Latino library patrons say Green Road branch needs improvements, and it needs them now

Coreen Villalobos aims to improve her English language skills every day.

She says spending time with her 13-year-old son, Julio, at the Green Road Community Library has helped her learn more and practice those skills.

“Every child, regardless of their ZIP code, deserves access to a powerful library,” Villalobos said. “A place where dreams are nurtured and futures are forged. The Green Road library should not only be a beacon of knowledge for my family, but for all families in our area.”

Villalobos is one of dozens Latino community members who are asking Wake County leaders to improve and expand the Green Road Community Library in northeast Raleigh. She and others spoke before the Wake County Board of Commissioners multiple times over the last month.

The library is included in a proposed $142 million bond for the county’s libraries this fall, but some say the renovations should happen sooner to serve the center’s significant Hispanic population.

Julio Villalobos called the Green Road library a sanctuary less than 10 minutes from his family’s home.

“It has served as our main family reference and learning center,” he said. “Shaping the minds and futures of children, teens like me, young adults and adults who want to better themselves like my mom. The Green Road library finds itself neglected in budgetary discussions. This exclusion from priority investments is not only unjust but threatens to perpetuate inequities in our community.”

Rocio Anderson, president of the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals, has tried to bring programs to the Green Road library but said there isn’t enough space for their events.

“You’ve heard the needs that the library has,” she said, appealing to the Wake County commissioners. “But more than that, the needs of the community are very important. We want to make sure that the library provides enhanced learning opportunities with additional space and resources, (and) improve technology access. The digital divide is a real thing.”

Jeri Lewis looks for books to check out at the Green Road Library in Raleigh on Tuesday, May 22, 2024.
Jeri Lewis looks for books to check out at the Green Road Library in Raleigh on Tuesday, May 22, 2024.

Hispanic reach

Wake County measures potential users for a particular library branch by looking at the population within a 10-minute drive. For Green Road, that’s just over 130,000 people. And, according to the most recent U.S. Census data, about 19% or 24,700 people, identify as Hispanic within that 10-minute drive.

It’s one of the Wake County Public Libraries busiest branches for Spanish speakers, said Matt Roylance, interim library director.

“You love hearing about how important it is to the community and how much they love coming to the library,” Roylance said. “That’s the impact we want to have with all of our libraries. And so to hear that people care that much about Green Road is wonderful. And that’s the experience that we hope to create with all our libraries, that people love them that much.”

Wake County Public Libraries has about 14,000 books offered in languages other than English, most of them in Spanish. But those are spread across the county’s 23 locations.

“Green Road has about twice the number of Spanish language books as any other community branch because we’re being response to what the community there is interested in reading,” Roylance said.

Luisa Scott is a social worker who works with the Latino community near the Green Road Community Library.

“Libraries are sanctuaries of knowledge, havens of learning, centers of community engagement,” she said. “As our community grows, so do the demands of Green Road library. It is imperative that we provide the necessary funds to expand our library to meet these increasing needs.”

Wake Tech student, Alusine Kamara, studies at the Green Road Library in Raleigh on Tuesday, May 22, 2024.
Wake Tech student, Alusine Kamara, studies at the Green Road Library in Raleigh on Tuesday, May 22, 2024.

Library bond

Green Road Community Library is one of eight libraries in a proposed $142 million bond for renovations. It would receive $3.5 million for renovations.

The other branches listed for renovations are Leesville, Northeast, Richard B. Harrison, Southeast, Zebulon, Fayetteville Street and the Library Administration building.

A new library in Rolesville and in the Friendship area of Apex, replacements of the Athens Drive Community Library and the Wendell Community Library and an expansion of the Fuquay-Varina Community Library are also included in the proposed bond.

“Our libraries get a lot of love and wear and tear,” Roylance said. “And when they get to a certain age, like anything else that gets that much use, it just doesn’t look quite as nice as you would like it too. And they’re starting to show a little bit of that wear and age. It’s been since 2012 since (Green Road) was last renovated.”

Leonor Clavijo, a member of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, said her three children sometimes call Green Road branch the “poor library” because of the shape it is in.

“They don’t want to go sometimes, and I don’t want my kids continuing to say that,” she said. “So we believe it’s very important to have equal access to libraries, and that the kids feel that every library in the county is the same.”

Uncertain schedule

The schedule for the library bond projects isn’t set in stone, but design on the Green Road library is tentatively scheduled for 2029 with construction starting a year later. Community members say the work should happen sooner.

Renovations normally include upgrading furniture and lighting, shelving and the placement of the circulation desk and computers.

But just because a project is included in a bond proposal doesn’t mean it will happen.

Voters approved a $45 million library bond in 2007. Ultimately, two more libraries, Eva Perry Regional and North Regional, were added to the bond after it was backed by voters. And a plan to buy land for a North Hills branch ended up not happening.

“Any project could possibly be bumped,” Roylance said. “With North Hills, the issue was we just couldn’t find a space at a price that would work. The other common thing that comes up is cost escalations. Sometimes we think we’re going to do 10 projects, for example, and then all 10 of them are more expensive than we thought and so either we have to cut back on all of them, or we have to maybe only do nine out of the 10 to be able to afford the increased cost.”

This bond package does include “built-in escalation costs” but there are no guarantees, he said.

If the bond is approved by voters, it’s expected to result in a 0.25-cent property tax rate increase in 2025. That would cost the owner of a $480,000 home, the county’s median price, about $12 a year.

Residents can weigh in on the proposed $142 million bond referendum during the county commissioners’ 2 p.m. July 8 meeting at the Wake County Justice Center, 300 S. Salisbury St. in downtown Raleigh. Election day is Nov. 5.