From Retail Store to Reading Space: Abandoned Wal-Mart Becomes a Library

I love the idea of re-purposing abandoned buildings, rejuvenating them, and imbuing them with new life and a new purpose. I think it’s wonderful to see an eyesore of a vacant building that had fallen into disrepair be restored and once again serve the community. My college town of Buffalo is doing this a lot right now, fixing up these great old industrial buildings and turning them into hotels, shops, and restaurants, supporting the city’s burgeoning tourism industry. (Buffalo really is a fantastic city, and I am so excited about all the development in the works.) However, the city of McAllen, Texas recently did something even more intriguing with one of it’s vacant buildings; it converted a former Wal-Mart into a public library!

Walmart library: before

Before renovation

At 124,500 square feet, the new McAllen Public Library is now the largest single-story library in the U.S. Can you imagine a library the size of two-and-a-half football fields?! I feel like this would be a great place to hold a Portlandia-style Adult Hide-and-Seek League. Anyone with me?

Walmart library

The new library opened in December 2011, and in its first month of operation, first-time library registrations increased by 23%! I think that deserves a big ‘hooray’ — or even a ‘booyah’ if that’s your deal. It’s so inspiring to think that this new library is getting so many more people to read, especially in a town like McAllen, which is less than ten miles from the Mexican border. As Adriana Ramirez, a creative writing teacher at the University of Pittsburgh who grew up in McAllen, wrote to the LA Times, “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.” Amen, sister friend.

Walmart library

The library, designed by Minneapolis-based Meyer, Scherer & Rockastle, Ltd., recently won the 2012 Library Interior Design Award, and I can definitely see why. Aside from the obvious awesomeness of converting an abandoned Wal-Mart into a public library, the renovated building is beautiful designed. I would live there if I could — just pitch a tent in a secluded corner where NO ONE WOULD EVER FIND ME (I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but I am really good at hide-and-seek. I have been known to hide so well that people actually thought I left the party mid-game.) But anyway, the library is gorgeous; you can look at more pictures of it on the PSFK website.

Has anyone been to another library that creatively makes use of an interesting or unorthodox space? I think I might have to do another post on really fascinating/beautiful libraries around the world!

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8 thoughts on “From Retail Store to Reading Space: Abandoned Wal-Mart Becomes a Library

    • Me too! However, I read an article talking about the downside of converting big retail stores like that into community buildings; big stores like Wal-Mart tend not to be in places easily accessible to people who don’t drive/have cars. Whereas most libraries are centrally located in their city or town and are easy for most people to get to on foot or by public transportation, stores like Wal-Mart are usually located further out in the suburbs. It’s still a really awesome use of the space, though!

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