First up is the John Igo Branch Library, located on the northwest side of SA near UTSA and Brandeis High School. Built in 2007, it is one of the newer public libraries in San Antonio.
This library sneaks up on you while driving. Absent a small sign with its name and the standard green “LIBRARY” sign, it’d be hard to know this library exists. Even when parked in the parking lot, the library is still not easy to see.
But, the seclusion ends up being part of its charm. The path from the parking lot toward the library guides you between a column of cedar trees, immediately revealing the zero-scape, natural theme of the whole library.
The exterior of the building stands out amongst any library I’ve been to– Red and tall with big windows in the front and a 30-foot windmill of sorts. The SAPL website provides an “At a Glance” write-up featuring a brief history and description of every library. Here’s what it has to say about the purpose of the windmill.
This non-traditional hybrid windmill will harvest power from the intermittent wind source and, through a generator, provide supplemental power to a small water pump, allowing the water to flow down a channel and through the building to a water basin. This channel is paired with a 120-foot window wall along the building, allowing visitors to maintain a connection to the library even from the outside, and creating an axis with the windmill and a heritage oak acting as signifiers that anchor the two endpoints.
Walking in, you come to an interesting foyer. From the foyer, bathrooms and community spaces on the right, library to the left, and covered outdoor seating directly ahead. Outdoor seating is not something I would typically utilize while at a library, but it seemed appreciated as each table was occupied during my time there. Beyond the outdoor seating is the aforementioned water basin and a fun park-like area with some benches.
The library was then subdivided into kids and general reading areas with the circulation desk in between. I appreciated the division as a manner to minimize distraction and noise from that portion of the library.
The general reading area is one large open room with an autumnal color scheme. It fit well within the natural, Hill Country-esque theme of the library as a whole. Oranges and browns are not my favorite to look at, but I prefer it to the lime green that tends to plague other new libraries. The carpet featured squares of alternating shades of brown. Again, not my personal taste, but still largely inoffensive.
The space is big on its own, but it feels bigger due to the huge, open, slanting roof above (I’m guessing 40 feet high). Shelves and tables are standard light tone. The cushioned furniture is of the round and not very comfortable type, upholstered with the same autumnal tone of the surrounding walls. There were 14 computers and three open tables with four seats each. The quiet room was adjacent with glass wall windows.
Three big tables would be sufficient for most libraries, but here, each table (including those in the quiet room) was occupied. Given the proximity to two schools, I imagine the crowd is the norm. I could have shared, but I opted for one of the sofa-chair-sans-attached- desk in a corner of the library instead.
Cushioned furniture are useful as accent pieces, but unless they come with an optional desk feature, are largely useless to me. If I just need to type, it works fine. If I just need to read, also fine. But if I need to read and type, I need a hard surface (preferably pretty large) where I can place either my book or my laptop as alternate between the two. The Igo Library could have spared one or two sections of cushioned furniture and replaced it with another large table.
Given the size of the open-area, I was surprised by the general low-volume of the library. Often open spaces are plagued with an inescapable cloud of whisper. However this library did a nice job compensating with noise-reducing titles on the roof.
Over the past 20 minutes or so (it’s about 4:15), high school-aged students have been gathering around the corner I’m sitting in. I was getting upset as their talking continued despite my proximity to them. Then I noticed this sign on a coffee table a few feet away.
Message received. Time to go.
Overall Summary: The Igo Branch Library blends in to the community that surrounds it. Rather than put its shiny glass walls on the road for all to see, it is hidden amongst the trees. It is to be found rather than noticed. The design and colors throughout underscore the way the library values the nature of its location, even if they are not to my personal tastes. My primary criticism is that, given the location near a high school and university, I wish there were more tables for studying.
Table Space: C-
Miscellaneous (Outdoor Area, Hidden Location): A
Contact Info for the Igo Branch Library:
13330 Kyle Seale Pkwy
San Antonio, TX 78249