Salem Square Library brightens York City neighborhood

Junior Gonzalez
  • The 900 square-foot facility had its grand opening Sunday afternoon in York City.
  • York County Libraries President Robert Lambert, Mayor Kim Bracey and others spoke at the event.
  • Community members expressed relief and excitement at the close proximity of the branch and its resources.

On a sunny, pleasant Palm Sunday afternoon, residents, local leaders and educators gathered on the 500 block of Princess Street to hear York County Libraries President Robert Lambert declare the new Salem Square Library in York City a resource that will “fill a vital need.”

The library’s grand opening is the first neighborhood, or “satellite,” facility for York County Libraries and opens nearly six years after the city purchased the former Gus’ Bar building, located at 596 W. Princess St. in York City. The building was previously designated as blighted and went through years of renovations to become a community resource center.

Listening: “When we began to look at this property, we listened with humility, open hearts and open minds,” Lambert said, adding that the process included much consultation with parents.

“We listened to the parents of children in Salem Square who wanted their children to have a safe, bright, well-lighted place to go to after school,” he said.

Lambert mentioned the lack of affordable internet access for many community residents and believes the job-training programs that will be offered will fill that “vital need,”  he referenced several times.

Local teens will be employed at the library to serve as facilitators of knowledge to the community, according to Lambert.

“We know that search engines and talking robots can never replace healthy mentorships and friendships,” Lambert stated. “iPads cannot supplant robust minds and imaginations that search with civility, humanity, rationality and purpose.”

“What a day for our York,” York City Mayor Kim Bracey said. “What a day for our Salem Square.”

Bracey lauded Lambert’s efforts as well as community and local representatives for helping “reclaim our neighborhood.”

She touted her administration’s goal to tackle blight in the city, which included working with the state liquor control board to rescind the liquor licenses of three “problem-causing bars” in the city during her nearly eight years in office.

“Salem Square friends, we've heard you loud and clear, and we acted. We brought all the available resources under the law to bear to make this day a reality,” Bracey said.

Significance: Many more community members and leaders stressed the importance of such a facility in the area.

“My library really made me the person I am today,” said Lise Levin, vice president of community investment at the York County Community Foundation.

She said access to literature is gaining access to a whole new world, breathing new intellectual life into those who discover it.

“We hope Salem Square Library will open up lives for you that you never imagined,” Levin said.

“This is one glorious day,” said Glenn R. Miller, deputy education secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Education, adding it was a glorious day for the commonwealth as well.

He said the new facility will offer services, literacy, opportunity and hope to all community residents that will have a “profound (and) important” impact on the state.

“Mayor, all the Realtors aside, (the) Salem Square community has found the highest and best use for this property,” he said.

Neighborhood library to open in York's Salem Square

Community reaction was generally positive toward the new library.

York City resident Sam Queen said she was “ecstatic” for the opening of  the library, which she’s excited for her children to frequent.

“I like that it’s closer so we don’t have to go all the way to the other end of town,” she said.

“I feel good (about the opening),” said Julia Garcia of York, “but I wished it opened sooner because my girls are older now, they’re no longer girls.

“It is good for the community, however, because this street has a bad reputation,” she said, “so maybe this will help a bit.”

Her daughter Rocio, 17, doesn’t expect to visit the library often but still said she’s happy such a facility has opened in the area.

“I remember I used to hear people fight in the bar when I was younger, so it’s kind of quiet now,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea.”

Inside: The Salem Square Library is indicative of where libraries are going: light on books and reliant on computers.

There are eight Google Chromebook laptops laid out on collapsible tables and a children’s play area in the adjacent part of the floor.

“This is it,” said Paula Gilbert, director of youth at York County Libraries. She called the facility a “storefront” library, designed for certain things but not a full-resource library.

“This library is not made for everything, but it’s connected to Martin,” Gilbert said, which will give community members access to more than 700,000 titles.

The library’s main focus is to educate community members in a multitude of ways. There will be early childhood and after-school programs as well as a job-training program in collaboration with Crispus Attucks and PA CareerLink.

Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 will have English-learning classes at the facility.

“We know there’s an extreme need for English classes,” said Sharon Hagenberger, supervisor of adult education at LIU. She says LIU plans to have high-school equivalency classes at the facility as early as next year.

Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, toured the facility after the ribbon-cutting and spoke to many local community members about it. He has been familiar with the journey toward building the Salem Square Library because he was the state representative for York City's district until December.

“It was nice to continue to play a role to see the reuse of the residential units upstairs and the police station next door in the building," he said.

He said he is glad the project has finally come to fruition after years of community sessions, brainstorming and planning.

"It's an amazing reuse (of the property). What a great asset." he said.

"It's a beacon for this neighborhood," he said.

Library hours:

2-6 p.m. Monday and Wednesday

noon-6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday

Afterschool program:

3:30-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday 

For more information on early childhood courses and ESL and job training classes, visit