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Main Library gets grant for new flooring, lighting, elevator, other upgrades

on October 26, 2022

At the Main Library in Richmond, time seems to stand still. The two-story building’s glass façade — said to be the first of its kind for a public library in the United States — allows the sunlight to filter in but keeps the hustle and bustle of city life out.

With time-worn floor tiles and antiquated ceiling lights, the library makes very clear that it’s been around for a long time  — actually, since Harry Truman was president. Romanticization of historic buildings notwithstanding, the old library is clearly in need of renovation that is “absolutely critical to it staying open,” reference librarian Christopher Larsen said. 

In September, the city was awarded a $9.7 million California State Library Building Forward grant to address critical maintenance needs at the 73-year-old public library. 

Main Library
The Main Library is said to be the first glass-walled library building in the United States. (Tarini Mehta)

The city, which is required to match the grant, appropriated $3.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, $700,000 from library impact fees and $500,000 from the Capital Improvement Program.

For cities like Richmond, which is stretched for resources, a grant makes renovations possible, said Council member Claudia Jimenez. 

The exact timeline and details of the renovation plan have not been chalked out. Larsen said recently that the library staff had yet to see the grant packet and was not sure which renovations would be within the grant’s scope. As per the original plan, they hope to get the project completed by August 2024, he added.  

The library’s wishlist is pretty long: new fire alarm system, restroom renovation, air filtration, air conditioning, window and flooring replacement, new elevator, better lighting and an updated electrical system. 

As of now, most parts of Richmond’s Main Library do not have an electrical connection, so patrons cannot charge their laptops and other devices. Many of the library’s lights are no longer functioning and can’t be replaced because the bulbs for them are not made anymore, Larsen said. 

Without air filtration and conditioning systems, the Main Library has been unable to step in as a community safe space during crises like heat waves and wildfires in the way that many of its regional counterparts have. 

And then there are accessibility issues. The two-story library is serviced by a steep set of stairs and a single elevator that is notorious for regularly being out of service. It has three entrances — one without a ramp and another with a sub-standard ramp, Larsen explained. 

Regardless of its inadequacies, the Main Library holds a special place in the hearts of Richmond citizens. 

For Marvel Jackson, who has lived all 55 years of his life in Richmond, the library was “instrumental” in his youth and the place he still comes to when he needs to get work done. 

Kourtney Dixon, who just moved to Richmond from New Orleans, said the library is a quiet place to find solace as she looks for a job. 

Yolanda Nasseripourtowsi, a retired social worker, frequents the library to use the computer because the one she has at home keeps getting hacked, she said. 

According to librarian Lee Safran, people come to the library every day to get help with filling out online forms.

“In that sense, we’re almost part of the social work system. A lot of people don’t know how to use computers and we help them fill these important forms,” he said. “The library truly is a community center.”

Main Library
Some floor tiles at the Main Library in Richmond are loose and need replacement. (Tarini Mehta)

Over the last few decades, books have turned into Kindles and catalogs have evolved into online databases. But the library’s role as a community space has remained unchanged. 

“It’s been around a long time and I’m glad it’s still standing because the community needs it,” Jackson said. 

With the renovations, the city hopes more residents will become familiar with the library’s resources and that the library can offer more of what the community needs. 

The Main Library, at 325 Civic Center Plaza, is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. 

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Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

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