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Mission Branch Library

San Antonio Public Library/Mission Branch

Innovation Summary

The new Mission Branch Library, situated in one of San Antonio’s most historic neighborhoods, offered an exciting opportunity to develop strong new community connections.

Innovation Leader: Ramiro S. Salazar, Director, San Antonio Public Library, ramiro.salazar@sanantonio.gov

Problem Statement

The new Mission Branch of the San Antonio Public Library is located in the city’s Mission District, site of some of the earliest European settlements in the region. Within a few square miles are four missions founded in the 1700s, still serving as active parishes. These missions provided refuge for local Native Americans, who found “their very lives under attack. In the early 1700s Apache raided from the north, deadly diseases traveled from Mexico, and drought lingered. Survival lay in missions.” (http://www.nps.gov/saan/index.htm) Residents of the area include descendants of some of the first Native Americans to join the mission settlements. They are proud of their heritage and seek every opportunity to inform and educate the public about their history. Additionally, the actual building site is on the grounds of the former Mission Drive-in Theatre, a location with great sentimental value for many San Antonians. Finally, this library would serve an area which was not only previously underserved but also growing, with a new Toyota factory, an extension of Texas A&M University, and development of the Brooks City Base site all bringing in new population with new information service needs. Because of all these associations, after the old drive-in site was acquired by the City of San Antonio, residents were naturally interested in how the property would be utilized, and in participating in the decision-making process. This created an opportunity for the Library to connect with its users in deep and meaningful ways.

Innovation

Outreach began as soon as it was decided to place a new library on the site. Meetings were held to receive input from area residents on their hopes for their new library, and to provide progress updates. Project architects were apprised of meeting outcomes, and used the information as they developed their design concepts. The result was a structure that provides a nod to tradition while accommodating present-day information service needs, incorporating elements from throughout the site’s rich history. An early partner was the municipal water system, which built a demonstration rainwater and A/C condensate reclamation project for grounds irrigation. The landscape architect designed a drip irrigation system to reduce evaporative water loss, and landscaped the grounds with drought-tolerant plants. As a result, Texas Public Radio approached the Library to make the branch the site of their annual National Public Lands Day program. Volunteers designed and built a “rain garden,” a channel to collect overflow from irrigation reservoirs and distribute it to other areas of the grounds. After the 2011 drought broke, volunteers completed the garden with drought-tolerant plants. For the April 2011 branch grand opening, descendants of the original settlers were approached to take an active part in the program. Native American dancers and a Native American blessing were part of the official ceremony. They also coordinated a story corner for the day to talk about the original settlements and the lives of Native Americans prior to that time. Branch staff actively seek opportunities to make meaningful community connections. Meeting rooms are used by neighborhood associations, schools, and civic groups such as the Palo Alto Community Coalition, Promotoras de Buen Salud, and Familias en Acción to help promote a better a quality of life for residents. Next is development of additional programming to highlight the rich history and traditions of the community. Meaningful, consistent connections with the founder descendants will prove essential to success of this initiative.

Progress

The Mission Branch Library was enthusiastically received by the community and, as noted, has become a popular gathering place. It shows consistently high circulation rates. The Library was approached by the current vicar of the parish at Mission San José to dedicate one of the Mission Branch terraces in honor of Msgr. Balthazar Janacek, who was one of the principal driving forces behind the preservation of the Missions, the creation of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and preservation of many documents dating from the earliest days of Spanish colonization of northern Mexico and south Texas. The Library Board of Trustees approved the request and plans are underway for a dedication ceremony of that terrace as well as commemoration of the founding families, further cementing ties between the library and its community. Both Valero Corporation and Toyota were significant donors to the branch library. A San Antonio philanthropist also “adopted” it and hosted a reception that not only served as a fund-raiser but also provided a new look at public libraries for many of those who attended. The marquee and original screen from the former Mission Drive-in Theater have been declared historically significant and are being restored by the City of San Antonio. A plaza will be constructed under the screen to serve as a public gathering and performance space. The Mission Branch Library will become the anchor of a new community center in this richly historical, diverse San Antonio neighborhood.