The Berkeley Public Library has been a bedrock of civic and intellectual pursuits, sustaining and improving the quality of life in Berkeley and the surrounding communities. The Library was first established in 1893 in downtown Berkeley because community leaders were concerned about young men spending too much time in the local pool hall. It featured oil heating and lighting and 264 books. Today, the volunteer-driven Berkeley Public Library Foundation is building a new library of which the community can be proud.
The 18-member Board of Directors all actively volunteer their time, energy and dollars to make the community’s dream come true. They read to the children, table events, host parties, act as ambassadors in the community, and govern the organization. The volunteer Board has built this opportunity into an organization that will continue to support the library for years to come. The community of Berkeley loves its library and uses it more than any library in California per capita. They have over 153,000 cardholders and receive over 1.4 million visits annually. The number of library users continues to expand, as over 1,500 individuals sign up for new library cards each month.
Berkeley last built a library in 1931, but by 1996 it had become antiquated, cramped, inaccessible and seismically unsafe. After years of planning, volunteers led a successful campaign, resulting in the approval of a $30 million bond measure to renovate and expand. Legally, however, the funds could not be used to furnish and equip the new library. So, in 1997, the same group of dedicated volunteers formed the nonprofit Berkeley Public Library Foundation to raise $3.7 million to complete the project. Over 5,000 people have contributed to the campaign since that time and over $3.5 million has been raised.
When the new library reopens, it will have more than doubled in size. A new 150-seat Community Meeting Room will host free concerts and book readings. It will also provide adequate space for community dialogue. In addition to that, the Children’s Room will triple in size and boast a new Activity Room and Teen Center. The library will bridge the digital divide by providing over 100 Internet-access computers to the public. For the first time in history, the Library will also be seismically safe and completely accessible to disabled community members. None of this could have been a reality without the volunteers of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation.