For more than 130 years, Oakland residents have had access to a public library that today has grown with a citywide network of branches.
The system goes back to 1878, but the branches range in age from the oldest, the former Greene Library, built in the early 1900s, to the newest, the 81st Ave. Branch, completed in 2011 and comanaged with the Oakland United School District.
The Main Library, at 125 14th St. near Lake Merritt, is the system's center and the historic former Greene Library at 659 14th St. was the city's second main library from 1902 to 1951. It is now the African American Museum and Library. Sixteen other branches serve residents around the city.
According to the history files, six of the library buildings are city landmarks, including the Golden Gate, Temescal and Melrose branches originally funded through the Andrew Carnegie Foundation.
This month, a Branch Library History Series is showcasing three of the branches with free history programs open to the public.
First up will be the history of the Montclair Branch, presented by Adult Services Librarian Kathleen DiGiovanni at 6 p.m. March 18.
The quaint Storybook Style branch at 1687 Mountain Blvd. opened 84 years ago in March 1930. The $6,600 land purchase and construction was funded by wealthy benefactor Chauncey W. Gibson, who once lived on a large estate in the East Oakland Hills where 66th Avenue is today. A children's room and patio at the rear was added in the 1960s.
The Dimond Branch Library will host the next history program (also presented by DiGiovanni) at 7 p.m. March 25 at 3565 Fruitvale Ave.
The current building dates from the 1980s, but a Dimond branch was opened nearly a century ago. The district gets its name from early resident Hugh Dimond. The current branch is going to be undergoing a modernization for its 100th birthday celebration in 2015.
The World War II era is the focus of the next talk, which will be at 6 p.m. March 31st with librarian Dorothy Lazard at the Brookfield Branch, 9255 Edes Ave. Lazard is also in charge of the Oakland History Room at the Main Library.
Most of the surrounding residential homes in Brookfield were built for workers in war-related industries and are typically ranch style one-story bungalows. Brookfield is in East Oakland's Elmhurst District, which was annexed to Oakland in 1909 when it was predominantly open fields and orchards. Later, canneries and factories serviced by rail lines located there, causing the rapid development of homes as the population boomed.
The lectures are one activity of the Oakland Branch Friends Network that supports all the library friends groups throughout Oakland.
Under the umbrella of the larger Friends of the Oakland Public Library nonprofit organization, the smaller branch "friends" advocate on behalf of their neighborhood branches by sharing information and working with the library administration downtown.
Through the friends network, residents who volunteer their time to support their local branches can keep up-to-date on what each branch is doing. They can also publicize their fundraisers and other special needs at the individual locations.
To learn more about the upcoming Branch Library History Series, visit the library website at www.oaklandlibrary.org and check on the individual branches. Find information on the Oakland Branch Friends Network at www.branchfriends.org.