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A simple library card can open an incredibly vast range of possibilities in 2022. Especially in Berkeley.

Think tools: A Berkeley resident can use their Berkeley library card to check out an air quality monitor, electric fryer, ice cream maker, Instant Pot, lawn mower, leaf blower, orchard ladder, soldering iron, Sous Vide Precision Cooker, table saw and countless additional home repair and cooking tools.

Think computers: A Berkeley library card offers access to Chromebooks and hotspot kits for home use.

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Think online newspapers: Keep up with the news in the New York Times, Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle, all of which are available free with your library card.

Think downloading and streaming: You can download e-books and stream music and movies.

All of that is available through one website: https://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/.

Or go to one of Berkeley’s five libraries and do even more. Library staff have worked especially hard maintaining community services through this challenging time. With masks and social distancing required, all locations are now open, while outdoor pickup continues to be available upon request (the library’s disability services program can provide items by mail).

In 2020, the Berkeley Public Library received a five-star rating — the highest rating awarded to public libraries — from the national Library Journal. (Photo courtesy Melinda Young Stuart)

Staff is back, after libraries closed early in the pandemic and workers were called upon to help with other city services, including overseeing shower programs for the unhoused population, aiding in the city’s communication outlets and assisting in the city’s Office of Economic Development.

Meanwhile, libraries adapted. Now, both in-person and streaming programs are available, ranging from family and musical story times, book clubs, tax help, tech help via Zoom, one-on-one lawyer appointments — the list is seemingly endless.

Innovative programs such as Teen Taco Tuesdays and Chai Before School reach out to engage Berkeley High School students. Sketching groups, fruit tree pruning demonstrations and additional events show the library is not confined within its four walls. Thousands of patrons currently attend library events and programs (see the list at https://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/events).

Barbara Bent, a library aide at the Berkeley Public Library, shelves books in the children’s area at the Central Library in Berkeley in September. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

Even when staff shortages during the pandemic meant a few library spaces were temporarily unavailable, staff worked around closures to provide community members with library items they needed.

Libraries are important enough in Berkeley that the city has two community library organizations that have been active for decades, providing vital support to the library and its staff.

Roz Hardy is the former supervising librarian at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Library in San Francisco. She is currently board president of the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library.

For close to 70 years, the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library has supported the library’s community programs. Through its two bookstores and online sales, the Friends raise funds for the summer reading program, story times, music, dance, science, technology events and more. The group also offers scholarships to staff pursuing library degrees or other courses to aid their careers. For information on the group, including its two bookstores, go to https://www.berkeleylibraryfriends.org/.

The Berkeley Public Library Foundation is also a crucial source of support for the library, raising funds for innovations, building improvements and other projects not covered by bond measures and taxes. This includes the newly renovated first and second floors at the Central Library, the bright new teen space and the innovative kitchen accessories and fabulous tools in the Tool Lending Library. The foundation also funds the “Reading Is Instrumental” online story time series, accessed on the library’s Facebook page at facebook.com/BerkeleyPublicLibrary.

This year, the library foundation is celebrating its 25th anniversary with two major events. The first was the virtual “Library Love Letters” last Saturday and Sunday. The second is the foundation’s Annual Authors Dinner, taking place May 21. Find more information about both events on the its website, at https://bplf.org/.

And all five branches are open, with staff eager to see you. Berkeley library branches are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays (and closed Sundays).