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'At 123,000 square feet, the new Main Library may very well be the largest single floor public library in the nation.'
September 18, 2012 4:27 AM   Subscribe

The McAllen, TX Public Library won a 'Best-Of-Category' award in Interior Design for its new layout. It's in an abandoned Wal-Mart.

The McAllen Public Library is the 'largest single-story library in the country,' and was designed by architecture firm Meyer, Scherer and Rockcastle.

Facebook Photo Album of the old library location. SmugMug album of opening day in the new location. A timeline with video on construction and development.
posted by the man of twists and turns (38 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Abandoned Wal-Mart Turned Into Functioning Library
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:32 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love that the building is no longer a Walmart. And I bet they have plenty of parking now, unlike most libraries. But the design? Meh. Those high ceilings are terrible for heating. Not a problem in TX, I guess, but anywhere north of that it'd be a bad idea.
posted by DU at 4:35 AM on September 18, 2012


Finally a library that has comfortable design like an Ikea. It's about time we have a library that isn't stodgy. I hope they just shut down the 200-year-old building that is my local library and replace it with a big box. But I guess I'd probably have to get a car and drive for 20 minutes to get to it. But imagine how cool it would be to have a library inside a windowless warehouse!
posted by Napierzaza at 4:43 AM on September 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


I am misting up over that library and what it will do for the community. It's beautiful.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:53 AM on September 18, 2012


Those high ceilings are terrible for heating.

I don't know, almost every library I can recall in Washington state has high ceilings - some much higher than that. I'd bet it's worth the cost, in the interest of having libraries people like to spend time in.

You must be a big expert, or just have big balls, to look at a couple dozen photographs and dish out a "Meh" to an award-winning design. Without ever seeing it in person.

Napierzaza: Maybe by retrofitting an old box store, instead of building from the ground up, they are able to serve more people and provide better quality resources. Perhaps when weighing this against a more pleasing building shape, the increase in service would win out.

This is a novel approach, and whether the trade-off was really worth it is an open question. It seems stupid to come out with this much snark straight away. People who know a lot better than you are labeling it as a creative solution and pragmatism, and you are just coming off as contrarian.
posted by victory_laser at 4:57 AM on September 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


in an abandoned Wal-Mart
i will read there
i'll be reading forever
i'm reading reading reading reading reading reading reading GO!
posted by escabeche at 5:01 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, that's beautiful! Terrific story--thanks for sharing.
posted by Sublimity at 5:03 AM on September 18, 2012


I love libraries. I especially love huge libraries. I would love THIS library if I went to it. And I hate Walmarts. But if the photos are representative of the design, I stand by my "meh". It's just a bunch of shelves in a Walmart. It looks like a lot of other libraries built in the 70s under an "open plan". Vast tract of open space, filled with shelves. I don't hate it, it just doesn't seem very unique.

If the photos aren't representative of the design, this post should be fixed to find some.
posted by DU at 5:09 AM on September 18, 2012


Where Wal-Mart departs, a library succeeds

Different business models, but one wonders how a location that could not support a WalMart (the articles say it was closed and "abandoned") is going to be able to support a big public library.
posted by three blind mice at 5:14 AM on September 18, 2012


Not much heating needed, in Texas, and the city most likely got the building with the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning intact.
posted by nickggully at 5:17 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Finally a library that has comfortable design like an Ikea. It's about time we have a library that isn't stodgy. I hope they just shut down the 200-year-old building that is my local library and replace it with a big box. But I guess I'd probably have to get a car and drive for 20 minutes to get to it. But imagine how cool it would be to have a library inside a windowless warehouse!

Instead of reusing an existing building, they clearly should have razed it to the ground and started from scratch, because that would be a good use of resources.
posted by kmz at 5:21 AM on September 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Different business models, but one wonders how a location that could not support a WalMart (the articles say it was closed and "abandoned") is going to be able to support a big public library.

Most of the closed and abandoned Wal-Marts near me are that way because Wal-Mart decided to to open a larger Super Wal-Mart nearby, and didn't want the smaller location competing. I wouldn't assume that the location was a bad one for Wal-Mart. It might have been a great one even when they closed the store.
posted by Quonab at 5:24 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the Slate article: "When a Wal-Mart retailer moved to a larger facility down the road, the city purchased the old building and created the McAllen Public Library."
posted by solotoro at 5:26 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This library turned out beautifully. This is the kind of the project that can be very good for the community in a number of ways.
posted by shoesietart at 5:56 AM on September 18, 2012


Good stuff. I'd like to see more of that teen lounge; it seems like a good compromise between quiet space and social space. Thanks for posting this!
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:08 AM on September 18, 2012


Finally a library that has comfortable design like an Ikea. It's about time we have a library that isn't stodgy. I hope they just shut down the 200-year-old building that is my local library and replace it with a big box. But I guess I'd probably have to get a car and drive for 20 minutes to get to it. But imagine how cool it would be to have a library inside a windowless warehouse!
Did you see the old location? Hardly a gorgeous place to read and explore the library's offerings there, either. While I love my local public libraries, their charm is mitigated by the fact that there's often too little room to put everything the public wants in them. Computer carousels are shoved into the middle of the stacks, the librarians are hunched behind reference desks that are overloaded with books to be re-shelved, and the overall feel is relatively claustrophobic.

A bright, spacious space that has already been designed to fit into different configurations depending on what stock arrives and what you want to promote seems an ideal place to put a library.
posted by xingcat at 6:09 AM on September 18, 2012


This is a wonderful idea specifically because of the location. Since Texas has quite a bit of wide open land, there are plenty of opportunities for big box stores to engage in sprawl. Even then, the McAllen area is growing fast and permitting a full sized Wal-Mart to decay is a waste of usable land. Reclaiming this waste is an excellent step. Despite the stereotype, some parts of Texas really would result in huge heating bills two or three months out of the year. McAllen is near the Gulf coast and the Mexican border, so the coldest days of the year are still fairly tolerable and freezing temperatures are rare.

McAllen itself is a city over 100k and the metro area is over half a million. Considering their mission of being a community gathering place, I think there will be enough support for a project like this to work. It's not an idea that could work everywhere, but this is one of the best places to try.

"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."

That quote sums up why I think this can succeed and why I seriously hope it does. All that space is now a space that can improve lives.
posted by Saydur at 6:10 AM on September 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm joining in the "conceptually it's a brilliant idea and yay libraries and boo Wal-Mart, but aesthetically the design is meh".

Honestly, it looks like a Borders.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:19 AM on September 18, 2012


From the pics, I'm not seeing why this is award winning. Sure, it's all nice and shiny. But it looks kind of like what I'd expect a Walmart turned into a library would look like. Unless they're handing out rewards for not being Walmart. In which case, it sounds like another a bullshit elitist culture war award.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:22 AM on September 18, 2012


Nice use for a Wal-Mart... I wish they'd do that to ours.

As a kid, I thought all libraries looked like the Huntington Beach Central Public Library... imagine my surprise later on.
posted by Huck500 at 6:24 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


McAllen is pretty impoverished part of the world, and with the recent cartel insanities going on down there it's only getting worse (see a recent AskMe answer I gave regarding nearby South Padre Island). It's wonderful to see something positive in the area instead of one paragraph on page 38B about 15 headless bodies found dumped on the side of the road.
posted by item at 6:25 AM on September 18, 2012


A utopian use for a dystopian economic icon.
posted by incandissonance at 6:30 AM on September 18, 2012


Ooh, neat. The Anacostia library also got an award. I'm pretty darn happy about the fact that DC rebuilt (almost) every single one of its libraries over the past decade. Every single one of them has been stunningly designed.

It's a shame that our main library is absolutely terrible, and probably won't be improved due to "historic preservation." Not because it's a nice building (almost nobody disagrees on this), but because the same architect built some other nice buildings.
posted by schmod at 6:42 AM on September 18, 2012


Unless they're handing out rewards for not being Walmart.

I'd take a more charitable interpretation and say part of the award comes from not being an abandoned Wal-Mart. It doesn't take any particular cultural mentality to understand the value of reclaiming a building that would otherwise deteriorate and offer no value to anyone whether public service or private profit.
posted by Saydur at 7:05 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


We have a converted big-box library in my area, and I have to admit to some mixed feelings. It has huge advantages: more space, more books, more facitilies, and apparently more happy patrons, which should be the bottom line. OTOH, it's a big-box facility in a big-box location, which means it's yet another place you basically can't get to without driving; miles from anywhere, no sidewalks, and certainly no bike facilities on those five-lane mall-and-plaza district roads.

I don't really believe that every public facility ought to be on a mixed-use sidewalks-and storefronts main street. Many or most towns dont even have such a place any more. But libraries are, at least in part, for kids, and kids don't drive.

The library in my own town sits on a 4-lane road, but it's a mixed-use area with businesses and residental neighbrohoods mingled. Traffic is fast and aggressive, but there are sidewalks and crosswalks, and they extend through most of the community (it helps that they don't have to pass a home depot and a shopping mall to get there). There's plenty of parking, but on the side and in back so that not everyone needs to dodge minivans on the way into the building. And kids coming and going on bikes and on foot are a significant portion of their users.

I'm not railing against the big-box libraries. I'm sure their designers know what patrons want, and appparently for most of them, that means a library experience that's significantly more like shopping at Borders. But it depresses me to walk by empty bike racks, peer into the kids and young-adult rooms, and realize that none of those young people got into that building on their own. I hope it doesn't rob the library experience of any of its magic: I think it would have for me.
posted by CHoldredge at 7:55 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


But it depresses me to walk by empty bike racks, peer into the kids and young-adult rooms, and realize that none of those young people got into that building on their own. I hope it doesn't rob the library experience of any of its magic: I think it would have for me.

This is a good point, but I imagine having a library you have to cadge a ride to is better than no library at all.
posted by madajb at 8:42 AM on September 18, 2012


One of the criticisms of WalMart is they destroy community (by out-competing local stores and gutting downtown ecosystems). So this is a beautiful thing to see community triumph and beat back using WalMarts own tool of destruction, guns into plowshares. Hope to see much more of this.
posted by stbalbach at 8:48 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not railing against the big-box libraries. I'm sure their designers know what patrons want, and appparently for most of them, that means a library experience that's significantly more like shopping at Borders. But it depresses me to walk by empty bike racks, peer into the kids and young-adult rooms, and realize that none of those young people got into that building on their own. I hope it doesn't rob the library experience of any of its magic: I think it would have for me.

That's a fair point, but I would also assume that Walmart builds along bus lines (or, maybe, bus lines extend to where Walmarts are), and Walmart also designs buildings for ADA compliance. Walmarts also tend to be (not always, but sometimes) in centers of commerce, since Walmart has a profit motive to go where people are, and stores also tend to crop up around Walmart so that they can be where people are going. So if you've increased accessibility by tapping in to public transit, and also increased accessibility with built-in ADA compliance, and also improved accessibility by going where people are already going to be (and also have the tangential benefit of the advertising that comes with the novelty of occupying a faceless Big Box Store with a community project like a library) then maybe it's a fair trade-off. After all, only so many kids are going to live in biking distance of the library, especially in a place sprawly enough to warrant a Walmart in the first place.
posted by codacorolla at 9:06 AM on September 18, 2012


So this is a beautiful thing to see community triumph and beat back using WalMarts own tool of destruction, guns into plowshares. Hope to see much more of this.

Me too. From the blue, in 2005: Clean up on aisle 7.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:07 AM on September 18, 2012


A bright, spacious space that has already been designed to fit into different configurations depending on what stock arrives and what you want to promote seems an ideal place to put a library.

Yeah some of the things that don't go into the public's view of these sorts of spaces, the tiny cramped spaces, is while the old and venerable buildings are nice for a certain gravitas, not having enough space to do your job and/or get away from the public when you have non-public work to do is terrible for morale. I'm not a huge fan of the warehouse approach in many ways, but I've seen it done well enough times and seen the effect it has on staff who can finally have a lunch break in a space that isn't piled high with paper or put on a program in a room that is not also doing double-duty as a children's area and/or the reading room. At my library we have to put on programming in the evenings often when the library is closed because there is literally not enough space to have a laptop/projector and have people be able to use the computers. It's tough.

I totally see where people are coming from, that warehouse-y and boxy isn't really the Monument to Reading and Learning that maybe the old Carnegie libraries had. At the same time they often fit suburban populations [who frequently require parking and a lot of shifting titles and access to computers and internet and places to put their laptops] decently and the compromises are not awful, and there are always compromises to be made when designing/building for the public.

The biggest thing, too, is that many people only really interact with a few libraries in their lifetimes and their opinions about ALL libraries are shaped by these experiences. People who travel or people who do a lot of different educational things may see a few more than that, but it's worth thinking about how much of your own feelings of what a library should be come from one or two good (or bad) examples.
posted by jessamyn at 9:20 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


You know, ten minutes ago, if you'd said that losing a Walmart and gaining a library in exchange would result in snark and vitriol on MetaFilter, I'm not sure I would have believed you.

I mean, come on, people....this is great! How joyless to kvetch and criticize about such a nice development for that town.

CHoldredge's comment about empty bike racks is a little sad, though. Maybe the community can figure out how to get kids there on their own more easily. One of the (minor) regrets from my youth was that the downtown library was about four miles away, and we lived in quite a hilly area, so it wasn't a great place for bicycles. And there was no bus service at all. I think I would have spent a lot more time there if it didn't take a 1.5 hour walk, or a 30 minute, exhausting ride... you could either arrive after a long time, or covered in sweat, pretty much, and then you had to do it again to go home. I rarely went, unless I could get a ride from my folks. Having a library within easy walking distance would have been fantastic.

'Course, that might be totally fantasy on my part, because I discovered computers in my teens, and it's entirely possible I might have opted to just sit at home, even if a library was a block away.
posted by Malor at 9:25 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jessamyn, I absolutely agree with you about crowding. We've got 33 libraries in our local system, and at least a fifth of them are so bursting at the seams that I wonder how they can offer any but the most basic services. The expasnion, in the last 15 years, of libraries mission to include network access for the otherwise unnetted was a wonderful and -to me- completely unexpected development, but it put absolutely savage space pressures on already overtaxed facilities.

That said, the photos of the original location are hardly a stereotype of an overcrowded library building. They may have had all kinds of other problems with that space, but it's really hard to see that (interior) space is one of them.

I hope what I said didn't imply that this community made the wrong call. Every decision a library makes is a balancing act between the various needs and values of the community it serves, and I've never met a librarian who would make those decisions thoughtlesly. The new facility is probably much more convenient for the majority of their patrons, as MonkeyToes points out, because it better reflects the way the community has changed since the 60s or 70s. I just think some small portion of thse changes are kind of unpleasant, and creating facilities that not only reflect those changes, but actually reinforce them, is unfortunate aspect of what I hope is an otherwise great development for them.
posted by CHoldredge at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2012


I'm glad to see this. Our local library opened its latest branch in an abandoned Barnes & Noble a few years ago. I don't know if it has won any awards, but it's very functional and the location is quite popular and accessible. It's not a pure conservational win as the B&N moved into a new construction at a nearby mall, but at least the mall turned parking into a building so no additional green was torn up.
posted by michaelh at 10:16 AM on September 18, 2012


And to be fair to McAllan, checking the online maps makes it clear that this building is right on the edge between a heavy commerical and a residental district, that they are adding new sidewalks and traffic control and otherwise doing all that can be done given what they started with. It can't possibly be as pedestrian-friendly as the old Main Street location, which appears to have been the center of town, but it's worlds better than most empty big-boxes. All honor to them: they did a much better job of it than the other conversion I've seen.
posted by CHoldredge at 10:26 AM on September 18, 2012


Meh. Those high ceilings are terrible for heating.

And yet Wal-Mart, not known for wasting money on aesthetics (or, um, anything) builds them that way across the whole country and seems to do okay. Makes me think they probably have that figured out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:45 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Most of the closed and abandoned Wal-Marts near me are that way because Wal-Mart decided to to open a larger Super Wal-Mart nearby.

It bugs the hell out of me that Wal-Mart does this. Where I used to live, they literally built the second Super Wal-Mart in the lot directly behind an old regular Wal-Mart. Now the regular one has been abandoned for years, and it's the one that's visible from the main road. It's just so wasteful and blighty.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:43 AM on September 18, 2012


I would also assume that Walmart builds along bus lines (or, maybe, bus lines extend to where Walmarts are)

Indeed -- the local bus agency notes that our (newish, "Super") Walmart has higher boardings than the city's main shopping mall (with four anchor stores, no less).

Anyway, our local library was rebuilt and expanded back in the 90s and while construction took place, it temporarily relocated to a closed K-Mart (which had been empty for years); when it moved back, people complained because they liked the big box (well, at least its non-central location was also popular for the neglected side of our community). The final fate of the old K-Mart was becoming the county job center, which actually almost fills up the parking lot some days.

Also, one city over, Beloit relocated its public library to a former mall redeveloped as a quasi-non-mall under the aegis of billionaire Ken Hendricks (now his widow Diane), who hoped to create a public-private community center including drawing the police department away from the downtown. The old classical revival library building was rehabbed into an arts center and donated to Beloit College. All in all it's been win-win, I think.

Now the regular one has been abandoned for years

That scenario probably happens quite often, depending on how much retail the community supports, but our old Walmart became a Hobby Lobby and a couple of other things. It's a really good location, though.
posted by dhartung at 3:36 PM on September 18, 2012


Magnificent Five-Story Book Mountain Library
posted by homunculus at 12:55 PM on October 7, 2012


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