Kate Horan, director of McAllen Public Libraries, invites public to engage in lifelong learning
“I always say that the public library is the last bastion of democracy,” said Kate Horan, who has served as director of the McAllen Public Library for the past four years. Since its opening in 2011, the library has received accolades for its stunning transformation from box store to one of the largest public libraries in the country. Now, Horan herself is to be featured in a prominent international publication among 28 of the world’s best librarians for her work in transforming the way the library serves its community.
To say she is a champion of libraries is an understatement; she has spent nearly her entire adult life working in libraries. A life of service to the public is what attracted her to library work. “I’ve done just about everything in the library, starting with shelving books as a teenager when I was in school,” she said. Her passions are sharing the tool of reading and access to learning, making the McAllen Public Library the perfect platform for Horan. Besides books and music, it provides community services such as reading programs, internet access, ESL, and GED classes — and it’s open to everyone, not just McAllen residents.
“We open our doors to anyone and everyone to come in and use our facility, even if they don’t have a library card,” said Horan, who makes a point of encouraging everyone to make use of the library’s services. “Anyone can come in and browse through our stacks, look through our books, read our magazines, but we do try to make it as easy as possible for people to get and maintain a library card.”
Visit Your Digital Library
She even has an answer for people that don’t want a library card because they may be afraid of being late returning an item, or even losing it: The e-card allows patrons to borrow digital items that don’t have to be physically returned. “You can download an ebook or an e-audiobook,” Horan said. “You can borrow it for the two weeks’ time and then it just disappears from your device so you never have to pay fines.”
With the McAllen Public Library digital app, patrons can find nearly all of the library’s services in the digital arena. From the app, one can find and request books, reserve study rooms, access databases for research, and view the event schedule for all the branches. The e-media download area of the app also allows patrons to access services like Mango Languages, ComicsPlus, and Freegal music downloads. The e-branch of the McAllen Public Library gives the community access to a multitude of learning resources including homework help, GED prep, language learning, computer skills, and test prep through Learning Express.
The reading programs that have been a staple of libraries everywhere can still be found at the McAllen Public library. “Those traditional services (like summer reading programs) are important. We know that there’s something called the ‘summer slide.’” Horan explains that an entire summer without actively engaging in learning causes certain skills to deteriorate. The McAllen Public Library is committed to offering opportunities for students to stay engaged in learning with STEM and STEAM activities as well as reading programs. “The nice thing about the library (as opposed to school) is that we don’t test them; they would just read whatever they want.”
Horan believes that reading opens up all sorts of doors for people, whether it’s just reading something imaginative, or reading about another culture. According to Horan, reading is very empowering, whether you are are reading for information or reading fictional stories. “You will be enriched either way,” she said. With information, you can build a deck or fix your plumbing, while fiction can take you to places you have never seen and help you meet people who live there without having to really travel.
“We get outside of ourselves, our limited existence, when we read about people from different countries or different religions,” Horan said. Reading promotes tolerance and respect for other people and other cultures and traditions.
Reading is Fundamental
Reading really starts a lot earlier than people think. The McAllen Public Library has a Family Place Area that has been specially designed to help build children’s early literacy skills. “When they’re stacking those blocks, or they’re putting the rings over the cone, or they’re playing with dolls or playing with the stove and kitchen set, those are all pre-reading skills,” Horan said.
Horan recognizes that good health, early learning, parental involvement, and supportive communities play a critical role in young children’s growth and development. “I see the public library as the bridge between birth and school,” she said. “We fill that gap. So if you can get your child into the library and get them playing — do it. Get them familiar with the library, so then they can take ownership of the library.”
Libraries are truly community centers, with something for everyone. McAllen Public Library’s positive impact on people’s lives extends beyond what one expects from a library — it also offers new services that people require from time to time. “Right now we have a partnership with AARP, where they are offering to do free tax returns for people, which is a fantastic service for our citizens,” Horan said. The library has also assisted visitors with the Affordable Care Act registration process and, according to Horan, will likely find a way to assist with whatever plan may follow in the future.
Communities are the creators of their public libraries, just like they create their other public spaces based on the needs and desires of their unique populace. Horan strives to offer public library services that focus on building community face-to-face, inspires and educates patrons about art, literature, and music, and whatever else they have a passion for. The abundance of resources at the McAllen Public Library enables the community to continue to grow and enhance their lives. “This is a place for lifelong learning,” Horan said. “There is something here for everyone.”