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Public Library Updates Design and Policy at Central Branch

Photograph by Sophia Whyte

Berkeley Public Library has a new common area and policies designed to bring in a new wave of people that otherwise might not have been at the library, especially high school students who want it to be more accessible and inviting.

The Commons is located on the first floor of the Berkeley Public Library’s Central Branch, just up the street from Berkeley High School (BHS). It is a remodel of space that previously was underused, said Kay Finney, a librarian at the Berkeley Public Library. Now, the new space has a variety of seating options to make it more comfortable, bright, and colorful. In response to visitor requests, there are also now charging stations for electronic devices and a laptop lending machine.

“The area now fills up quickly, especially after school. More and more BHS students are hanging out there,” Finney said. It’s also used to hold some evening events as well, such as a science program that was held there last week, she added.

The Commons has been in the works for quite awhile, as a response to long-standing requests from visitors for more comfortable seating, space to talk more freely, and more outlets to charge their devices, Finney said. The Berkeley Public Library Foundation “contributed $75,000 toward the Commons, which included a $15,000 grant from Bayer,” according to a library press release.

But there is more to come for the library. Finney said that The Commons is part of a larger plan to renovate other parts of the Central Branch, including an area specifically devoted to teens.

The library has been gathering input from teenagers about what they would want in such a space. This input found that teens would like it to be somewhat like what The Commons is now. For example, it will have comfortable seating, areas for quiet study and group work. However, something that isn’t in The Commons area is gaming, which could be a unique feature for the teen space that the library will start working on next year, according to Finney.

“The goal is to modernize and create a safe space that is flexible, useful and welcoming,” Finney said. “The new teen space will allow for expansion of our services and programming for teenagers. The reconfiguration also allows for improvements to the second-floor references area. These changes are slated to begin sometime next year.”

BHS Librarians said the new common area and other plans for the Berkeley Public Library are all good news for BHS students.

“I think the new redesign of the common space is really exciting, too, because I think it just will allow for more spaces for teens to hang out and congregate,” said Meredith Irby, a BHS librarian.

However, not all the changes for the library are physical.

One of the other new changes to the Berkeley Public Library was getting rid of late fees. The removal of late fees at the Berkeley Public Library went into effect in July.

This feature is not unique to public libraries. “That’s something school libraries have moved to over the last couple of years,” said Sarah Rosenkrantz, a BHS librarian. “If you actually lose the book then there is a fine to pay for it. But in terms of turning in things late, we totally wipe that out. And now that’s what the public library is doing as well.”

At the public library, Finney said that in general people are pleased by the removal of late fees. “I’ve seen fleeting looks of joy on the faces of people who learn they no longer owe fines. Teens seem especially relieved. The hope is to remove barriers to using the library,” Finney said.

The library will be holding a launch event for the new Commons area on Saturday, October 6, from 2 PM to 4 PM, and has said that everyone is invited.