesn’t have to drive her around. She would visit a library closer to her neighborhood if it were available, she said.

Some libraries opened in the past year, but Shorr wants to see more progress.

The Golden Triangle Library , 4264 Golden Triangle Blvd., opened in August of 2020, which is outside of the loop, Shorr said. The library also is in design for a branch on the south side at the corner of Risinger Street and McCart Avenue, also outside the loop.

The proposed 2022 bond includes a library up north by Sendera Ranch, Shorr said.

“We’re doing well, but it’s not happening as quickly as I would like,” she said. “I would say we’re 10 branches behind. I can’t just rely on the bond, which only happens every four years. We have to think of creative ways to expand our footprint.”

Some of those creative ways could be expanding into an existing community center or a retail option, as the library recently did with La Gran Plaza. The agreement with La Gran Plaza allows Shorr to rent the space for $2 a year, she said.

In creating the master plan, the Fort Worth Public Library hired Margaret Sullivan, a consultant in New York City. Fort Worth is at an interesting place because of rapid growth and economic development, Sullivan said.

“It’s our responsibility as library stewards to imagine the possibilities that we can create experiences that are in support of their life journeys,” Sullivan said. “If somebody has a passion, or an interest in music for example, how do we support that?”

The library does not have confirmed funding strategies, according to the library document. Since the funding is not set, the plan does not have specific timing or phases for the projects.

It also does not include specific budget numbers in its recommendations, citing the library does not want to trap the city in a possibly inaccurate budget.

According to the master plan, the library will work with the city’s Property Management department to develop budgets as it identifies funding strategies and possible timelines for projects.

Library Director Manya Shorr stands next to Bumpersaurus, an attraction for kids at the Fort Worth Public Library Central branch. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

When planning the future of the library, Shorr said, the staff internally looked at how the library is serving the community and how it can better do so. Libraries should be a driver for economic growth and fostering community, she said.

The library plans to expand some of what can be checked out, such as science kits and other outdoor games like bocce ball, she said. It also wants to expand its arts and culture offerings by hosting concerts at branches.

Additionally, Shorr said, the library wants to be the “literary hub of Fort Worth.” She wants people who love talking about books or authors to see the public libraries as the place to do that in Fort Worth.

Although people are able to return to libraries and more in-person events are popping up, Shorr said, the virtual offerings at the library still are expanding. One of those is LinkedIn Learning, a paid program anyone with a library card can access at no additional cost. The program has instructional videos on many topics ranging from graphic design to playing the clarinet.

All of these offerings are a chance for community growth, she said. But for Shorr and the library staff, growth is about more than buildings and programs, but reaching the community.

“In 2020, obviously, we closed for 66 days. And if you look at our strategic plan, it looks very focused on our buildings,” she said. “However, we did things like we collected PPE, we called every single senior over the age of 65 in Fort Worth who had a library card with us to check on them and make sure they were OK. None of that was anything we anticipated when we wrote this plan, but it didn’t matter because it aligns internally.”

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...

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