‘Libraries have evolved’: How Delaware libraries are expanding to enhance access for all

Planned upgrades at Delaware libraries include new wellness centers, additional study rooms and workforce development services.

Listen 1:36
The North Wilmington Branch Library as viewed from the outside

The current North Wilmington Branch Library in front of North Market St. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

From Philly and the Pa. suburbs to South Jersey and Delaware, what would you like WHYY News to cover? Let us know!

Nine Delaware libraries will share $40 million in federal funding to expand their facilities and update programming to better reflect how modern libraries are being used.

In the early morning, families with young children venture into libraries all across Delaware to choose books, indulge in reading or participate in early learning activities. As the day progresses into late afternoon and evening, young adults and seniors converge there for study sessions, book exploration, late-night events or to access public services.

Without a doubt, libraries have transformed from just a place to get books into more of a social hub, said Rony Baltazar-Lopez, director of communications at the Delaware Department of State.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Libraries have evolved over the years to not just become a place where people can come and read and check out books, but also places where individuals can come and make doctor’s appointments, use telehealth services,” he said. “Libraries in general have become more than just reading space, they’ve become social hubs for all people of all types of backgrounds.”

In response to the rising demand for library services, nine Delaware libraries got about $40 million through the American Rescue Plan Act. Baltazar-Lopez says the money will help libraries as they expand their services to include workforce development, adult literacy and ongoing education, with a focus on serving different socioeconomic groups.

The $40 million will be disbursed to existing structures as follows:

  • $7 million to the Selbyville Library for a new building;
  • $5.6 million to the Harrington Library for a new building;
  • $750,000 to the Lewes Public Library for a new outdoor pavilion;
  • $900,000 to the Milford Public Library for updates to HVAC, filtration and ventilation;
  • $250,000 to the Georgetown Public Library for updates to HVAC, filtration and ventilation;
  • $7.8 million to the Friends of Duck Creek Regional Library to build an expanded library;
  • $11 million to the North Wilmington Library for a new building;
  • $4 million to the Newark Public Library for a new building;
  • $3 million to the Rehoboth Beach Public Library for upgrades.
A demolished building and vacant area ready for construction of a new building.
The demolition of an old building soon to be the expansion of the North Wilmington Branch Library. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

With Wilmington’s population nearing 72,000 residents as of 2022, the North Wilmington Public Library got the most funding to support its $30 million project that will triple the size of the existing library from 12,000 to 36,000 square feet.

“There are various reasons and components as to why people were asking for an expansion which included the population serving the north Wilmington area, but also there were community needs and limits that the current library did not provide,” Baltazar-Lopez said.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The original facility was not built as a library, which led to size constraints and poor accessibility. The new building will open within a mile or two of the current site.

“Having a dedicated building that’s within reasonable distance will complement those library programs with state-of-the-art technology and flexibility to ensure that the services address the needs in the community long into the future,” he said.

The North Wilmington Branch Library as viewed from the outside
The current North Wilmington Branch Library in front of North Market St. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

The expansion will also introduce business incubators, maker spaces, wellness centers and co-working areas, all aimed at fostering workforce and skill development initiatives in Wilmington.

Demolition work has already begun with plans for the new building to open in the summer of 2025.

The Newark Free Library is another spot seeing notable growth. The $4 million in ARPA funds will support a new and improved facility which is currently in the design phase.

“We’re actually the second highest circulating library in the state of Delaware,” said the Newark Free Library manager, Pam Stevens. “We need to update it to reflect how libraries are currently being used.”

The library’s future expansion will support additional programs such as music and children’s programs. Assessments and surveys conducted in September revealed feedback from students at nearby Newark High School and the general public, indicating a demand for more private and community rooms within the library.

“The Newark High School students specifically asked for more study rooms where they can come after school and work on their programs. They’re looking for specific software and the ability to just continue their academic studies in our library. And that is one of the areas that we are lacking, we only have two study rooms” said Stevens. “This definitely a renovation that is needed because we need the addition of study rooms and more community rooms.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal