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Cramped South Berkeley Library Considers Proposal to Relocate

By Judith Scherr
Friday June 08, 2007

Walk into the South Berkeley Library and you practically bump into the four computers near the entry way. If you want to browse the history section, you’ve got to move to a narrow hallway to find what you’re looking for.  

Because of its construction, the old building, at Russell Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, cannot grow up or out, Jeri Ewart, who heads the South Berkeley branch told the Daily Planet during an interview Wednesday at the library. 

“And we cannot grow in terms of technology,” Ewart said, pointing to the limited space in which current wiring allows the library to hook up computers.  

On Saturday, the Board of Library Trustees is holding a meeting to explore a move to the new Ed Roberts campus. Trustees say that the meeting is intended to get input from the community into the proposal. It is slated to go from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2024 Ashby Ave. 

“We want to get a feel about what people in the community might be feeling” about the proposal, Ewart said. 

The Ed Roberts Campus (ERC) slated to begin construction within a year in the east Ashby BART station parking lot, will house a number of organizations serving the disabled, including the Independent Living Center. Those working on the ERC invited the library to explore housing a new South Berkeley library on the second floor of the building. 

Ewart explained that it would cost less to become part of the ERC project than to build a new library—the space would likely be owned in a way similar to a condominium, Ewart said. And, it would give the library the opportunity to partner with the disabled community. 

“The library could provide special services,” Ewart said. “It could be unique.” 

The move would give the popular tool-lending library an opportunity to expand, using the current library building. The community room could remain a resource for the community.  

Trustee Ying Lee cautioned that the plans “are at a very preliminary stage.” The library board will also use the opportunity of exploring a new building to look at groups of people, such as the Latino population, that take little advantage of the library’s services. 

Tangentially, Lee said, the library directors are looking at the possibility of instituting a bookmobile to serve southwest Berkeley, an area that has no library services. It’s an expensive proposition that might be shared with Oakland or Emeryville, Lee said. 

Councilmember Darryl Moore added that the bookmobile, which would serve his southwest Berkeley district, is a “priority of the trustees.” He said he is excited about the possibility of doubling the library space at the ERC site. 

Councilmember Max Anderson, in whose district the South branch library sits, called the possible move a “net gain” and south Berkeley neighborhood activist Laura Menard said she is “thrilled” with the idea. It will be larger and provide more computer access, especially needed for neighborhood youth who don’t have computers, she said. 

In a recent letter to the Daily Planet, Christopher Adams, vice president of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation, was upbeat about the possible move, but pointed to the possible downside of traffic and parking problems.  

And Jody Bush, a former deputy library director and neighbor of the south Berkeley library, said the major downside would be moving into a building that did not serve southwest Berkeley.  

However, she said she realized that the costs for constructing a new library farther west would be cost prohibitive. And she asked how the new library at the Ed Roberts campus would be funded. 

That’s a question many are asking. 


Photograph by Judith Scherr.  

Jeri Ewart, librarian of the south Berkeley branch, stands in the narrow hallway of the history section.