Austin Public Library launches plan to expand, build new branches to increase community accessibility

Vivien Ayers, Senior News Reporter

The Austin City Council announced a plan last month to create four new branches of the Austin Public Library and to relocate or expand 11 other branches, broadening community and student access to resources and opportunities.

The city will relocate or expand branches at Howson, Little Walnut Creek, Will Hampton at Oak Hill, Menchaca Road, Milwood, Old Quarry, Southeast, Spicewood Springs, Terrazas, Willie Mae Kirk and Windsor Park. The four new branches would open in Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest Austin. 

“Libraries really are one of the few truly public places where a person can go and not be expected to spend money,” said Baylor Johnson, Austin Public Library communications manager. “As the cost of living continues to go up in this city, we need to continue to cultivate places like libraries and opportunities that can be provided for culture and learning.”

Central Health’s 2022 Demographic Report revealed Austin’s rising cost of living is no longer confined to just the city and has expanded to once-affordable suburban areas and surrounding counties. With eviction rates returning to pre-pandemic levels and roughly 15% of the city, including one-third of students, facing food insecurity, financial strains continue to constrict the resources of some Austinites. Johnson confirmed that library card prices will not rise because of the expansion and will remain free for all Austin residents and any college student living in Travis County.

“It makes our experience better,” said Bindi Kaplan, a sociology freshman who visits the library frequently. “It’s always been nice to have access to a lot of books, and (with this), more children can experience that and access books. It opens up a whole world.”

The Austin Public Library Comprehensive Library Strategic and Facilities Plan aims to match the city’s population growth as the “library square foot per capita,” a measure for a library system’s ability to serve its community, has lagged, according to the city’s press release.

“This plan lays out a vision for how the library system can grow and adapt to better serve the city that we are in and that we’re going to continue to grow into in the decades to come,” Johnson said.

According to an Austin Public Library press release, the library system served 1.5 million visitors, held programs with over 30,000 attendees and loaned almost three million items between July 2021 and June 2022. Over the next decade, the public library predicts Austin will need twice as much library space than current branches provide. With the city projected to grow at least 25% in the next two decades, Johnson said the new plan is overdue.

The new library plan is a part of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, a proposition to protect the city’s creativity, diversity, affordability, accessibility and social equity as it expands. According to the plan, rural and suburban access to libraries impacts the city’s livability and increases education levels, making the construction and expansion of branches in the outskirts of the city critical for development. 

“Our attractiveness brings a central challenge: how to accommodate more people, in a considered and sustainable fashion, while preserving what we value so that we get better, not just bigger,” the comprehensive plan states.