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A mother with long gray hair and a T-shirt that says PANZA with a heart sits at a brown table with her son, who has short dark hair and is flipping through a picture book at the library.

Upgrades to make Richmond’s Main Library more inviting to community

on October 2, 2023

Cristal Banagan, a mother of four and longtime Richmond resident, thinks public libraries are becoming “obsolete.”

None of her four kids has visited the library. 

“At the stage we are with technology in this world, they’re unnecessary” Banagan said. “And these kids, that’s what they know.” 

Cristal Banagan and son. Camrin act silly in Civil Center Plaza. The child is squinting and waving his right hand in a blue T-shirt and his mother is laughing in a Black T-shirt.
Cristal Banagan and son Camrin (Shreya Jaikumar Menon)

That, however, may not be true, now that Richmond is introducing reforms to help people engage more with the library’s resources through new programs and community outreach. 

The management is drafting plans to renovate and upgrade the Main Library under “The Building Forward Project.” The project is supported by a $9.7 million grant from the California State Library. The city is contributing 50% matching funds, and the City Council approved an additional $15 million.

The average visitor count at the Main Library is 1,000 to 1,100 per week, after a recent increase in operational hours at every location.

The library also is working on getting the bookmobile back on the road by the next school year. The bookmobile’s purchase will come through a $250,000 grant from the California State Library, said Christopher Larsen administrative librarian at Richmond’s Main Library. 

To help students of low-income families and those struggling academically, the library is partnering with the Bay Area Tutoring Association to provide free homework help after school four days a week, through a grant from the Richmond Fund For Children And Youth. Larsen believes this is one way of getting students to engage with library activities. 

A man on the left in long-sleeved buttoned-down shirt and glasses and a tie holds his left arm outstretched and a woman opposite him in a red and blue striped, long-sleeved top outstretched her right arm, both pointing to the Richmond Public Library door.
Christopher Larsen, administrative librarian, and Kate Eppler, deputy director of community services, outisde the Main Library. (Shreya Jaikumar Menon)

Kate Eppler, deputy director of community services, said the library is about to launch an extensive community outreach. “We want to include as many voices of the community as we can about what they would like to see in the renovated library and what services are important to them,” she said.  

Richmond resident Kate Frometa believes libraries and physical books are vital for young children, and a better option for them than the internet.

“There’s all sorts of information that certainly little kids aren’t supposed to be reading. They’re not supposed to be on screens that much,” Frometa said. “The library is also a place for community to gather, and it’s truly for everyone.”

She and Banagan agree that if the library could include books in various languages and cultures, people might be more inclined to read and visit more often. 

Richmond library officials say they are working on updating their book collection to help everyone in the community feel represented and seen. 

“The main active language that we collect in, other than English, is Spanish, both in adults and children. I think going forward, one of our things is going to be trying to get a better sense of what the community needs and wants in other languages,” Larsen said. 

“We are trying not to do the thing of simply assuming and putting money into collecting books that might not be used.”

Eppler believes the library has something to offer everyone. People can bring their children to storytime, come and use the computer, or simply have a quiet place to collect their thoughts. 

”We try to be a friendly face all around the community and hope this presence helps inspire people to come and visit,” Eppler said. “Everyone is welcome at the library.”

Information about “The Building Forward Project” and a survey to get the community’s input on the project is on the city’s website.

(Top Photo: Kate Frometa and her son Lucas Song spend time at the Richmond Main Library. By Shreya Menon)

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  1. Jason on October 4, 2023 at 7:46 pm

    The last time I went to the Richmond Main Library, it smelled of the homeless encampment camped out at all the tables inside the library. That was the moment I knew libraries as we knew them were done, they had become homeless shelters. If they want the general public to return to libraries, that is what they need to fix.

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