WALKING INTO THE brand new, shiny clean Pleasant Hill Library on Saturday morning, the sensation was almost overwhelming.
It was the glorious new library smell of thousands of books, just waiting to be opened.
That the community has been waiting impatiently for the new library is an understatement. The festivities outside the new building at the corner of Oak Park Boulevard And Monticello Avenue began at 10 a.m. Dignitaries cut the ribbon and the front doors opened to the masses around 10:30.
People were already lined up when Pleasant Hill’s Community Relations Manager Geoff Gillette arrived at 8:45 a.m. to start his busy day.
“I had a guy drive up yesterday and ask if he could come in,” Gilette said. “I had to say no.” The doorkeepers could only let in 600 people at a time. So — like a Hollywood club — once it hit capacity, the person at the door could only let people in when others left. The estimate, by noon, was more than 2,500 visitors, with five hours of opening day to go.
“I love it,” said Louann Ginn, the very first person to return a borrowed book (from the city’s temporary library annex) to the new library. “You can see by the attendance it’s very popular already. This is fantastic.”
Just for the record, the first book returned was “West with Giraffes,” by Lynda Rutledge.
Across the street from the old library that closed in 2020 after more than 50 years, the city’s new $33 million gem was publicly funded by voter-passed Measure K in 2016.
Bright, open and airy
It’s bright, open and airy, not unlike a modern high-end museum or gallery. Steven D. Chaitow, a principal for the library’s design firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, said it was designed with a specific goal.
“It’s a welcome inside (message); It says “Please come in here,’” said Chaitow, who called the opening “an emotional moment.”
Chaitow said libraries have the same challenges as other community attractions or businesses in 2022. They have to offer more.
“We have to make it a want, and this community obviously wants it,” Chaitow said. “Libraries are so much more now; They’re community centers. It says ‘This is your place,’ and that’s what we were going for.”
The new library features a kids’ activity yard with play sculptures and a magnetic play wall, a “messy maker” space designed to keep sound in and a “retreat” room,” keeping sound out, and an early literacy area for youngsters and their parents.
Desmond Pickens is a 9-year-old library connoisseur, who went right to work, grabbing “The Complete Visual Dictionary of Star Wars,” and finding a corner to dig in.
“It’s more futuristic than the old library,” Desmond said. “But I think everything should be more organized by topic. But I already grabbed three books.”
The library features a Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library store to buy books and merchandise, study rooms and an outdoor hangout area for kids. There’s a tech zone with a kiosk for checking out laptops and printing.
“This is so inspiring,” said local Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord). “Years ago, when we were trying to keep the library system together … we had a lot of people say ‘Oh, libraries are a thing of the past. You don’t need libraries. Don’t build libraries.”
“But every time you open a library in the United States of America, and particularly in Contra Costa, it gets used. Readership goes up. People come.”
A welcoming place
The county’s adult literacy program, Project Second Chance, has an office in the library. Acting Program Manager Megan Brown said the location ideal, because “people feel welcome here.”
“It’s really interesting, people think of reading, they think of a library. But as libraries have evolved, they’re community centers, instead of just book depositories. They’re places of ideas, and classes, and learning,” Brown said.
The east side of the building has big windows with views of Grayson Creek and a path near the Contra Costa Canal Trail.
The library is powered by state-of-the-art Tesla solar panels as a Net Zero Energy building, meaning it won’t produce more greenhouse gases than it takes from the environment. Under the main floor are hundreds of feet of piping for hot and cool water to help regulate indoor temperature, as well as skylights overhead that can stay open on hot summer nights to make sure the place isn’t too stuffy the next morning.
It also has “Nelis Nook,” a special reading room, dedicated to the memory of Martin Nelis, the longtime city public information officer, who died after being struck by a truck in 2018 in Lafayette.
“This is his project,” said Aidan Maguire, in the room named for his father. “Measure K was his baby. I went knocking on doors with him to get it passed. He wanted to build a community here. He was a passionate supporter, and he’s not here for it. Or maybe he is …”
“It’s hard to come out to the East Bay for me,” said Maguire, who lives in San Francisco. “But maybe this is a new beginning.”