Kids browse the bookshelves at the December 2014 opening of the South Branch. Photo: Richard Friedman
Kids browse the bookshelves at the December 2014 opening of the South Branch of the Berkeley Library. Photo: Richard Friedman

Call it a “library warming.”

As a way to celebrate the completion of its branch renovation campaign – and highlight the dozens of community programs it presents each month – the Berkeley Public Library is hosting a month-long party.

The Branch Out! celebration will bring concerts, art exhibits, pop-up libraries at food truck gatherings, a sleepover party for stuffed animals, mindfulness meditation, and that beloved event – author readings – and much more to a branch near you in April.

The expanded tool library at the South Branch offers a selection of 2,500 tools to borrow. Photo: Richard Friedman
The expanded tool library at the South Branch offers a selection of 2,500 tools to borrow. Photo: Richard Friedman

“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,” said Director of Library Services Donna Corbeil. “We are thrilled to have library buildings designed to serve the community for generations to come.”

Berkeley completed the total renovation of its four branches in December, when the new West Branch building opened. The renovations, paid for by $26 million in bond funds and donations to the Berkeley Public Library Foundation, have been a tremendous success, according to officials. There has been a 38% increase in attendance and circulation of materials since the branches reopened.

The old, cramped branches have been replaced by seismically safe, ADA accessible building with ample light and fresh air. There are new teen spaces, community meeting rooms, and more computers. The Tool Lending Library, with 2,500 tools available to borrow, moved into a larger and more efficient space at the South Branch. (Trivia question: What’s the most requested tool? Answer: A weed whacker.) The new, zero-net energy West Branch now has room for a computer lab and reading room for Berkeley Reads!, the city’s adult and family literacy program.

Branch hours were extended in December and the library recently unveiled a new and more user-friendly website.


Now library officials will turn their attention to the Central Branch. They have hired Noll & Tam architects to examine how the space inside the historic structure is allocated. Library officials hope to improve the building’s lighting, its placement of public computers, and its allocation of quiet and group studio areas, among other things. Library officials are asking Berkeley residents to fill out a community survey as part of their planning process. There will be two community meetings, one on April 16 and one on April 26, to solicit input on the new designs.

In the meantime, the Berkeley Public Library, the Friends of the Library, and the Berkeley Public Library Foundation have joined together to sponsor dozens of events that will celebrate the community and the way libraries can enhance a city’s cultural and literary life.  (Berkeleyside is a media sponsor of Branch Out!) There will be concerts, readings, and hands-on workshops throughout April at all of the library’s branches.

For a full list of events, visit the calendar on  the library’s website.

Here are some highlights:

Thursday, April 10, 12-1pm @ Central Library, 5th floor Art & Music

Celli@Berkeley is a group of cellists from the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, and performs all-cello arrangements of diverse repertoire, ranging from Villa-Lobos and Vivaldi to new compositions by local composers. This concert offers a wide variety of selections, from classical to popular.

Be There or Be Square Barn Dance
Friday, April 11, 6-8pm @ West Branch

All-ages are welcome and no dance experience necessary at this fun family event. Join caller Mavis McGaugh, fiddler Anne Goess and keyboardist Debra Tayleur for dancing or just listening. Complimentary Refreshments provided by Top Dog.

Berkeley Bay Festival
Saturday, April 12, 11am-4pm @ Shorebird Park

The Library comes to you to share information about our many renewable resource offerings, our free Tool Lending Library (FREE to Berkeley residents and property owners), free digital book, audiobook, magazine and music collections and the many resources our Library provides, including many resources accessible 24/7.

Standing on Sacred Ground
Sunday, April 13, 4-6pm @ Central Library

Join the library for a screening with filmmakers Toby McLeod and Jessica Abbe, in conversation with Alison Owings. In this four-part documentary series, narrated by Graham Greene, native people share ecological wisdom and spiritual reverence while battling a utilitarian view of land––and government megaprojects, consumer culture, competing religions, resource extraction and climate change. The episode shown at this event, “Islands of Sanctuary” focuses on the efforts of Native Hawaiians to restore the island of Kaho‘olawe after 50 years of military use as a weapons testing range, and of Aboriginal Australians to resist the destructive effects of a mining boom. The filmmakers will be on hand to discuss their project, led by Alison Owings, author of  Indian Voices: Listening to Native Americans..

A kid checks out the new computers at the December opening of the new West Branch library. Photo: Richard Friedman
A kid checks out the new computers at the December opening of the new West Branch library. Photo: Richard Friedman

Soji & the Afrobeat Band
Sunday, April 13, 7-8pm, doors open 6:30pm @ Central Library, 2nd floor Reading Room

Original compositions with infectious extended grooves are guaranteed to set your body in motion at this special after-hours event with Nigeria’s legendary guitar master and singer Adesoji “Soji” Odukogbe and his Afrobeat band, featuring guitars, percussion and horns. Soji was the lead guitarist for the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s world renowned Afrobeat band, and in the 1970’s Fela created this new hybrid dance music performed by large ensembles, synthesizing African- American musical forms of funk and jazz with West African highlife.The concert is complemented by the Central Library’s exhibition “African Roots of Jazz” featuring the paintings of Charles Curtis Blackwell on display on the 1st and the 5th floors.

Children’s Book Author Mac Barnett
Wednesday, April 16, 3:30-4:30pm @ North Branch

Mac Barnett has written fourteen very funny and slightly absurd children’s stories ranging from picture books like Oh No! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World to chapter books like the Brixton Brothers mystery series, and those that defy categorization like his newest, Battle Bunny, which the Bulletin for Children’s books called “a complexly layered work of comic genius.” Be prepared to laugh, as he reads from his books, answers questions and signs your books! For ages 5 and up.

Classical Art Songs with Marie Plette
Friday, April 18, 6:30-8pm @ Claremont Branch

Don’t miss our special after-hours concert when the stellar soprano Marie Plette joins us for an evening program of classical art songs by Debussy, Faure, Puccini and Verdi. Ms. Plette has sung at the Met, Seattle Opera,West Edge Opera and the Berkeley Rep. She will be accompanied by pianist Jonathan Khuner, the musical Director of West Edge Opera. Of her performance in the title role of Vanessa at Berkeley Rep, music critic Joshua Kosman wrote: “The performers – led by the superb soprano Marie Plette in the title role – had an opportunity to bring the audience directly into the world of the opera. It’s rare to encounter an opera done with such intimacy and emotional transparency, and the close quarters only helped.” Light refreshments will be served.

Poetry Past & Present: Denise Levertov, a Celebration of her Life & Poetry and Open Mic Session, with Susan Grifffin, Eavan Boland, Peter Dale Scott, and David Shaddock
Saturday, April 19, 2-4:30pm @ Central Library, Community Meeting Room, 3rd Floor.

Join us in honoring the recent publication of The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov (New Directions, 2013). Levertov was a poet, critic, former poetry editor for The Nation, and recipient of the Robert Frost Medal, among many other awards.The program will conclude with 5 minute open mic opportunities for audience volunteers to read one original poem plus one by a favorite poet. (Details here)

What Makes West Branch Library a Net Zero Energy Building?
Tuesday, April 22, 6-7pm @ West Branch

Come celebrate Earth Day by joining staff and the architect for the new West Branch, Gerard Lee, representing the design firm Harley Ellis Devereaux, to learn more about how Net Zero Energy buildings work, and the West Branch Library’s green design features.

The Gershwin Brothers and the Broadway Musical — Lecture and Music Program by Tim Holt
Wednesday, April 23, 6:30-8pm @ Claremont Branch

Love George and Ira? Join us as Mr. Holt performs, playing songs from the Gershwin canon, including ‘S Wonderful and Do Do Do, as well as selections from Porgy & Bess, and other works by the Gershwin team. Holt will discuss their contribution to American popular music and provide a behind-the-scenes look at how they crafted their music and words seamlessly together, and the work of other great composers from that era, including Yip Harburg (Somewhere Over The Rain- bow, Brother Can You Spare A Dime?), Jerome Kern (Ol’ Man River) and Irving Berlin (Cheek To Cheek).

Live Music with The Hieroglyphics
Friday, April 25, 6:30-8pm @ South Branch

Enjoy Positive Hip-Hop music by this legendary Bay Area Musical act, plus a DJ spinning and mixing tracks. Refreshments provided. Open to all ages with a special welcome to teens/young adults and their families.

Off the Grid @ North Berkeley BART station
Every Sunday in April, 5-8pm

Berkeley Public Library will get your mobile device connected to the library so you can read or listen to FREE e-books, magazines, and streaming music from the library! Connect with our mobile hotspot @Off the Grid.

Find Library-related Geocaches!
All Month

Each library location in Berkeley, including temporary locations and other original sites, have their own hidden cache in Berkeley! Geocachers can find the sites by looking at the geocache map, or by searching Librarian@North on the app or site.

The South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library opened in May 2013. Photo: Richard Friedman
The South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library opened in May 2013. Photo: Richard Friedman


African Roots of Jazz, The Art of Charles Curtis Blackwell
On view April 1-20 during library hours @ Central Library, 1st and 5th floors

Bay Area artist Charles Curtis Blackwell’s paintings & drawings explore themes of Africa and the jazz aesthetic. His colorful abstract paintings capture the moods and movement of musicians and the essence of live jazz performances, juxtaposed with his other inspiration in the rituals and masks of Africa.

Berkeley in the 1960s
On view April 1-30 during library hours @ Central Library

Berkeley has a well-founded reputation of being a ruckus place of social change and experimentation. Displayed at the Central Reference Desk on computer monitors, this virtual exhibit show- cases 24 digital copies of psychedelic 1960s and 70s era rock posters from the Berkeley History Room’s collection of posters.Another monitor will display the classic film Berkeley in the Sixties.

Berkeley Public Library’s History of Technology & Change
On view April 15-30 during library hours @ Central Library
Location: Front Window display case and flat cases on 2nd Floor

Come see historic tools and furniture commonly used by the Library in yesteryear, including antique typewriters, various library tools, card catalog draws, cards from the catalog, and antique accession books, including the #1 book of our collection Autocrat at the Breakfast table by Oliver Wendell Holmes—the reason we were originally known as the Holmes Public Library. Exhibit also includes pictures of the branches as they once appeared, and a display monitor of the beautiful buildings of today.

New $7.5 million West Branch to open on Sunday (12.13.14)
Berkeley Public Library South Branch: The Opening (05.13.2013)
Renovated Claremont library branch opens Saturday (05.03.12)
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)
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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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...