It may not be in Oakland, but North Oakland residents have a new library branch at their disposal. The new South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library—at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Russell Street—re-opened for business last week after a 14-month closure that saw the demolition of the old building and the construction of a brand new multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art facility.
“It’s a rule throughout California that if you live anywhere in the state you are eligible for a library card at any local library branch,” said Jeri Ewart, manager of the South Berkeley branch, urging Oakland residents to make use of the newest area library.
The new building includes many improvements over the old branch building. Ewart describes that facility as “an old cinder block building that was really beautiful when it opened.” But, as time went on and the collection grew, the building just became too small. “We were running of room and just putting [books and computers] wherever we could put them,” Ewart said. “The space was really getting really eaten up.”
The old branch had 4 public computers and could seat about 10 adults, but the new branch has 6 public computers that can be used for web browsing (plus 5 catalog computers) and easily houses the 25,000 title collection and seats 50 adults throughout the open floor plan. Where the old branch “felt like a bunker” according to Ewart, the new one feels completely open and airy, featuring lots of windows, 15 foot tall ceilings and natural air circulation throughout most of the library. The building is bright and modern and features a community meeting room, tool library, and a welcoming lobby that’s nearly double the size of the old one.
The funds for the construction of the new building were approved when Berkeley residents voted in favor of Measure FF in 2008. Ewart, who has worked for the Berkeley Public Library for twenty years, said that she didn’t think the measure stood a chance “because it happened right at the crash.” But, she said, “Berkeley residents really value and appreciate their libraries. It’s a free education, free resources, free programs—like jazz and dance programs, computer classes—so that’s why they support it.”
Before coming to work for Berkeley’s libraries, Ewart spent 3 years working for the Oakland Public Library system at the Golden Gate Branch. She says the differences between the two cities’ funding of their libraries is obvious. Over the last two years, she has seen an increase in the number of Oakland patrons at the South Berkeley Branch, as the two closest Oakland branches—Golden Gate (at 56th St and San Pablo Avenue) and Rockridge (53rd St. and College Ave)—have seen staff furloughs and shorter business hours. “When the other branches close, people come here,” Ewart said.
Every Oakland library branch (except the main branch) is currently closed Sunday and Monday, and Golden Gate and Rockridge close at 5:30 pm on Wednesdays through Sundays. The new South Berkeley Branch is closed Sunday, and open until 8 pm on Wednesday and Thursday, and until 6 pm the rest of the week.