Berkeley Public Library to reopen some branches after 14-month closure

Patrons will be able to walk into the North Branch on May 28, the West Branch on June 7, and the Central Branch on June 15.

The North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library will be the first to reopen after being shuttered for 14 months. It will allow in-person browsing, computer use and check-outs starting May 28. Credit: Pete Rosos

After being shuttered for more than 14 months, the Berkeley Public Library will soon begin opening some of its branches for in-person services.

Library officials announced this morning that three branches — North, West and Central — will start allowing people to enter the buildings for book browsing, computer use, picking up holds and checking out books.

The North branch will open for these services on May 28, the West branch will reopen on June 7 and the first floor of the Central branch will reopen on June 15, according to a press release. Hours for these services will be Monday through Saturday, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“We built community online when we needed to and this helped us to expand access to our services in important ways,” said Tess Mayer, the director of library services, who had only been in the job for a few months when the pandemic hit. “But there is nothing like being inside the library, browsing books and making new discoveries. We are looking forward to being able to offer that experience again.”

Library officials and staff are continuing to meet with the city, labor unions, and public health officials to plan for additional indoor services and to reopen the three other branches: Claremont, Tarea Hall Pittman South and the Tool Lending Library. In the meantime, outdoor book pick-up will continue at those locations.

“This is the very first stage,” said Mayer. “We intend to continue introducing more services and more locations,”

The library, like all city buildings, shut down on March 16, 2020, after health officials declared a shelter-in-place order. It started to offer curbside pick-up in June as well as other offerings, including lending out Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hot-spots for a month at a time, personalized book picks by librarians and virtual programming. In recent weeks, the library has put out carts holding in-demand books near the outdoor checkout to allow for some browsing.

Those services will continue.

All patrons entering the library will be required to wear face masks in accordance with the city of Berkeley health guidelines, said Mayer. While there won’t be time limits on how long people will be able to browse for books, there will be occupancy limits at each branch.

Initially, only people using the computers will be able to sit down inside the branches, said Mayer. Those time slots run 50 minutes. Other patrons won’t be permitted to sit and work at library tables.

The library branches all have Wi-Fi hot spots that extend outside. The library has ordered tables and chairs it intends to set up in the area in front of the doors to the Central Branch to make patrons more comfortable, she said. While no firm date for that outdoor seating area has been fixed, Mayer said she hopes they will be set up by June 15.

The library will keep the community informed about further openings on its website, Facebook page, Instagram account and through its email, “Library Happenings.”  Patrons may also call 510-981-6100 for updates.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Cityside. Email: frances@citysidejournalism.org.