Innovative library opens Saturday

San Francisco's first new library branch in 40 years, in Mission Bay, is ready to compete for readers by beating the big retail bookstores at their own game.

The large glass windows of the library, located at Fourth and Berry streets, display books as if they're on sale. Inside, the first shelves hold brand-new DVDs — everything from the classic “Breakfast at Tiffany's” to the latest Leonardo DiCaprio blockbuster to the complete collection of “Queer As Folk.” The nearby music section — with 1,400 CDs — has a listening station. Net surfers can use one of 18 new public computers or bring in a laptop and connect to the library's free wireless Internet access. And the check-out area is designed like a retail counter, approachable from all sides, for better customer service.

Books are still the mainstay of any library, and the Mission Bay branch will open next weekend with more than 3,000 brand-new books in its collection. In addition, the library features a reading area in the back with a relaxing view of Mission Creek and cushy chairs where patrons can peacefully linger.

“Some people are arguing that the library of the future is the Borders Book Store,” said Bruce Prescott, the project's principal architect, referring to the popular chain that has a megastore in the same neighborhood, at Third and King streets. “We don't believe that's true.”

Most libraries through the years have evolved into lively community centers, where local residents can attend meetings, take classes or bring children in for storytime, as well as check out books. Where libraries were once a place where patrons were admonished against making noise, it's telling that the Mission Bay library has only a designated “quiet space” in the back.

At 7,500 square feet, the library is small, so all book sections — fiction, nonfiction, teen and children's — are in the same room, distinguished by changing carpet patterns and separated by the placement of shelves. The library is part of a multiuse building that also includes 140 units of senior housing, retail space and a large community room that the library will use for meetings and events.

Construction of the $4 million branch was funded by a $105 million bond measure passed by voters in 2000, which called for 19 branches to be renovated and four of The City's 27 branches to be replaced. Another $500,000 was donated to the library for furniture, fixtures and equipment through the nonprofit Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.

The Mission Bay Library will celebrate its grand opening Saturday, July 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with free food and entertainment for the general public. The library is at 960 Fourth St.

beslinger@examiner.com

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