We have much to celebrate at the San Antonio Public Library these days. In the past six months, we have opened two new, state-of-the-art libraries – the Schaefer Branch Library in District 2 and the Potranco Branch Library in District 6. Votes in the general election approved investing $12.1 million to make significant improvements in five existing libraries. And, the fifth annual San Antonio Book Festival in April, which is free to all, saw its best attendance ever with more than 20,000 curious minds engaged.
As SAPL board of trustees like myself like to say, “Great libraries make great cities.”
People need libraries, books, and great spaces to gather and engage. At the San Antonio Book Festival, nearly 100 authors presented about subject matters that ranged from major current event topics to works of fiction and presentations about food, art, and design. They spoke about San Antonio traditions and conducted a variety of presentations for teens and children. They spoke about the power of the written word and the magic and deep-rooted power books still have on those who browse their printed pages.
As trustees, we know with certainty that people are passionate about books in both print and digital formats. In 2016, the San Antonio Public Library joined a prestigious group of public libraries which have achieved more than 1 million digital checkouts in a calendar year. The only other Texas public library systems to reach that goal are Harris County Public Library and the Houston Area Digital Media Consortium. In San Antonio, we have more than 7 million checkouts and a large percentage of those are traditional paper books. That confirms that our community enjoys both formats, and we will continue to provide both.
The growing interest our patrons have for books and events like the San Antonio Book Festival underscores why our library celebrates the book every day. Once it was a common practice in too many societies – and still is in some – to ban books for a powerful reason: to keep people away from ideas and to keep them from becoming independent thinkers. Today in United States, we have the freedom and access to ideas and knowledge. One important way libraries impact people, often in coordination with programs, is to enlighten them, to promote tolerance, and to help people understand each other and themselves. The foundation of that is rooted in the power of books and makes a transformational difference in what a city is all about.
By providing access to a variety of books in many different formats, libraries provide an essential service: empowering people with knowledge and tools that can help them grow so they can transform their lives and the lives of those around them. Libraries are safe spaces, a portal to the world, and a place where free speech in a free society is celebrated.
Think back to your first memory of a library. Most of us were introduced to libraries as children. Entirely new worlds, new experiences, new adventures were all there to shape us as people. Those experiences stay with us all of our lives and make us feel good about libraries.
Based on public feedback, the San Antonio Public Library board of trustees believes the San Antonio Public Library can best serve the community by providing more access to books by offering more titles and copies of books to expand our collection, decrease wait times, and best serve our patrons.
As trustees, we intend to renew our commitment to the community by bringing you more books in every format. Our most important priority is to ensure that everyone in the community has access to tools and assets they need to better themselves and the lives of their families and community. Together we can keep the San Antonio Public Library and our beloved city moving forward to a brighter future.