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A man stands on the left, his right hand clenches, his left extended with a strip of paper on it over a table with a black cloth and scraps of papers, a box of markers and some paper. A woman is at the table in salt and pepper hair, pasting something on the paper.

You can help determine the future of Oakland’s Main Library

on November 6, 2023

Oakland and the Oakland Public Library are inviting residents to reimagine the Main Library. This year’s last Re-imagine the Oakland Main Library workshop is Thursday, during which attendees can create vision boards, fill out a survey and record a video responding to the prompt: “That Would Be Cool If…”

The city has allocated $600,000 to contract with the architectural firm Esherick Homsey Dodge & Davis to study the feasibility of an expanded or relocated Main Library. The Feasibility Study Team has conducted four workshops. Thursday’s will be at 6 p.m. at the Golden Gate Recreation Center, 1075 62nd St.

Residents also can give feedback in an online survey about programs and services, the physical attributes of the current facility and their visions for a new Oakland Main Library Branch.

The community’s input will influence the expansion or relocation of the Main Library, which was built iin 1951. One option is to expand the two-story library by adding more floors or wings. This would provide additional space for collections, reading areas, meeting rooms and amenities. It’s unclear, however, whether this option is structurally feasible.

A woman in a red T-shirt sits at a table filled with round colored stickers, pens, paper, and paper plates with something yellow on them, maybe cake. We see her left profile, white hair pulled into a bun, black-rimmed glasses, her hands busy with something.
Hamila Magnuson crafting her vision for Oakland’s Main Library (Liliana Cortés photos)

At a recent workshop at the East Side Cultural Center, retiree Hamila Magnuson crafted a  vision board of her dream Main Library. She selected spaces with better lighting, a spacious entrance, an auditorium, a multipurpose room and communal seating areas.

“I think if we could have space for hands-on art programs, that would be great. I also think I would like to have more talks,” she said.

Jamie Turbak, director of library services, said that the city has not yet secured the necessary resources for expanding or relocating the Main Library. 

The full budget will be disclosed next year, according to Doug Speckhard, an architect from the firm conducting a feasibility study. The City Council’s Public Works Committee voted in May 2022 for a resolution finding that the Main Library is inadequate for the downtown population. At 82,500 square feet, the library needs to expand to up to 160,000 square feet. 

The Main Library offers various programs such as the Play Cafe, the Oakland History Center and the Oakland Youth Poet program. With the library serving an area population of nearly 468,000 people, the city hopes to increase its use based on residents’ feedback.

A graph showing attendance at Oakland Public Library at 209,852 in 2016, climbing to 217,411 in 2018, then dropping during the pandemic to nothing and climbing back in 2022 to 53,209.

Despite the diverse range of programs available at the Main Library, there has been a significant decline in usage. Five years ago, about 200,000 people attended programs there each year. Now the total per year is around 53,000. 

According to Speckhard, the workshops have provided insight into how the library can better respond to citizens’ evolving interests, “I am really excited about the opportunity to work on this library because it’s a really amazing structure which has a lot of value,” said Speckhard.

For Curtis Junior Lee, programming manager for the Higher Ground Neighborhood Development Corp., the Main Library’s charm lies in its historical significance. Lee notes that it showcases the rich history of Oakland, displaying images from the 1960s, including those of the Black Panther Party, the construction of BART, and the city’s relationship with San Francisco.

Lee said it’s important for younger people to provide input on how the library might be improved: “I want them to be able to bring their ideas about how it could be more useful to them to the forefront, so for them to have a voice.”

(This story was updated to correct the date the Main Library building opened.)

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  1. JamesErickson on December 28, 2023 at 8:39 am


  2. michellefoxs on December 29, 2023 at 7:49 am

    As a student in Oakland, I find the initiative to reimagine the Main Library both exciting and important for our community’s future. Liliana Cortes’s coverage of the Re-imagine the Oakland Main Library workshop provides insight into the city’s efforts to gather residents’ visions for the library’s expansion or relocation. I spend weeks at that library while preparing my college tasks, one of librarians told about special services for students and gave me so I can get rid of endless strugles with homework. It’s encouraging to see the inclusion of diverse voices through activities like creating vision boards and recording videos. I look forward to witnessing how these collective ideas shape the future of Oakland’s Main Library.

  3. agatacooper on May 26, 2024 at 12:17 am

    If you’re passionate about shaping the future of Oakland’s Main Library, there’s an exciting opportunity to get involved! Engaging with this initiative is crucial to ensure our library continues to meet the needs of the community. For those looking for a little extra help with their own writing projects, I highly recommend visiting They offer excellent support that can enhance your academic or professional work.

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