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Our New Library Is Coming

01 October 2014 Written by  Liz Fuller, With Diane Alexander And Shirley Peck
Published in October 2014 Articles

I am the current manager of the Brentwood Library. 

We are about to celebrate a centennial, since in 1914 Brentwood became the first municipality in the area to build a library. The facility currently has more than 21,000 cardholders, which means that nearly a third of area residents have library cards, and more than 350 of them visit the library on a typical day. Our current operating budget is $1,104,485 plus an annual $223,000 subsidy from the City for staffing and operating costs. The library is closely integrated with the community and has partnerships with nearly 20 community organizations, such as the Brentwood Art Society, Liberty Adult Ed, the Teen Advisory Board, and the East Contra Costa Historical Society. Rumors of the death of traditional libraries have been circulating for years but the fact is that emerging information technologies have only added energy to libraries. The traditional library, as a hushed space filled with dusty books and a scattering of silent people has been replaced by a new experience of the library as a destination for people where they can meet up with others, attend gatherings of one kind or another, find robust connections with the Internet, as well as the traditional role as a source of hardcopy books, books on CD, periodicals, and DVDs. Family, children, and teen programs include the Local Author Workshop, our Winter Reading Program, the “Book Ends” Book Club, the CityRead Program, Open Mic, E-Reader Instruction & Training, and the Summer Reading Festival. Children’s programs include Lapsit Baby Storytime, Toddler Time, Pajama Storytime, and Picture Book Time. Teen Programs include a Teen Advisory Group, “Delicious” Crafts for Teens, Summer Quilting Workshops, and Zombie Survival Seminars.

Brentwood’s initial plans for library renovation quickly turned into a replacement project when a formal Needs Assessment revealed that no amount of renovation would enable our current cramped and deteriorating facility to do the job that needed to be done. The Planning Department is working with us. Gail Leech and Kwame Reed are heading up the project and coordinating needs assessment with the architect. They have a binder with an amazingly thorough description of the project’s current resources, projected needs, and detailed plans. Two million dollars have been set aside for the project; we need eight more. It seems a daunting sum, but the challenge of raising the funds is being attacked from several sides. The City Finance Department is coming up with funding strategies.

Shirley Peck and Diane Alexander are working closely with me on project planning.  Shirley is a retired dean of learning resources at Fremont’s Ohlone College and is currently serving as Brentwood’s Representative to the Contra Costa Library Commission. Diane is the president of the Friends of the Library, an advocacy group with about 100 members. The friends have been hard at work for almost 35 years, raising funds through ongoing book sales in order to finance programs and to purchase new books and materials. Last year 50 volunteers directly donated 1,756 hours of service, which equaled more than $32,000 that otherwise would have been paid in wages.

Brentwood residents are underserved by the current library facilities. We lack sufficient space for our collections even though we are shelving items at a density of more than 10 volumes per square foot, which is almost twice as high as the average density in the other county libraries. The 20,000 square feet in the new library will provide more than three times the space of our current facility. The facility will not only have greatly expanded shelf spaces, but plans include a list of strategic initiatives that will become feasible including increased emphasis on children and teen programs, plus the promotion of reading and lifelong learning. The new facility will embrace the modern technical innovations that are changing the ways libraries do business. More computers will be added.

Comfortable spaces will be made available for solitary reading and reflection, as well as larger spaces for such things as local author workshops, open mic events, and children’s story times. The new library will have the additional benefit of actually looking like a library, as opposed to the current facility that is easily mistaken for a storefront. Many long-term residents don’t even know that Brentwood has a library.

The new library will accommodate a growing number of users, since the population of the city is projected to increase. By 2035 there will be 77,500 residents, an increase of 70 percent, which is nearly three times the projected increase for Contra Costa County as a whole. At thatpoint, according to benchmarks, our library holdings should be about 155,000 volumes.

We are looking for residents to get involved. A library foundation and a city ad hoc committee have been formed to plan and coordinate fundraising. George Bernard Shaw observed that reading made Don Quixote a gentleman. A good library has a refining and humanizing effect upon any community. Brentwood residents are fortunate for the civilizing influence that the new library will bring.

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