North Berkeley Library reopens for in-person visits on May 28, 2021.
Visitors line up around the block to enter the North Berkeley Library after it reopens for in-person visits on May 28, 2021. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

After a year of pandemic closures, Berkeley community members stepped into the North Branch library to cheers and applause Friday afternoon with big grins under masks, and totes in hand to load up with books.

The North Branch on The Alameda (at Hopkins Street) is the first to open up its doors in the city after almost 14 months without regular service, and outdoor pick-ups only.

The North Branch library will be open from 2-6 p.m. Monday to Friday, and west and central locations are set to open on June 7 and 15. The other three branches will continue outdoor book pick-up service until further notice.

The building was abuzz Friday afternoon as children tottered around with more titles than they could hold, adults browsed aisles scouting for new favorites and others admired the grand arched windows surrounding the stacks as they scooped up dozens of awaiting holds.

Though many of the visitors had been visiting the library throughout the pandemic to pick up and drop off books outside, they said the process of meandering through the stacks in person, and leaving space for discoveries, was a much-missed treat.

Thirteen-year-old Maya Dang was systematically moving through the North Branch library on Friday and paused to talk to Berkeleyside with a heavy tote full of books, including multiple fantasy titles and J.R.R. Tolkien’s, “Return of the King.” The thick title is the final volume in the “Lord of the Rings” series, but she was unbothered by the fact that she hadn’t yet read the others.

“I just got into reading more during the pandemic. There was nothing fun to do, and then I heard that the library was operating services again, to check out books,” Dang said. She was excited when she got the email announcing the branch reopening — and she’ll be back soon.

“I already have 23 books on hold,” she said proudly.

Tess Mayer, the director of library services, had only been working at the library system for a couple of months when the pandemic hit. She was busy making sure the reopening was a smooth operation Friday, but said it was hard to not to get emotional seeing people in the building again.

“It’s just so sweet,” Mayer said. “After over a year, it’s really a huge milestone. So it’s a happy day.”

Ket, Naomi and Eli Kornbluth were greeted with cheers when they walked into the North Berkeley Library for an in-person visit on May 28, 2021. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli
Eli Kornbluth wrangles a large stack of books, including fantasy and graphic novels, that he’s checking out with his mom and sister at the library on May 28, 2021. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli
María and Rosaelena Jaramillo strolled around the neighborhood and had lunch while they waited for the branch to welcome visitors Friday morning. When the doors finally opened that afternoon, Rosaelena dashed up the stairs cheering, “It’s open again! It’s open again!” Credit: Supriya Yelimeli
Linda Jia moved to Berkeley during the pandemic, and stopped by on opening day to finally get a Berkeley libary card, in addition to the Oakland and San Francisco cards she already holds. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli
Staff at the North Berkeley Library had their hands full with visitors after they reopened for in-person visits on May 28, 2021. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli
A guest at the North Berkeley library collects books on cooking, travel and history after the location reopens for in-person visits on May 28, 2021. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli
Tess Mayer, the director of library services, had only been working at the library system for a couple months when the pandemic hit. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli
The North Berkeley Library will be open from Monday through Saturday from 2-6 p.m., and close on Sundays. Masks are required and guests are welcome to browse. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...