In the Worth Heights neighborhood, it’s a tale of two libraries.
The new La Gran Biblioteca and the old Seminary South Library, which was recently transformed into the Fort Worth History Center. They sit less than a mile away from each other, but residents say they were created for very different purposes.
La Gran Biblioteca opened inside the La Gran Plaza mall in February 2022 as a replacement for the Seminary South branch. Library leaders hoped to attract new users with the more vibrant, easily accessible alternative to the traditional library.
Many visitors at La Gran Plaza like the convenience and accessibility it brings, and new programs created since the move are popular, library staff said. However, several longtime Worth Heights residents say La Gran Biblioteca does not provide the same services as their former branch. They’re asking the city to build a traditional brick-and-mortar library to supplement the Biblioteca.
“La Gran Biblioteca was an extension, not a replacement,” said Worth Heights resident Rosemary Galdiano. “They made a mistake.”
A group of Worth Heights residents plan to meet with library leaders later this month to discuss their concerns. The meeting was set up by city staff after five people raised concerns about the limitations of La Gran Biblioteca at an Aug. 15 city council meeting.
“It boggles my senses that the city’s library administration decided to remove a full-fledged library from the Latino barrio on the south side,” Richard Gonzales said to council members. “Instead, they replaced it with a boutique library that lacks books and the basics of bathrooms and, most importantly, safety.”
Despite the mall location’s limitations, it’s reaching its intended target, said Theresa Davis, communication manager for the Fort Worth Public Library.
Fort Worth resident Kelly Rosales visited La Gran Plaza mall to shop for flower girl dresses with her daughter and two grandchildren. It was the first time she saw the mall’s library.
The name threw her off. Did “Biblioteca” mean the establishment sold bibles? After hearing it was a library, Rosales thought having one inside a mall would attract more people, but that more advertising would help, too.
“It makes people more open to go when you’re in a place where you’re familiar (rather) than going to a big public library,” she said. “Maybe you’ve never been to one before. I think it’s good when I start thinking about it.”
The Fort Worth Library system plans to expand its presence in the city by opening more smaller-scale libraries tucked into shopping centers. Last Tuesday, council members approved a plan for the library to lease 4,051 square feet of space at a strip mall in far west Fort Worth. That space will house programs and other library services.
Worth Heights residents voice concerns
La Gran Biblioteca also has space for patrons to access the internet, and printers are available for free, a feature of most public libraries and especially important in a neighborhood such as Worth Heights.
Armando Villalta was inside the new library on a Wednesday afternoon using the printer for the second time that week. The Fort Worth resident was getting his documents in order for an immigration appointment.
Villalta is from Nicaragua and works at El Torito inside La Gran Plaza, making the trip to the library a quick walk upstairs. He appreciates the customer service, he said in Spanish, and said he’s planning on coming back.
According to the U.S. census, 24% of residents in the neighborhood surrounding La Gran Plaza live below the poverty line, nearly double the rate in Fort Worth as a whole. The city recently launched a free community Wi-Fi program in the nearby Rosemont neighborhood. Still, many Worth Heights families have no internet access, limiting job prospects and educational opportunities, Galdiano said.
“The Seminary South library was not supposed to be closed at all,” Christine Voight, another Worth Heights resident, told council members Aug. 15. “The plan was to remodel it to better serve its adjacent Latino neighborhoods, where many residents still lack home internet access.”
The neighborhood is 95% Hispanic. That means many families are living in multigenerational homes, Galdiano said. When she was in high school, the Seminary South library was an essential respite from her noisy home, she said. There, she could focus on reading or doing homework.
Galdiano is concerned that the La Gran Biblioteca location can’t serve the same purpose for high school students today.
One patron, who declined to provide her name, said she comes to this library because it’s easy to get to by bus. She’ll usually sit at a computer and look through her emails and do some research. Lately, she’s been looking for jobs online.
“That is really noisy and distracting,” she said about the music at the mall. “Sometimes the volume is up a lot higher.” She said she avoids Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays because the mall gets busy on those days. She comes during the week, when it’s “less stressing and intense,” she said.
The Fort Worth resident of 12 years said she misses the Bolt Street location because there were more computers and there was easy access to the bathrooms.
Programming, accessibility prove popular
Alondra Aguilar, 23, is a library assistant at La Gran Biblioteca and runs programs for children and their families, including bilingual storytime, family science nights and arts and crafts.
Adult programs are also popular, because the library hosts events for kids at the same time. While adults are learning English or improving their computer skills, their children are reading with Aguilar or working on crafts.
“We try to make it easier for (parents) to learn something and for the kids to come and do something and get distracted,” Aguilar said.
Davis, the communications manager, said La Gran Biblioteca’s most popular programs are English as a second language and Civics for Citizenship.
The ESL program eventually outgrew the space at La Gran Biblioteca and was moved to the library’s previous location on 501 E. Bolt St., now known as the Fort Worth History Center.
Laura Parra, 24, is a library assistant at La Gran Biblioteca and manages the adult programs.
She says attendance has remained consistent. She also thinks the location of the library attracts patrons because of its convenience.
“A lot of the people that we service are working people,” Parra said. Once inside La Gran Plaza, they can shop for clothes, groceries and then take their children to the library — all in one location, she added.
Aguilar said because the library can be hard to find, it will host events like “Pokémon Day.” The first-time event, hosted in February, had over 50 participants.
“We try to do events outside just so (people) can be aware that we are here,” she said. “You can hear the little kids say, ‘Oh, a library! Can we go in?’ and the parents say, ‘We’ll go in later.’”
Davis said she and her team try to make everyone welcome, but they acknowledge that not all patrons are happy with the new location.
“We’re trying to make as many accommodations as we can, but it is a different type of facility,” she said. “Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s not being successful. It’s still serving the neighborhood; we’re just trying to do it in an innovative way.”
Marcela Sanchez is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.
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