Downtown Library Renovation and Expansion Projects
Did you know that the original Downtown Library opened at its current location in January 1909? In the late 1950s, local architect Gordon A. Phillips was hired to design a 6,000 square-foot addition that would more than double the Library’s size. San Rafael quickly outgrew the first library expansion and the next step was to enclose the parking area under the 1950s/60s addition. When the new space opened in 1976, library director Vivian R. Smith called it a “short-term solution to a long-growing need for more library space.”
A more detailed history of the Downtown Library building can be found here.
In July 2006, the Pickleweed Library branch opened as part of the Albert J. Boro Community Center, providing an additional 2,000 square feet of library space to serve East San Rafael. Most recently, in 2018, the Library opened a pop-up location at the Northgate Mall which has become an important asset to the community.
Need for an improved and expanded Downtown Library
Given the age, size, and condition of the Downtown Library, there has been significant interest in expanding and upgrading the Downtown Library. The City has worked with various groups to perform needs assessments and studies to understand the options for developing a modern library that meets the needs of the San Rafael community. These reports, dating back to 2003, can be found on the City website.
The studies highlight the deficiencies in the current Carnegie building, which include significant infrastructure needs as well as a lack of space. Both the Group 4 Service and Facilities Vision (2017) and the Noll & Tam Facilities Planning Study (2019) show that square footage of library space per resident in San Rafael lags significantly behind other cities of similar size (see graph below).
Graph taken from Noll & Tam’s Library Facilities Planning Study (2019)
In 2022, the City successfully secured two California State Library grants to address some of the most pressing infrastructure and life safety issues in the Downtown Library building. This includes replacing the roof, upgrading plumbing and electrical to meet code, installing a fire alarm system, ADA improvements, repairing the HVAC system, and some modest design improvements to enhance the patron experience. The preliminary designs for this project were presented to the Library Board of Trustees at the July 2023 meeting. Construction is expected to begin in late 2024.
While this project is critical to ensuring that the current Downtown Library building remains operational, it will not address the need for additional, modern library space to better serve the needs of San Rafael’s current and future residents.
The 2019 Facilities Planning Study highlights a number of options for increasing library space in San Rafael and for an expanded Downtown Library. The options that the report identifies include an expansion at the current location and a joint library and community center at Albert Park. Staff have been exploring these options, evaluating public support, and collaborating with San Rafael Public Library support groups.
One critical support group is the San Rafael Public Library Foundation, which was founded in 2004 with a mission to build a library for the new Millennium. Since then, the Library Foundation has attracted many friends, directors, and volunteers – all working together to make the dream of a beautiful new public library for our community a reality. Visit the Library Foundation website to learn more about their current efforts.