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Oakland library begins a fresh chapter at a new location

Ashleyanne Krigbaum

As I walk into the new Piedmont Branch of the Oakland Public Library, I see what looks like a library: librarians quietly working, people reading, and there are walls filled with books.

Branch manager, Jenera Burton has been working on the relocation of the library for about two years.

“Just in a couple of days, we got this whole place together. I feel a lot more relaxed now that we're open to the public and people are in and browsing and happy,” says Burton.

This “whole place” though, is not very big. Nor, from the outside, does it look like a library. It is a temporary building on the Piedmont Avenue Elementary School campus. Basically, it’s a double-wide trailer.

Burton says, “We had a couple of options, but this one was the most economical.” 

The rent in the new location is approximately $1500 per month — basically one dollar per square foot. That is a great price for the Bay Area, but it is a lot more than the library was used to paying.

Previously, the library’s location was leased by the library from the adjacent Citibank for only $1 per month. In 2009, Citibank sold the entire lot, including the bank and the library to a private landlord. The new landlord raised the rent from $1 per month to almost $5,000, nearly a 500,000 percent increase. 

“It was not in our budget to pay quite that much in rent. So after that we started looking for a new solution,” says Burton.

On opening day, Burton gave me a tour of the new location. 

“I actually like this space,” Burton adds. “It's a little small, but it's well laid out. Right now we're sitting in the lounge, we've got six comfy chairs, we've never had comfy chairs before. Behind us we have a public restroom, another thing that we never had before, so I hope that people appreciate that.”

And they surely will. As far as temporary buildings go, this one has style. Bright, avocado green trimmings, and orange chairs that remind you of a hip cafe rather than a city building. 

And really, patrons seem to be just pleased that the library is there at all. Patrons like Michaela Popoff.

“I think the space is great," Popoff says. "I understand there's a bathroom here, which is fabulous, if it's true. It's farther than the other one was to my house, but I'm grateful that we have a library at all. That we haven't lost it.”

And they won’t. The popular Piedmont branch has a five-year lease. Though the librarians have made the most out of this temporary space, they are actively looking into finding a new, permanent home.