Library uses van to provide service to community

Andrew Kuo/Staff

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Outside of a purple van, eager patrons wait with books in hand to make use of their temporary library.

Due to recent renovations of the South and West Library branches, the Berkeley Public Library is providing a service called the BranchVan, which is stationed in the neighborhoods of the closed libraries and allows for patrons to return or pick up books, audio books and movies. There’s even a small browsing collection on the van.

“We’ve been really glad to offer some level of service to the community during this disruption,” said Sarah Dentan, neighborhood and children’s services manager of the Berkeley Public Library.

This service is a part of the Branch Library Improvement Program, which began in 2009 as a result of Measure FF and has provided a $26 million bond to fund the renovation of the four library branches.

“Citizens passed a bond measure that would allow renovations to make libraries more fit for purpose (and) more energy-efficient,” Dentan said.

Using its Facebook and website, the library tries to keep the community up-to-date as to where the van will be. The public library website also has weekly updates on the progress of renovation.

“It is an effective way of allowing people … to continue to have access in the neighborhood to the library and its collections.” Douglas Smith said, deputy director of library services at the Berkeley Public Library.

On days with good weather, the BranchVan regularly sees long lines, said Uma Paul, a worker on the BranchVan. Many kids often come from the MLK Jr. Youth Services Center, where the van is substituting for the South Branch, Paul added. They pick up books and read outside on the playground.

“It’s a little more intimate now,” said Raylene Ezike, another staff member.

She said customers feel that they can linger longer at the van, chatting with workers and even getting book recommendations. In fact, Paul and Ezike feel that the community really appreciates its library on wheels.

“Sometimes they give us treats,” said Paul, referring to patrons who sometimes bring warm snacks to the staff in the winter weather.

Anne Huang, a patron, said that in the absence of the branch library, she has a greater appreciation for the closeness of local libraries and their importance to the community.

“I love (the BranchVan),” said Sula Culver, another patron of the BranchVan. “I appreciate seeing the faces I know from the library.”

The library, however, still is not sure of the BranchVan’s future after renovation is complete. According to Dentan, the South Branch Library should be opened sometime this spring and the West Branch in the early fall.

“We are excited to reopen our branches to the public,” said Dentan.

Contact Tara Hurley at [email protected].