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Nancy Bearce remembers brainstorming sessions with fellow International District neighborhood leaders in the early 2000s as they tried to picture what they wanted their community to look like in the future.
If they had unlimited influence and funding, what would they do? What would they build?
A new library quickly made the wish list, said Bearce, former president of the La Mesa Community Improvement Association. Bearce said the group realized that their community – one of Albuquerque’s most densely populated – was served by one of the smallest branches in the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County library system, the San Pedro Library.
“It didn’t make sense to have the smallest one there – we really needed a bigger facility,” said Bearce, now Bernalillo County treasurer. “So, we started pushing that idea.”
That long-ago vision was realized with Saturday’s grand opening of the $16.5 million International District Library.
Located along Central Avenue between Louisiana and Wyoming, officials say the library represents years of community advocacy and public investment. The funding accumulated gradually from city, county and state sources. Donations also helped make it happen.
“It was something the community wanted, the community needed and the community deserves,” said former Albuquerque City Councilor Rey Garduño, during whose tenure the city started putting money toward the project. “I’m glad it’s happening.”
International District community organizer Enrique Cardiel said he is impressed by what he’s seen of the library so far and is eager to watch it eventually come to life as a community gathering spot and well-used resource hub.
“The building is beautiful – it’s great. I think the physical part is there; we’re hoping it will also provide some ways to help people access services and things like that, which is very much needed in the neighborhood, especially along East Central,” said Cardiel, executive director of the local Health Equity Council.
The 25,000-square-foot building will house the library system’s world languages collections and boasts the system’s first-ever “Multi-Gen” activity room – a space for computer and language classes, adult literacy activities, job training and more – plus a community room that seats up to 150 people, according to the city. There is a fireplace, a “Story Plaza” for outdoor events, two gardens, and adult and children’s rooms with computers.
City Councilor Pat Davis, Garduño’s successor and the International District’s current representative, said the library could have a sweeping impact, given its location in an “economically distressed community” known for a large immigrant population and a diversity of languages. Davis said it will heavily emphasize children’s programming, and provide spaces and technology to help those learning English as a second language, or even starting small businesses.
“This is a big deal for that neighborhood for lots of reasons,” Davis said, adding that it’s a “catalyst project” that can spur additional activity and investment.
Maggie Hart Stebbins said she heard regularly from constituents about the project’s importance during her 10-year tenure as the area’s representative on the Bernalillo County Commission. She said the library will be a “gamechanger” by providing area residents with computer and internet access they might not otherwise have, and will lift up an area that has not historically seen its fair share of public infrastructure spending.
“You see facilities like that in other parts of the city,” Hart Stebbins said. “It’s about time that that community has a facility of that quality.”
Garduño and Bearce also see the new library as a place that can help further redefine an often-maligned part of Albuquerque – an ongoing effort that years ago included renaming it the International District to replace its former pejorative nickname.
“To me, I think (this library) means that we’re important – we’re important, and we’ve outgrown the old moniker that we used to have,” Bearce said. “As an ‘International District,’ you want all your neighborhoods to be the best they can be, and that means you have to invest in them.”