Gleaming new North Branch Library to open Saturday

The exterior of the newly renovated North Branch Library with new seating. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Workers were busy putting the finishing touches on the renovated North Branch Library last week in anticipation of its grand reopening on Saturday, April 7 at 1:00 pm.

The library has been closed for nearly a year and, when it reopens, patrons will see many recognizable features, but some new ones too.

“We’re really excited,” said Donna Corbeil, the library’s director.

The main circulation desk has been repositioned. New leather chairs form inviting spaces to read. There is an expanded computer room, and the library also has seven laptop computers for people to use.

The North Branch Library's new circulation desk. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The biggest changes are a result of the new 4,000-ft addition at the rear of the building. That has allowed for the creation of a spacious teen room, four ADA-compliant bathrooms, a new book sorting room, two staff rooms, an elevator, a large community meeting space that fits 96 people, skylights that close automatically if they detect rain, and the erection of two beautiful copper and silver art installations by Marion Coleman.

The renovation has made the library completely accessible to those who use wheelchairs. It has been retrofitted and brought up to code, too. There is a new heating and ventilating system, video conferencing capabilities, and WiFi. There is more bike parking and outdoor seating as well.

The new library will also have an automatic book sorter, which cost about $80,000, according to Corbeil. Patrons returning books will drop them into a slot. The sorter will check the books back in and send them on a conveyer belt. The machine reads the RFID code in each book and moves the books into specific bins, such as one for adult fiction or children’s picture books.

“It’s going to help up get the books back on the shelves more quickly,” said Corbeil. “It will alleviate staff so they can get back to helping people.”

When the library opens it will be stocked with $25,000 worth of new books. The funds come from bond moneys and a donation from the Berkeley Public Library Foundation.

The improvements cost $5.9 million and are part of a renovation of all four of Berkeley’s branch libraries. Voters passed Measure FF in November 2008 to raise $26 million for the libraries’ renovations. The Berkeley Public Library Foundation has launched a $3.5 million campaign to pay for new furniture, fixtures and equipment that the bonds will not pay for.

The children's section of the North Branch Library. Photo: Nancy Rubin

A detail of the 75-year old ceiling. New upward pointing lights will make the decorative ceiling more visible. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Window detail. Photo: Nancy Rubin

New teen room. Photo: Nancy Rubin

New seating in adult area. A rug is on its way. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Donna Corbeil, the library's executive director, demonstrates the new automatic book sorter. It reads the RFID code in each book and automatically sorts the books into different categories. It will speed up the rate books are put back on the shelves. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The new computer area. The library will also have nine laptops available for patrons to use. Photo: Nancy Rubin

"Imagination Tree" by Marion Coleman. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The renovated Claremont Branch is scheduled to reopen on May 5, said Corbeil. The South Branch recently closed, and the West Branch is scheduled to close on May 5. The Tool Lending Library has opened in a temporary location at 2525 8th Street.

For details about the April 7 North Branch Library Grand Re-Opening, visit the Berkeley Public Library website.

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, visit Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.

Dates set for reopening of North and Claremont branches [02.14.12]
New addition to North Branch Library almost complete [02.02.12]
Berkeley’s Claremont Library reopening delayed two months [12.07.11]
Berkeley settles contentious library lawsuit [09.06.11]
A peek at the renovations at Berkeley’s branch libraries [08.16.11]
Berkeleyans rally to move forward on library renovations [04.27.11]

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  • EricPanzer

    Gorgeous. This renovation really puts the “airy” in library.

    I’m so glad to live in a city whose voters and leaders continue to support our public libraries. Berkeley is not without its problems, but I think that we can and should take great civic pride in projects such as this. This is one area in which the rest of the country could take a cue from Berkeley. How better to stimulate the economy and our minds than by reinvesting in institutions of public education.

  • David D.

    Beautiful. I’m glad there is a nod to the future; the traditional library is irrelevant. With more cafe-style seating and a greater focus on technology, this will be a neighborhood gem. I hope the new West Branch Library is half as nice!

  • The front desk is actually positioned to where it was originally when the library was built back in 1936:

  • from the south

    Wow! That looks amazing. I just moved a half mile from the South branch, I’m eager for it to reopen. I hope it’s going to be nice too.

  • French Potatoes

    This is a waste of money. What an inefficient use of space, resources, time, money, energy, and most importantly, tax-payer dollars. 

    Nobody uses libraries except unemployed people and prostitutes who need to use computers to find jobs. Bums use libraries as a way to seek shelter from the weather. Bums also use libraries to sleep in. Libraries are basically homeless shelters with books. 

    Speaking of books. Really? Books? Who will ever read a book or newspaper in twenty years? Better yet, who will publish new books in twenty years?

    Only a publicly funded institution interested in lining bureaucrat pockets could devote resources and make a big deal out of a PUBLIC LIBRARY. 

    Good luck, Berkeley.

  • French Potatoes

    Stimulate minds with what? Paperback and hard-cover BOOKS? You can learn more about the world via Wikipedia than some outdated BOOK.

    The average library book found in “America” is a FRACTION of the average library book found in the United Kingdom, under the metric of “literary” value or educational value.

    Libraries with BOOKS are a JOKE. And public libraries, in general, are useless because the lower middle class has economical access to LAPTOPS. Only the lower-lower class NEEDS computer access to look for min-wage jobs on Craigslist. To that extent, yes, you need some publicly funded PLACE where these poor folks can go and try to job-hunt. But beyond that, what civil pride are you talking about?

    Civic pride in what? In WASTING tax dollars?

  • French Potatoes

    What exactly are you talking about with regards to computers? Starbucks is adequate. We don’t NEED computers because most people have affordable access to laptops (couple hundred bucks for a cheap one). 

    These are basically homeless shelters with a bunch of fluff. 

  • French Potatoes

    It won’t be nice. I guarantee you. It will be infested with bums.

  • French Potatoes

    Yes, They have taken quite a few ideas dating back to 1936. Unfortunately, they’re spending 2012 tax dollars on these outdated ideas.

  • David D.

     Who said anything about computers?

  • EricPanzer

    My visits to the library have always been free of trolls, so there’s that.

    I suspect you’re a troll, or an excellent imitation of one, so I probably shouldn’t engage–but I’m nothing if not argumentative. And since one should never assume malice where incompetence will do, I’ll just write as if you were merely woefully ignorant, rather than pitiably pernicious.

    Clearly you haven’t set foot in Berkeley’s Central Library or any of the UC Berkeley libraries, or you’d realize the sheer absurdity of your statements. Whether to browse books, perform research, or simply do some studying, University and City libraries remain incredibly well-used. Saturdays typically feature a crowd of people just waiting to get in. There’s nothing wasted in making our most beloved public spaces attractive, accessible, and functional.

    Wikipedia may have surpassed the Encyclopedia Britannica, but it comes nowhere near to encapsulating the full extent of contemporary or historic knowledge contained within the world’s books. Google may be trying hard to scan every book in existence, but until that job is done and every book is freely available in its entirety, trips to the library will still be a staple of research on many subjects. Go to UC Berkeley’s East Asian library or the architecture section of the Gardner Main Stacks and tell me just how much of their contents you manage to find publicly available in digital form.

    The book collections of the Berkeley Public Library are in such high demand that there are often waiting lists for the newest and most popular titles–a disadvantage admittedly solved by electronic books. Nevertheless many of us still prefer actual books to iPads or eReaders.
    This may not always be the case, but for now, plenty of people still
    avail themselves of the paper books you regard as obsolete.

    Your assertion that only the “lower-lower” classes need library computer access is as elitist as it is misinformed. There remain a great many people, children and teenagers especially, who do not have home computer or internet access, or who do but still need access to them in a safe setting, away from home, and where there is presumably someone who can offer them assistance. (One wonders, for instance, how many LGBT youth have made use of library computers to search for information they were too scared to look up at home.)

    I would have thought it very difficult to be simultaneously an elitist and a philistine, but you’ve come impressively close.

  • joan

    I agree with the first comment, and wish the other contributors could find somewhere else to vent.

    I am enormously proud of Berkeley for renovating this beautiful building, preserving its architecture and expanding in a tasteful way, including the exterior with benches, bike racks, and landscaping. I have peaked in while walking by, and I’m excited to see the finished interior.

    I have lived less than a block away from this library for more than 40 years, and my children grew up living there. When we have had household disasters (twice) we have relied on their antique but always clean bathrooms. I have missed going there when I have extra time. I love that kids and parents congregate there when the bus lets off the elementary school students, and when King releases its middle school students. Even under the previous crowded conditions, the staff was always calm and welcoming.

    And they have BOOKS.

  • Charles_Siegel

     I think this post is a joke.  At least, I hope so.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Maybe he isn’t joking. 

    Anyone who says “With regards to” needs to spend more time reading BOOKs and less time on the computer.  Eventually, you will learn correct English usage.

    You wouldn’t say “with references to” or “with respects to,” so why do you say “with regards to”?

    This is not something you will learn from your computer, since there are over 100,000,000 google results with the error “with regards to.” 

    But you can confirm it at where you will learn that “With regards to is Nonstandard and frequently functions as a shibboleth.”If you had the grounding in literature that was common fifty years ago, you would also know what a “shibboleth” is.  I assume that you don’t know and will have to look it up in wikipedia.

  • Mike Farrell

    Well, this thread is..

  • Guest

    The automatic book sorting machine is the only thing that strikes me as truly over the top. Are materials really deposited in the return slot at such a rate that an employee can’t keep up? And I suspect it will be out of order most of the time. Not a good use of public funds. 

  • berkeley resident

    it certainly looks impressive!  however, what are they going to do about all the homeless people who hang out there and debase the surroundings?  how is cleanliness going to be maintained?  and loitering discouraged?  is no one addressing this issue, what our public libraries have become, despite all our lofty intentions?

  • Berkeley Resident

    I’m not a prostitute and have a full time job but I take my one year old to the various libraries around town at least once a week.  Call me old fashioned but I think it helps kids to spend time in a space without bells and whistles and blinking screens and just books and my son loves walking around, looking at books, flipping the pages and watching the other kids.  This is how we can help our kids become interested in reading and gaining knowledge.
    You might want to visit a few libraries before you call me a prostitute!!

  • Berkeley Resident

    You are either joking or mentally ill.  Please seek counseling else where and do not pollute this site with your senseless rant!!

  • Berkeley Resident

    Please stay FAR away from any libraries or the city of Berkeley or maybe even the Bay area.  You belong in a special land and no where around here!

  • Mike Farrell

    “Shibboleth” as a shibboleth. Cute

  • Leslie

    Bonjour de Paris! I was thrilled to see the article by Francis Dinkelspiel  and very fine photos by Nancy Rubin of the renovated interior of the N. Berkeley library. I look fwd to frequenting the branch once home.This is a neighborhood jewle.   As for the comments from French Potatoes: senseless and mean-spirited.

  • Mary

    It’s unfortunate that they are using leather chairs in a city where about 15% of the population are vegetarians.

  • Guest


  • batard

    OMG  if that isn’t Berkeley to a tee .. gotta please everybody.  

    Why, are they going to eat the chairs?  Or did you mean “dogmatic vegans”, of which I’m sure the number is much lower than 15%.

    For the other 85%, leather feels nice on my butt.

  • The Sharkey

    Perhaps the end goal is to cut costs by fully automating the system and replacing the human employees with friendly robots?

  • elp

    Leather chairs will last longer and are easier to keep clean than upholstery.

  • Bruce Love

    Not a good use of public funds.

    Welcome to the very old RFID debate.   Remember that when BPL bought into the RFID scam they weren’t just making a one-time purchase to put spyware in books — they were buying an entire platform of technomagic.   BPL didn’t just purchase that stuff:  it subscribed.  And the provider keeps wanting to upsell our subscription options and to lock us in.

    Each year the platform vendor (3M currently, I gather) will offer new toys and bells and whistles.  Many of these will promise projected labor cost savings in the long run and new “features” for patrons.   We’ll keep doubling down, striving to become a “modern” library — and in so doing will outsource more and more basic competence.   We’ll substitute fragile high-tech systems for low-tech, resilient systems (like sorting by hand).   We’ll substitute generic corporate products for local expertise and culture.   More and more budget will shift from paying local workers, to paying an oligopoly of out-of-town platform vendors.

    Along the way, every now and then, there will be big boondoggle projects to help cement the BPL executives’ position as “doing something important.”  If we have the book sorters, for example, perhaps it is time to consider those ATM-style after-hours return robots?   Politically, if the focus can always be kept on the problem of expanding our use of this technology platform — rather than re-examining if we really want it — the executive has a good defensive strategy for its budget and offensive strategy for its compensation. 

    Eventually, down that road, the library will be “hollowed out” — with the majority of the institutional culture and library expertise lost to staff downsizing and attrition.    BPL will be a kind of franchise of a few platforms that make the shelving systems, sorting robots, catalog and circulation software, etc.   People won’t think of it that way.   They’ll say we’re at the cutting edge of technology and that the labor pool is “lean and mean” — but hollowed out it will be.   We’ll know that it’s hollowed out when the platform vendors start trying to gouge, and/or the vendors close shop,  and/or the fragility of the system becomes unbearable — and we’ll only wish we could afford to and had the staff to competently replace it.

    Lovely architecture, though.

  • The Sharkey

    How have RFID tags in library books harmed your personal right to privacy, Bruce? I’m not really interested in an allegorical “what if” story, but I’m wondering if it’s caused any problems for you personally.

    I’m not as up to speed on this kind of thing as I’m sure you are. The only difference that I’ve noticed with the switch to RFID tags in library books is that now I can go through the self-checkout which I like better than standing in line.

  • Bruce Love

    Taking you out of order:

    The only difference that I’ve noticed with the switch to RFID tags in
    library books is that now I can go through the self-checkout which I
    like better than standing in line.

    That feature doesn’t require RFID — it can be implemented using
    regular old bar codes and tattle tape.   (“Bar codes” like in UPC
    symbols that grocery store checkout scans.   “Tattle tape” as in the
    stuff that sets off the shoplifting alarm at the door.)  BPL used to use only a bar code and tattle tape system.   I forget whether they had bar-code based self checkout but I’m certain it’s cheaper and easier to implement such than to make the RFID transition.   I’ve used commodity bar-code-based self-checkout elsewhere and, in this day and age, even to home-brew it  might make economic sense (other than that the ILS vendors take our money and in exchange try to make that kind of self-help hard to do.)

    How have RFID tags in library books harmed your personal right to
    privacy, Bruce? I’m not really interested in an allegorical “what if”
    story, but I’m wondering if it’s caused any problems for you personally.

    I have no way of knowing whether and where surreptitious and at-modest-distance RFID readers are discretely installed or who might be running them or for what purpose.   I do know that it’s an incredibly inexpensive kind of surveillance to implement that can, if well deployed, yield a lot of privacy-violating information with hardly any chance for detection.

    The problem of using RFIDs in libraries is serious in two senses. 

    One problem is simply economics.   I think that BPL has likely bought a bunch of false economy here, as I described in the comment to which you reply.   That is my main point above, in what you are replying to.  I don’t think these expenditures — this doubling down on the 3M platform — is a good business plan.   It’s for suckers, no matter what you believe about privacy.

    The other problem is, indeed, privacy.   You say you aren’t interested in “what if” scenarios — and that’s fair.  Let me give you some cultural and legal background, though:  Traditionally, libraries treat patron privacy as sacrosanct.   That is why, for example, if the FBI were to subpoena Cal libraries and demand to know what books I checked out and returned in the past year — the library would honestly say: “We have no idea, piss off.”  They actively avoid creating that kind of lasting record.   Government has pressured libraries to change their ways.   The society of people who run libraries have, by in large, pushed back.   The installation of RFID systems undermines that by technologically bypassing the libraries’ capacity to protect privacy.   It’s a real disappointment that BPL embraced RFID so uncritically — but hardly a surprise as that reactionary “conservatism” seems to me to be typical of  Berkeley politics in recent decades.

  • The Sharkey

    So then would you say that, as far as you know, the switch to RFID tagging in books has resulted in zero practical day-to-day change for you as a library patron?

    A good point on the bar codes though. I’ve also used bar-code based checkout systems in the past. They didn’t work as well and were easier to bypass/fool, but they were at least a serviceable alternative.

  • Bruce Love

    So then would you say that, as far as you know, the switch to RFID
    tagging in books has resulted in zero practical day-to-day change for
    you as a library patron?

    Very far from that.  I would not say that at all.   I think that service has declined because of bogus spending priorities, in no small part thanks to the false economy of the RFID platform.

    A good point on the bar codes though. I’ve also used bar-code based
    checkout systems in the past. They didn’t work as well and were easier
    to bypass/fool,

    In terms of circumvention, bar codes + tattle-tape and RFID are about equal.   RFID doesn’t offer superior fraud protection except initially, in the early years.  Theft is likely to drop-off upon the installation of an RFID system just because *any* change to security protocols thwarts extant attacks — but there is no intrinsic, lasting gain in security.

    As for robustness, barcode+tattle-tape is ultimately better (and although I haven’t double checked, I assume BPL materials are still bar-coded — aren’t they?).   I think there may be some confusion in Berkeley on that point because at a point in time when it would have made sense to incrementally upgrade some of the old bar-code readers, BPL leadership prevailed to force a wholesale switch to RFID instead.

  • The Sharkey

    So when asked to give a personal account of how RFID tags have changed things for you, in a practical way, your argument changes from privacy issues to thoughts that “service” may have declined? Hmm.

    Perhaps things have changed since I was last at a library that used it, but form what I remember tattle tape is tremendously easier to find and remove from books than RFID stickers, and bar codes have to be replaced more often. Bar codes on the outside of books wear down over time in a way that RFID stickers inside books do not. Equipment costs may be/probably are higher with RFID systems though, so the practicality of the switch would depend on how much money was being lost through book replacement due to theft.

    They might still have bar codes on a lot of the books. I seem to remember seeing some, but I’m not sure. I haven’t been in a Berkeley library in over a year, mostly as a result of BPL’s online checkout of eBooks. I (heart) my Kindle!

  • Bruce Love

    Sharkey you ended the conversation here:

    So when asked to give a personal account of how RFID tags have changed things for you, in a practical way, your argument changes from privacy issues to thoughts that “service” may have declined? Hmm.

    I did no such thing. 

  • The Sharkey

    Then you need to work on expressing yourself better. I’m just trying to summarize what you’re saying to make sure I understand you correctly. I asked what seemed like a pretty easy, concrete question and am having a hell of a time understanding your answers.

    How have RFID tags in library books harmed your personal right to
    privacy, Bruce? I’m not really interested in an allegorical “what if” story, but I’m wondering if it’s caused any problems for you personally.

  • Library user

    Like Berkeley Resident, I am not a prostitute either, and I also take my 2 year old old to the library several days a week. I’m really glad to have North Branch now available. You need to step into an actual library instead of hiding behind your computer being jaded and judgemental about society, Mr. or Ms. French Potatoes, to see children thriving with books, storytime, and community interaction at the library. And please do not make assumptions about my child or children whose parents happily introduce books to them. I might have plans to send her to a $15,000 a year private Montessori preschool (the only reason I even bring this up is because otherwise you will likely make an assumption about what kind of people we are, since we are “library-users,”), and she might already be able to maneuver around my iPad and laptop, but we will continue to explore the concept of community that the library embodies (a concept you really should look into instead of shunning), and foster the same love of typography, paper texture, and design layout that my husband and I love about books. I sense your frustration with taxpayer finances and to some point, can understand it, but feel that it’s a real shame that your assumptions are off-base and misguided.

  • The Sharkey

    This is what I don’t understand about you, Bruce.
    When I ask a question and actually try to follow what you’re saying and make sure I understand you, you run away from the discussion.

  • Bruce Love

    When I ask a question and actually try to follow what you’re saying

    I don’t see any evidence that that’s really what you’re doing.

  • The Sharkey

    I’m not sure there’s anything I could do to show it, then. I’ve said before that I have trouble following your posts a lot of the time, and that hasn’t changed. I really wish you could give more concise and straight-forward answers to questions.

  • Bruce Love

    Sharkey, if you contact me non-anonymously and verifiably by email I might begin to believe a word you say in this context.

  • The Sharkey

    No thanks. I can’t see how private back-and-forth is going to solve any issues related to this discussion, and I’ve learned the hard way (to the point where Police had to be involved) to not give my personal information out in any public forum on the internet.

  • Bruce Love

    Oh, Sharkey, if you would have sent me your name I’d have happily disclosed it and conducted all of our business in public.   You could just do so yourself.

  • The Sharkey

     And how would that help you answer the question?

  • The Sharkey

    But thank you for showing that I was right not to trust you.

  • serkes

    A few more posts will make this the Cheshire conversation!

  • We’re closing comments on this post because two commenters — The Sharkey and Bruce Love — have taken the thread over to engage in tiresome snipping about their communication with each other. Sorry, folks, that an interesting discussion about the library was hijacked in this way.