Berkeley Public Library’s Branch Out draws thousands

Soji and the AfroBeat band Berkeley Library Branch out
Soji & the AfroBeat Band perform at the Central Library during April’s Branch Out event. Photo courtesy Berkeley Public Library

This April, the Berkeley Public Library marked the completion of its Branch Library Improvement Program with a month-long celebration. The event, called Branch Out, consisted of over 170 programs and helped draw thousands of visitors to the Library.

True to its name, Branch Out featured a wide range of free workshops and activities for all Berkeley residents. The Central Library and its four branches put on author talks, book clubs, arts and crafts sessions, daily geocaching sessions and a multitude of other programs designed to stimulate the mind, body and soul.

Scattered throughout the month were larger gatherings that attracted hundreds of people each. These included after-hours concerts, a family-friendly First Friday festival showcasing local artwork and a barn dance. All were catered by local eateries.

Berkeley Public Library Branch Out crafts activity
Library visitors get creative during one of Branch Out’s arts and crafts’ sessions. Photo courtesy Berkeley Public Library

There were outreach events as well. As Director of Library Services Donna Corbeil noted, “By going outside our walls we are able to reach more people.”

The effort was also intended to demonstrate the Library’s digital savvy. A Library booth at the Berkeley Bay Festival let passers-by fill out a survey via iPad or get library cards online. At North Berkeley BART, a weekly event known as Off the Grid helped people connect their mobile devices to the Library’s collection of free eBooks, magazines and music.

According to Library specialist Deirdre Cerkanowicz, these programs, along with the rest of Branch Out, were developed last fall by a group of Library staff, Friends & Foundation board members and Library trustees. In creating the event, organizers had two primary goals in mind: increasing the Library’s public visibility and showcasing the modernized branches.

The modernization effort began in 2008 when voters passed bond Meausre FF, which allotted $26 million to the renovation of the Library’s four branches. Two branches were remodeled, while the others were completely rebuilt. Changes to the branches included greater sustainability, native landscaping and expanded community space. Upon its completion, the West Branch became the first library in California to use zero net energy.

Furnishing the branch libraries was made possible by a partnership with the Neighborhood Libraries Campaign, which raised $3 million for computer equipment, and interactive “playblocks” for kids, tables and chairs.

Last April’s event helped get thousands of Berkeley residents acquainted with these changes and additions. Branch Out attendance data provided by Cerkanowicz shows that over 17,000 people visited the North and South/Tool Lending Library branches, while the West and Claremont branches saw attendances of 14,400 and 16,000 visitors respectively. The Central Library played host to more than 46,650 visitors.

Branch Out Berkeley Public Library celebration
More than 150 people came to the Central Library to watch Soji & the AfroBeat Band perform. Photo courtesy Berkeley Public Library

Looking beyond April’s festivities, Corbeil noted with excitement the lasting impact that the renovated branch libraries will have on the surrounding community.

“Beautiful public spaces and free, accessible methods for obtaining knowledge and exposure to arts, culture and literature will always be a hallmark of a great society and reflect the values and commitments of the Berkeley Public Library,” Corbeil said in a press release.  “We are thrilled to have library buildings designed to serve the community for generations to come.”

Drew Jaffe is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. He grew up in the East Bay and now attends Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Berkeley Library Director Donna Corbeil to retire (05.28.2014)
Free events celebrate Berkeley’s revamped libraries (04.09.14)
New, $7.5m Berkeley West Branch library to open Saturday (12.12.13)
Berkeley Public Library South Branch: The Opening (05.13.2013)
Renovated Claremont library branch opens Saturday (05.03.12)
Berkeley Library stays relevant with shift to digital (02.25.13)
Never let it be said that Berkeley doesn’t love its libraries (04.09.12)
A peek at the renovations at Berkeley’s branch libraries (08.16.11)

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