Central Branch of the Berkeley Public Library. Photo: Kaia Diringer
There were more than 680,000 visits to the Central Branch of the Berkeley Public Library in 2012. Photo: Kaia Diringer

2012 was a year of big changes for the Berkeley Public Library. Two of its branches, Claremont and North, reopened after extensive remodeling. Two other branches, South and West, closed for their own redos.

As Donna Corbeil, the library’s director, put it in the library’s annual report, “library spaces have moved far beyond the traditional hushed reading room.” Instead of just offering books at brick and mortar locations, the library is providing services to “Berkeley’s continuum of learning and inspiration,” according to Corbeil.

This means lending books, magazines, music, and films the way people want them, whether from traditional paper book format to downloadable eBooks and music, to online digital formats.

Donna Corbeil, the director of Library Services, points out the features of a new book sorting machine at the North Branch. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Donna Corbeil, Director of Library Services, points out the features of a new book sorting machine at the North Branch. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“In this shifting landscape, one of the questions I am most frequently asked is ‘how will the library stay relevant?’” Corbeil wrote in the report.  “Like all libraries, we strive to be a central part of our community by meeting expectations and changing needs of the people we serve. We have grown and evolved by embracing new technologies and innovating along the way.”

The library spent $14,181,900 in fiscal year 2012, with the bulk of the revenue coming from the Library Services Tax provided by Berkeley homeowners, according to the report. That tax was increased by 2.81%, and will be increased another 3.77% in the fiscal year 2013. This rise will assist the library in creating a reserve fund, said Corbeil.

Here are some facts about the library, gleaned from its 2012 Annual Report and its website:


  • The library carries 660,000 books, audio books, CDs, and DVDs and a database, Music Online, of streamable music.
  • The library carries material for adults in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu.
  • In 2012, customers made 1.2 million visits to the library (equal to ten times the population of Berkeley). More than 680,000 of these visits were to the Central Library.
  • Patrons checked out 1.76 million items, making it the most checkouts per capita (19.25) in California of comparably sized cities.
  • The Berkeley Public Library website had 990,000 visits.
  • Librarians responded to 150,000 requests for information.
  • In FY 2013, the library expects to spend $1 million on new materials.
  • The library system has 120 computers with Internet Access, including laptops.
  • There is free wireless in all the branches.


  • Staff worked with UC Berkeley and the Historical Society to curate an exhibit on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
  • The library instituted the Discover and Go program, which allows library card holders free admission to 40 Bay Area institutions, including the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, the UC Botanical Garden, the Berkeley Art Museum, and the Lawrence Hall of Science.
  • A new phone app, Boopsie, allows patrons to search the catalog, place holds, and directly download books onto their mobile devices.
  • Librarians created a new interactive program, Little Scientist Time, for 3 to 5 year olds.
  • The library hosted a number of free concerts, including with the Kitka Women’s Ensemble, the Chanticleer Youth Ensemble, Berkeley West Edge Opera, and Erika Oba, a pianist at Berkeley’s JazzSchool
  • The library collaborated with Aurora Theater to do a seminar on Arthur Schitzel’s Anatol.
A boy reads a book while a dog listens intently at Paws to Read at the North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library on Feb. 5. Photo: Kaia Diringer
A boy reads a book while a dog listens intently at Paws to Read at the North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library on Feb. 5. Photo: Kaia Diringer
  • The library offered classes in computers, literacy through Berkeley Reads, pairing kids with dogs, and more.
  • Librarians made reading recommendations on their blog Baiting the Hook.  (Detroit by Scott Martelle is the recommended book of the day.)
  • The library offered a series of themed newsletters with reading suggestions.
  • The library offered an amnesty for overdue book and forgave $30,000 in fines.

2012 was not without its glitches, however. The company constructing the new West Branch Library inadvertently damaged the roots of a 70-foot high redwood tree in October, necessitating its removal. The library will plant a cork oak in its place.

Read the library’s 2012 Annual Report.

Kaia Diringer is Berkeleyside’s photo intern. See more of her work on Flickr.

Children read in the company of dogs at Berkeley library [02.07.13]
Berkeley artist Vita Wells makes books fly at main library [02.11.13]
Local stars come out for the Berkeley Public Library [02.11.13]

Would you like a digest of the day’s Berkeley news in your inbox at the end of your day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.

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...