North Branch Library

Even though no firm date has been set for the closure of the Claremont and North Branch libraries, Berkeley is throwing a bon voyage party for the two buildings.

Library patrons and residents are invited to say goodbye (albeit temporarily) to the structures as they are shuttered and extensively remodeled. The party for North Branch is Saturday March 5 from 2 to 5 pm and the party for the Claremont Branch is Saturday March 19 at the same time.

“We are doing a small closing event just to celebrate the next step,” said Suzanne Olawski, the library’s neighborhood services manger.

She has invited the mayor and city council members to the celebrations, she said. There will music and some activities geared for children.

“We know these libraries are very well-loved and well-used and we understand the angst it causes some people (that they will be shut down for a year),” said Olawski. “We want to do these projects as quickly as we can.”

Both branches will be closed at the end of March or beginning of April for about a year. The Claremont renovation, which is expected to cost about $3.3 million, will create 324 square feet of new space, a new service desk, a new teen room, more computers and restrooms, and will have more seating. The building will be seismically strengthened and made ADA accessible.

The North Branch renovation will be cost about $4.3 million. There will be a 4,000 square foot addition added to the historic building, a new teen room, a new multipurpose room, new landscaping, and other features.

The Library Board received bids last week for the North Branch renovation and will open bids for the Claremont branch on Tuesday, said Olawski.

When the branches are closed, the library will be running a “BranchVan” back and forth between the north and south ends of town. Patrons will be able to reserve books on line and then go to the mobile library to pick them up. They will also be able to return them to the van.

The Branch Van will be parked in front of the Live Oak Community Center at 1299 Shattuck Avenue on Monday and Friday from 2:30 to 5:30, Tuesday and Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm, Wednesday from noon to 3 pm, and Thursday from 4:40 pm to 7:30 pm.

The van will be parked in front of St. John’s Church at Garber Street near College Avenue on Monday and Friday from 10 am to 1 pm, Tuesday and Saturday from 2:30 to 5:30 pm, Wednesday from 4:30 to 7:30 pm, and Thursday from noon to 3 pm.

The library will set a firm date for the branch closures sometime in early March, said Olawski. It has hired a firm, Moovers, Inc. to move out the books from the two branches and store them at Sather Gate Mall. The move out (and back in) will cost about $31,000 and monthly rental will cost $750, according to library documents.

The top bestsellers, movies and audio books will be kept in circulation, she said.

Not everyone is supportive of the plans for the branch renovations. Peter Warfield of the San Francisco-based Library Users Group is concerned that the Claremont renovation will decrease the linear shelf space for books. It is part of his broader concern that libraries are now emphasizing computers and DVDs over books.

Another group, Concerned Library Users, sued Berkeley for passing an ordinance that permitted the library to seek a use permit rather than a variance to remodel any of the branches. CLU said the city should have done an Environmental Impact Report on the effects of the ordinance before passing it.

In December, the two parties settled that aspect of the lawsuit. The city rescinded its ordinance, and is including an examination of a new one in its EIR. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at on the proposed change to zoning laws on Wednesday March 2 at Old City Hall at 7 pm.

CLU is still suing the library over its plans to demolish the South and West branches and to build new structures on the sites. CLU contends that Measure FF did not permit demolition of the branches, only remodeling.

Steve Finacom wrote a lengthy article in the Berkeley Daily Planet expressing concern that the library used $88,000 from Measure FF to buy the BranchVan. He contends the bond measure did not specify using the money for a bookmobile.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

Join the Conversation


  1. The headline for this article is somewhat misleading. The branch closures are unavoidable, given the scope of renovation and construction. The branches will reopen and will be vastly better equipped to serve our needs. We’re not saying goodbye.

    More importantly, the public has been actively involved in the branch planning. For meeting notices and notes, see

    To review the analysis of the branch requirements and the criteria for selection, see

    The 11th hour proposals from the small group that opposes the South and West branch construction have NO input from the public. The sketches were drawn by an architect who chose not to participate in the architect selection process.

    Most importantly, what is it that the opponents to great libraries for South and West want? Preservation and renovation are important considerations – and they are considerations that were part of the public process. Is this additional delay and the resulting delay in services, caused in part by residents of San Francisco, worth giving up state of the art libraries in ALL of our neighborhoods? And if so, can the opponents to our libraries please explain how?

  2. Max mentions “those who fear progress”. Hits the nail on the head.
    By the way, this article mentions Peter Warfield and raises him to the status of a valuable
    commentator on this issue. Mr. Warfield lives in San Francisco. His organization has maybe
    three members including himself and he has no degrees in library science. Talk about fearing progress. The public library is now an institution with many roles beyond books. He’s seems unwilling to accept this. Example: Berkeley Reads is a program that teaches 150 adults a year to read and write (that translates to getting a drivers license, filling out job applications, getting jobs, etc, etc). Berkeley Reads is at the west branch. It will be able to help many more people when the new building is in place.

  3. Morrie Turner was an honored author at the public library’s authors dinner a few years back. Thanks for the memory of a lovely guy.

    Tizzielish: The library held dozens of meetings before, during and after the bond measure passed. These decisions were not the work of staff or bureaucrats. It was one of the more transparent processes I can remember in Berkeley. In those dozens of meetings, the library staff and BOLT did, and continue to, answer the questions you asked. Did you go to those meetings?

  4. Politics aside for a moment, I’ll be bringing a caricature sketch that Morrie Turner did of my way back in the ’60’s (at the North Branch Library). The libraries had a summer reading program where we got “Read with ___” buttons with the various Wee Pals characters. At the end of the summer, Mr. Turner came to each library to talk and draw for the kids. I remember that the table he was to sit on the edge of didn’t have level feet, so they had me sit on the other side while he drew other kids. At the end, he drew my caricature.

    The silverfish got to the edge of my drawing at one point, but I still have the it.

  5. Thank you, Max. It is an issue of social justice and equity. The woman who filed this lawsuit lives in the Claremont area. She never participated in any of the dozens of public meetings held with hundreds of neighbors who settled upon the rebuild plan for West and South.
    In a city with such a progressive population, full of great ideas, it continually amazes me that a few people, selfish at best, think they should stand in the way of public will in this way. Bruce,
    your cynicism flies in the face of the hopeful and generous plans that our city has come up with for its libraries.

    I’m surprised that Berkeleyside was unable to find anyone in favor of the library renovations to include in their story. Remember the 70% of the voters who approved the library bonds? Or the more than 120 people who wrote to city council supporting the plan?

  6. It’s the library haters that want to prevent new libraries from being built where the decrepit old West and South and Tool branch libraries are now. Nothing against North Berkeley and the Elmwood but it’s the south and west parts of Berkeley that most need new libraries. This is a question of social justice, where a very small group (or is it just the one woman who brought the lawsuit?) from outside those areas who want to halt new libraries in the flatlands. The city is being blackmailed and it’s we flatlanders (my library is the West Branch, and I love their staff too) who will end up paying. Maybe all we’ll get, thanks to those who fear progress, is a visit from the book-mobile.

  7. I was talking with someone just now and we agreed on a prediction. We’d bet (a little, not a lot – could go either way) that what happens here is that the city dithers around over the South and West controversy, meanwhile proceeding with the North and Claremont branches. Eventually they’ll work out how to correct their mistakes about South and West, but only after cost over-runs on North and Claremont (plus the van) eat up so much FF funds that South and West projects can’t get started. It won’t be the legal expenses that thwart South and West — it will be the direction of funds to North and West during the delay. We’d attribute this outcome, if it occurs, to a systemic creation of neglect of SW Berkeley as a priority by the City. I’ll be pleased (and surprised) when the City proves us wrong.

  8. I don’t like the purchase of the bookmobile. It seems like they could have, as Bruce Love points out, been much more frugal. Surely it is time for public entities to start being frugal in all things.

    I am challenged by the library decision to use funds that voters voted on for remodeling and rehabbing and decided to demolish two branch libraries. I think the new buildings are going to be much better facilities than anything that could have been done by keeping the old buildings, esp. the South library. I’m not an architect but it is hard to see how it could ever be cost-effective or produce a really good library design — and, yes there are good designs — by maintaining some kind of allegiance to keeping the old. So, overall, I’m okay with demolitioning old, out-of-date, decrepit public spaces and using funds efficiently to build new pubic spaces.

    But, as I said, I am challenged by the way voters were mislead. That matters a lot. Principle matters. Transparency matters. Respect for the public by public servants matters. I know that the public servants working at the library to use these library funds have to balance many things but this is a democracy, right? Public employees can’t say whatever they think they need to say to get money from the voters and then go out and spend the money in different ways.

    What I long for is transparency. And accountability. I want library board and staff, esp. their appointed spokeperson(s) to directly and honestly answer questions about the decisions they make. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Step into the light. If the library board/staff decided, after further study, that it did not make good sense to remodel the South and West branches so they went in a different direction, I wish they would just say so, speak their truth and then let the public respond. Dodging such questions is wrong. Whatever these public servants decided, however they deliberated, the public has a right to know about those deliberations. Unless they are talking about confidential, personal issues related to individual employees, everything public servants do in their jobs should be available to the public.

    This library funding is a tempest in a teapot, compared to many of the other challenges facing Berkeley’s public needs. Libraries are one of the best institutions we give ourselves as a culture. Heck, I think public libraries are my absolute favorite public institution.

    I would like to hear, from library board and/or staff what factors they considered when they chose the bookmobile they chose. Did they even look at used? Ultimately, of course, they did what they did. Apparently, their decisions cannot, or will not, be undone. But the library could use this dissonance regarding the library remodeling funding to begin a new era of transparency. Just tells us why you made the decisions you made when you spent our money. Give us that. Treat us with respect. Give us the public information that really belongs to us already.

  9. After the renovations are complete, for all branches, the Bookmobile might find other uses, like delivering books, DVD’s, etc. to those unable to come into the libraries, delivering donated books to local schools, standing out at local street fairs with staff on board, etc. I view the purchase of the Bookmobile as “planning ahead”.

  10. So, the model of van they bought lists for like 50 or 60% of what they paid when not tricked out for bookmobile use and with the fancy paint/decale-job detailing . Assuming they got a reasonable deal on one, bought a generator (did the tricked out version even come with one?) and bought locally to throw in some shelves etc…. Think they might have saved a few $10K and boosted the local economy by putting out an RFP? Hell, they might have wound up with a vehicle that could have more flexible uses as part of the City’s fleet.

    So in addition to conceding in settlement that they passed an unlawful ordinance. And in addition to having a tough legal fight on FF for razing and rebuilding. And in addition to blowing renovation contingency money – money theoretically meant to cover things like inflation in the price of concrete or a construction accident – on a book-mobile. An in addition to the contempt of public that the staff exhibits in response to the inquiries of Finacom’s inquiries. Over and above all of that. The bookmobile is overpriced for what we got (and, by the way, there are a lot of low prices on the resale market for those things… they likely could have bought three used ones over 10 years and come out ahead, if nothing else and it is unlikely we’re going to recoup squat selling it used.).

    Sometimes this city runs like a well-oiled machine. By which I mean, of course, like a bicycle dropped into a vat of used fry oil.

  11. My family will miss our branch a great deal but I am really excited for the renovations. As a Berkeley resident, I’m appalled by the South Berkeley branch–it’s cramped, the staff work spaces are ridiculously cramped and it’s long out-served its original form and function. I will be glad for the day when both South Berkeley and West Berkeley have new branch libraries.