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.”