Renovated Potrero Library Receives Rave Reviews
By Michael Condiff
Less than a week after the March 6 reopening of the Potrero Library, branch manager Lia Hillman sat at the front reference desk, pushed a loose strand of hair from her eyes and took a deep breath. “This is our first lull,” she said, glancing around the children’s section, where only a handful of adults and preschoolers surveyed the shelves. “It’s been non-stop since we opened the doors.” An unofficial headcount suggests that more than 5,000 people visited the renovated library in the week following its reopening. Roughly half of those visitors walked through the building on its first afternoon, after a ceremony that included Chinese dancers and speeches from Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma and District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell.
“The opening was really wonderful,” said Hillman. “Everyone was just amazed; the transformation is so radical from what was here before. It’s basically a brand new building.” “We’re so excited about it,” said Anna Abeyta, an Excelsior District resident who was visiting with her six-month-old grand-niece and Potrero Hill resident Kaiya Busfield. “This is her first time in a library – and I don’t think she knows what to make of it – but it’s such a beautiful space. We’ll be coming here a lot, I’m sure.”
Located at 1616 20th Street, near Connecticut, the library closed for renovation in 2008. Its $5.4 million facelift included a thirty-three percent increase in space, accommodating more than 36,000 books, CDS, DVDs and reference materials on two levels. “For some reason, people have assumed that because of the renovation, we have fewer books,” said Hillman. “Actually, we have more. They’re just spread out over a greater area than before.”
The renovation was funded by a $105.9 million bond measure passed in 2000, and was the third to last of a sixteen part Branch Library Improvement Program, which also included a new Mission Bay branch. Designed by the San Francisco Department of Public Works Bureau of Architecture, the rebuild included seismic retrofitting and accessibility improvements to meet American Disability Act requirements. The branch was also modernized, with express self-checkout machines, wireless Internet and fourteen public computers spread throughout the adult, teen and children’s sections.
A new elevator and an additional staircase were added to access a new program room, which will host library classes and events, such as Hillman’s popular Thursday-morning Story Time, which drew an overflow crowd of more than one hundred and twenty for its first installment in the new space. “And we had to turn some away,” said Hillman, who hosted the weekly event at St. Theresa’s Church during the renovation. “There just wasn’t room for any more.”
The facility’s most distinguishing characteristic, however, is its glass back wall. Both library levels provide striking views of the City skyline, from AT&T Park on the east to beyond the Golden Gate Bridge on the west. According to Abby Bridge, who was hired as a librarian two weeks before the Potrero branch closed in 2008 and spent the past two years working out of the Sunset branch, some visitors have spent hours simply staring out at the City. “They’ll grab a book and sit down to read, but it’s hard not to look out; it’s such a unique view,” Bridge said.
“It’s amazing,” said twenty-six year old Heidi Holmquist, a student at the next-door American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, who was perched in one of the cushioned seats that line the second-tier window. “It’s such a nice place to come and study. I’m actually hoping not too many people find out about it. I’d like to keep it to myself as long as I can.” “It’s such a special place. Just the fact that you can look through it from the street to the skyline…it’s just so Potrero,” commented Maxwell
And it wouldn’t be Potrero, Hillman said, without community members being quick to point out ways in which the new library could be improved. “On the first day, I had a guy come up and ask: ‘When are you going to expand?’” laughed Hillman. “Expand where? There’s no place to go but up.”
The Potrero branch library is open Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, noon to 8 p.m.; Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 1 to 6 p.m.; and Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m. It’s closed on Mondays.
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