San Rafael Public Library

Project for New and Improved San Rafael Public Library Facilities

History of Public Library Facilities in San Rafael

The original Downtown Library opened at its current location on January 9, 1909. As early as 1915, the Library Trustees reported that “The Library has outgrown its bookspace, and further accommodation is required.” (“Library Trustees Report to Council.” Marin Journal, Volume 53, Number 33. August 19, 1915.)

By the late 1950s, the San Rafael community had unquestionably outgrown its library. Local architect Gordon A. Phillips was hired to design a 6,000 square foot addition that would more than double the library’s size. He placed the addition on the north façade, removed the exterior steps and second floor entry, and altered the windows in the Carnegie building to match the new addition. The expanded library was dedicated on February 28, 1960.

Once again, San Rafael outgrew its library and the next step was to enclose the parking area under the 1960 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.” The Pickleweed Library branch opened as part of the Albert J. Boro Community Center in July of 2006.

A Long-Standing Need for Better Facilities

The idea that the current City of San Rafael library facilities are insufficient is not a new one. The City has been highlighting the need for newer, bigger facilities since 1970. Having completed numerous needs assessments, studies, and facility analyses for the last 47 years, the most recent evaluation from Group 4 Architecture affirms both the community demand and the practical need for more spacious, modern library facilities to serve the residents of San Rafael.

Find studies dating back to 2003: New Library Facilities Studies and Documents

Recent Work

In 2004, the San Rafael Public Library Foundation was founded with a mission to build a library for the 21st century, to furnish and maintain it, and to secure its future for generations to come. Since then, the Foundation has attracted friends, directors, and volunteers – all working together to make the dream of a beautiful new public library a reality.

In January 2015, the City Council appointed a New Library City Council Subcommittee to work with the Library staff and Library Foundation toward this goal.

In June 2016, Group 4 Architecture analyzed the facilities of the Library as they exist today, identified the gap between what the Library has and what it needs based on library industry standards, conducted pop-up community input sessions on priorities for library services, conducted an extensive community survey (funded by the San Rafael Public Library Foundation) to assess community priorities and needs, and conducted preliminary assessments of potential site options.

Analysis of Current Facilities

The analysis of the Downtown Library facility as it exists today revealed substantial weaknesses in the areas of safety and access, building systems, architectural issues, and functionality. The analysis of the Pickleweed Library facility as it exists today revealed the main problem as its insufficient size.

Combined, our libraries provide 17,600 square feet of library service space, 115 seats, 140,000 items in the collection, 33 public use computers, and a 30-seat meeting room at the Downtown Library. There is limited shared parking at both facilities. According to library industry standards, based on San Rafael’s population today we should have 40,000-45,000 square feet of library service space, 350-380 seats, 220,000-260,000 items in the collection, 145-170 public use computers, a 150-200 seat capacity meeting room in each library as well as a storytime room to accommodate 75 people in each library, and 100-110 parking spaces. Not even projecting out for the future as one should do for any facilities project, San Rafael’s libraries are falling short of community needs, expectations, and industry best practices.

Community Needs

The community survey, funded by the San Rafael Public Library Foundation, specifically revealed citywide demand for an expanded Downtown Library, value in the idea of a Terra Linda Branch Library, strong local support for the Pickleweed Branch Library, a need for parking to accommodate a mobile population, a general demand for technology access, demand for collaborative spaces and resources, and an interest in the preservation/reuse of the existing Downtown Library building for another civic purpose.

Next Steps

In July 2017, the Library issued an RFP for services to conduct a top view building plan (a bird’s eye view of what a footprint would look like for building, grounds, parking) with land acquisition, capital, and FF&E cost estimates for one or more of the following library facility options: new Downtown Library sites, a Pickleweed Expansion, and/or a Terra Linda branch. In January 2018 the Library hired Noll & Tam Architects to conduct this study, which involved community meetings and input. Noll & Tam has finished the research phase of the project, and completed the first of three rounds of public meetings in June 2018.


  • Downtown Library

    Sun: 10:00-5:00
    Mon: 9:00-7:00
    Tues: 9:00-7:00
    Weds: 9:00-7:00
    Thurs: 9:00-7:00
    Fri: 10:00-5:00
    Sat: 10:00-5:00

    (415) 485-3323

    1100 E Street (at 5th Avenue)
    San Rafael, CA 94901

  • Pickleweed Library

    Sun: closed
    Mon: closed
    Tues: 9:00-5:00
    Weds: 9:00-5:00
    Thurs: 11:00-7:00
    Fri: 10:00-5:00
    Sat: 10:00-5:00

    (415) 485-3483

    50 Canal Street
    San Rafael, CA 94901

  • Northgate Library

    Sun: closed
    Mon: closed
    Tues: closed
    Weds: 11:00-5:00
    Thurs: 11:00-5:00
    Fri: 11:00-5:00
    Sat: 11:00-5:00

    (415) 890-5670

    5800 Northgate Drive Ste. 083
    San Rafael, CA 94903

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