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Where Wal-Mart departs, a library succeeds

July 3, 2012 | 11:56 am

Mcallenlibrary1

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

A vast building in McAllen, Texas, was once home to a Wal-Mart -- but no longer. When the discount superstore moved to a larger location, it left behind a vast empty building. The community took advantage of the space and converted the warehouse-like building into a public library.

The size of more than two football fields, the McAllen Public Library is the largest single-story library in the country, the website PSFK writes. Its conversion from vast warehouse space to functioning library has recently made it the winner of the 2012 Library Interior Design Competition by the International Interior Design Assn. 

Adriana Ramirez, who teaches creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh, grew up in McAllen. "The old library on Main Street was not beautiful," she told Jacket Copy. "It was packed with books and seemed too small for the people it serviced. Of course, that was part of the charm -- always waiting your turn for the computer and spending a good amount of time finding a corner where you could read uninterrupted. The new library solves all that."

Macallenlibrary2
McAllen is near the southernmost tip of Texas, on the Mexico border. "In a city like McAllen, with cartel violence across the river (less than 10 miles away from the library), I think it's amazing that the city is devoting resources to a) not only saving a large and conspicuous piece of property from decline and vandalism, but b) diverting those resources into youth and the public trust," Ramirez writes. "It's easy to fall into drugs, drinking, and violence when you live on the border. It's not really easy to find a place to hang out when you're 14 that's not the mall, the movies, or Mexico. And a giant library -- a cool-looking open space devoted to entertaining the imagination? Well, I think that's the best counter-move against violence imaginable. And you don't even have to wait for a computer now."

The new McAllen Public Library opened in December 2011; after it had been open for just a month, new user registration increased by 23%.

[For the Record, 9:45 a.m. July 5: A previous version of this post said Wal-Mart had failed in the McAllen, Texas, location. The discount store remains in the community in a larger location.]

ALSO:

Louisiana state library funding has been eliminated

Irish National Library puts James Joyce manuscripts online

What's worse library behavior: watching porn or stabbing someone?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: McAllen Public Library. Credit: McAllen, Texas

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