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, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...