The exterior of the colorful, stucco, Main Library building, with a bus whizzing past it.
The Main Library was designed in the 1930s and built in 1951, when Oakland's population was much smaller. Credit: Amir Aziz

Each day, around 500 people visit the Oakland Main Library to check out books, use computers, peruse old maps in the History Center, get help with taxes and housing, and learn how to crochet.

Library community workshop
Where: 816 98th Ave.
When: Thurs., July 13, 6 p.m.

But the World War II-era downtown building is far too small to support all of those visitors and activities, experts say, and it’s sustained serious wear and tear over the decades. Last year, the City Council voted to spend $600,000 on a feasibility study on the site’s future, looking into expanding the 14th Street library, rebuilding it, or moving it somewhere else.

As part of that process, the public can weigh in on what they want from their Main Library as it transforms. 

Two architecture firms conducting the feasibility study, EHDD and blinkLAB! architecture, are hosting a community workshop Thursday, July 13 at the East Oakland Boxing Association.

Facilitators will share more about the study and ask the public to provide input on what programs and services they’d like to see in the new Main Library. Community members will be asked to respond to prompts about how they feel when they’re at the library site, why they do or don’t visit the branch, and how the space could better represent Oakland. 

“This workshop and the feasibility study will serve as a way for the community to organize and build power around a collective vision,” the organizers wrote.

Members of the public can register for the free event online.

It wouldn’t be a library redesign without a storytelling element. At a second workshop on Aug. 5, participants will learn about the building blocks of a narrative, then share personal stories about “what a new branch library means to you and your community.” These stories will help inform a video that BAVC Media will make as part of the feasibility study.

The Main Branch isn’t the only upcoming site of major change throughout the Oakland Public Library system. When the City Council approved that study, they also voted to spend $400,000 studying the creation of a brand new branch in the Hoover-Durant neighborhood of West Oakland, which has lacked a library since one shuttered in 1981.

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.