New South Branch library to open in Berkeley on Saturday

The entrance to the South Branch library. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The entrance to the new South Branch library on MLK Jr. Way at Russell St. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

It was four days to D-Day and the place was hopping.

Painters rolled on a last coat of paint. IT guys fiddled with computer wire while architects strolled around looking for last minute glitches. Carpenters nailed sheets of plywood to a storage area.

In just a few hours, the new South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library was set to open. And, while the bulk of the construction was done, there were numerous small things that hadn’t been completely finished, like the landscaping, shelving all the books, installing all the computers, and the final build-out of the Tool Library.

“We have a lot to do in the next few days but we are feeling good about it,” Donna Corbeil, the city librarian, said on Tuesday. When pressed, though, about whether it would be finished, she took a long pause before answering with a resounding “Yes!”

The centerpiece of the new South Branch is a central atrium filled with natural light. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The centerpiece of the new South Branch is a central atrium filled with natural light. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Corbeil is confident that the library will be ready at 12:30 p.m. Saturday May 11. That’s when city officials, library trustees, neighbors, and community groups will gather for the official opening of the South Branch. After the dignitaries make their speeches and cut the ribbon, the library will be open for business at 1:00 p.m.

And when patrons walk into the doors for the first time, they are likely to be dazzled. While the old South Branch was considered architecturally significant when it was built in the 1961, it had been remodeled numerous times over the years and had become small, dark and cramped.

In contrast, the new South Branch library, at 8,700 square feet, has a soaring atrium with clerestory windows at the top, maple  ceilings, and lots of natural light. That feeling of spaciousness is pervasive throughout the structure. The large community room in one corner of the building has huge windows looking out in two directions: to Russell Street and to Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. The new children’s room has a large window seat where kids and their parents and caregivers can curl up with  a book. And the adult room has one entire wall devoted to mysteries,  comfortable furniture, and a view out onto a Zen garden, a nod to the Japanese-Americans who once populated the neighborhood before being sent to detention camps in World War II. Gina Dominguez’s beautiful mosaics are embedded in numerous walls and on the outside.

Just days before the new South Branch library is set to open, workers put finishing touches on the new building. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Just days before the new South Branch library is set to open, workers put finishing touches on the new building. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“The old building, by its virtues and shortfalls, gave a lot of inspiration,” said Mati Teiblum, an architect with Field Paoli Architects, the  firm that designed the new library. “The old building was low and squat. We felt we grew and wanted to bring the light in. That thought has been behind a lot of the activities here, bringing in as much daylight” as possible.

Jeri Ewart, the library’s branch manager, has spent 14 years at the South Branch. She can’t wait to show off the new building to the community.

“It’s wonderful,” said Ewart. “It’s fabulous. It’s twice as large which means we have room for twice as many people. I can imagine the schools and the kids will be all over the place. We all love it. There isn’t anybody on staff who doesn’t love it.”

Tools available to check out at the Tool Lending Library. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Tools available to check out at the Tool Lending Library. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

In addition to adding space for more books and computers, the Tool Library has been expanded. In the old building, staff kept a number of tools on rolling racks. They would have to roll the racks outside in the morning and back inside at night. Now, there is ample room for all the wrenches, hammers, drills, and ladders. They are also better displayed so people will know what is available.

“It’s really a lot bigger,” said Angel Enters, a tool-lending specialist. “Before, the waiting area was really small. The line would go outside the door because it was so small. Now everybody can be inside, especially when it rains.”

Raylene Ezike, a library specialist, Jeri Ewart, the branch manager, and Uma Paul, a supervising library assistant, put books away on Tuesday in preparation of the South Branch opening. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Raylene Ezike, a library specialist, Jeri Ewart, the branch manager, and Uma Paul, a supervising library assistant, put books away on Tuesday in preparation of the South Branch opening. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

IT workers make final adjustments in the adult reading room. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

IT technicians make final adjustments in the adult reading room. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Children's librarian Josh Lachman stands in front of the new children's room. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Children’s librarian Josh Lachman stands in front of the new children’s room. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

A children's easel and table are just some of the furnishings in the new South Branch library. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

A children’s easel and table are just some of the furnishings in the new South Branch library. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The building, which cost $6.5 million, is energy efficient, said Corbeil, one of the advantages of designing a new structure rather than remodeling an old one. There is a temperature gauge that measures the outside temperature and adjusts the inside temperature accordingly. When it’s hot, windows can be opened to cool the space. When it’s cold, radiant heating in the floor can be turned on to make patrons feel comfortable. There are rooftop solar panels. Some of the wood in the structure was salvaged fron the old building.

The South Branch is the third of Berkeley’s four branch libraries to be be remodeled. The West Branch is currently being built and should be open sometime in the fall, said Corbeil. Berkeley voters approved a $26 million bond measure to refurbish all the libraries. The Berkeley Public Library Foundation raised $3 million to install new furnitures and fixtures in the renovated branches.

Project facts and figures:

  • The new building is 8,700 square feet. That’s 3,300 square feet more than the old building.
  • Cost: $6.5 million. (Construction cost $5 million)
  • The architects are Field Paoli.
  • The contractor is Gonsalves & Stronk
  • The landscape architect is Charles McCulloch

Related:
Renovated Claremont library branch opens Saturday [05.03.12]
Never let it be said that Berkeley doesn’t love its libraries [04.09.12]
Gleaming new North Branch Library to open Saturday [04.03.12]
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]

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

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  • PragmaticProgressive

    Very exciting — go BPL!

  • resident

    It looks gorgeous! What an improvement over the old space. I can’t wait to go inside.

  • Bill N

    A wonderful addition to South Berkeley and a beautiful building. I’m glad to know who did the mosaics.

  • Chris

    Love it!

    So excited for the West Branch too!!!

  • David D.

    Does anyone know the hours of the South Branch? I’ll be down there for brunch on Sunday and would love to check it out while there. The library website just says that it is closed until May 11.

  • The_Sharkey

    Looks great! Can’t wait to see the Tool Lending Library in their new space.

    Glad the frivolous lawsuit from the “Concerned Library Users” was finally settled so that this project could move forward!

  • Library worker

    The grand opening will be 1-5pm on Saturday. The branch is closed Sunday and will begin its regular Monday-Saturday schedule on Monday the 13th.

  • David D.

    Thanks. Considering the popularity of brunch at the Thai Temple next door, it makes complete sense that the library would be closed on Sundays. Local government at its finest.

  • The_Sharkey

    Especially when you consider that, with the current limited hours of most Berkeley libraries, 9-5 wage slaves can only get to the library during open hours on the weekends.

  • David D.

    Yes, as a 9-5 office dweller, this is why I can’t even remember the last time I made it inside a local library. It’s like I need a secret decoder to figure out when they are open. At least it’s easy for me to figure out the hours of my local branch: closed. (Hoping it looks this nice when complete! Not that I’ll ever get to see the inside of it apparently.)

  • 4eenie

    I’m so excited about this. Can’t wait to stroll around and see the new environs, and especially the new tool lending area. Just in time for summer landscaping projects!

  • http://berkeleyside.com Frances Dinkelspiel

    Many branches are open until 8 pm at least one night a week. Central is open until 8 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, Claremont and North branches are open until 8 on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

    http://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/about_the_library/hours_and_locations.php

  • stuckinthemiddle

    I can’t wait to get back to this branch and my more local one (West Branch) when it reopens as well.

    Small note: “IT guys” seems to be sticking around as one of the last remaining acceptable sexist phrases. I’m sure there weren’t any front desk “gals” or “girls” putting last minutes touches to the customer counters. As a female in the IT field I’m quite happy to be one of the *technicians* doing good work to support physical presences like the library as well as online presences like Berkeleyside.

  • nonickpicker

    Did you not notice they were in fact ALL men?!!

    I guess you can’t have a thread without someone making some PC comment if it’s anyway related to Berkeley.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=762062728 Rebecca Renfro

    HOORAY! Welcome back! We missed you and look forward to the opening!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=762062728 Rebecca Renfro

    What Frances said! :) Also, you can go to the online catalog and put items on hold. A librarian will pull your items and shelve them for you in the library holds area. You can run in, grab your stuff, self check-out, and be out the door in less than ten minutes. I know, I’ve done it numerous times. It’s a wonderful service they provide among many others. We’re lucky to have the most amazing, dedicated, and helpful librarians anyone could ask for. Recently someone told me that libraries were obsolete and boy, did they get a nice long lecture about our incredible BPL system and how they provide so much more than just the written word.

  • http://berkeleyside.com Frances Dinkelspiel

    Point well made. I will change it to technicians.

  • A Different Library Worker

    All Berkeley Public Library branches have the same hours, and are open until 8 two nights a week:
    Monday: 10-6
    Tuesday: 10-6
    Wednesday: 12-8
    Thursday: 12-8
    Friday: 10-6
    Saturday: 10-6

  • A Different Library Worker

    All branches have the same hours, and are open until 8 on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

  • David D.

    I don’t make it to the libraries too often, but I definitely know that these aren’t the hours at all of them. Besides, this wouldn’t answer my question, as the South Branch has special Saturday hours (which conceivably could continue on Sunday too).

  • David D.

    Thanks for the additional “help” folks. I’ve used the hold services before, etc. etc. I guess it boils down to the library not having especially convenient hours for a working stiff like me who would willingly trade in all those useless weekday hours for some Sunday hours.

    P.S. My hometown has twice as many people as Berkeley and just three (large) library branches. So much more efficient than the Berkeley setup, but I guess you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!

  • A Different Library Worker

    South Branch has special Saturday hours for the opening, but will return to the regular schedule the following week. And these aren’t the Central Library’s hours, bu they are the hours at Claremont, North and (starting on Monday) South. They will also be the hours at West when it opens.

    Since this is what determines my work schedule, I’m pretty sure I’ve got it right.

  • Guestpicker

    Uhh, so you think the picture tells the whole story? I would check out the facts before you make an Ass out of U and me (assume).

  • http://twitter.com/BerkSchReport Berk. Schools Report

    Fabulous! It looks beautiful and I look forward to visiting.

  • Greeneyez0712

    Even though we live in a internet world its great to see libraries are still a staple in the community. I love libraries!!

  • http://twitter.com/suzanneyada Suzanne Yada

    I love the fact that this is one of the first tool-lending libraries in the nation (if Wikipedia is to be believed). I’ve used it on a few occasions and it’s fantastic.

  • rlauriston

    “space for more books”

    Definitely space for more, but are there actually any more books than there were in the old space? It feels like fewer but there’s so much open space that could be an illusion. Feels more like a lobby than a library to me.

    The new tool library is great, though it’s a shame they lost two parking spaces.

  • JWong

    Central (downtown) is open on Sundays. Also, there was a recent poll – at least at North Branch – about the possibility of their being open Sunday.