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.
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.
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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