Only a couple of years behind schedule, the newly expanded downtown Berkeley Public Library's Central Library reopens on Saturday by tossing a party for itself and the community, blocking off Kittredge Street for outdoor programs and turning the library's normally quiet rooms into concert halls. The day begins at 11:30 a.m. with an outdoor blessing of the building by the Red Heart Thunder intertribal drumming group and a concert by the Farallon Brass Quintet. When the front doors open at 1 o'clock, people walking up the stairs will be greeted by haunting rumbles of the Mills College Didjeridu Ensemble -- the idea came to the library's art and music director, Pat Mullan, in a dream.
Mullan also oversaw the rest of the day's programming, headlined by author Alice Walker and jazz-blues singer Brenda Boykin at 2 p.m. There will be five performance areas in the building, in use simultaneously by the Asian Lion Dancers youth group, ten-year-old singing duo Nigel 'n' Nathan, members of Shotgun Players Theatre, Ireland's Shay Black and his folk band, South Berkeley Senior Center's Fantastic Steppers tap dancers, Chilean singer Rafael Manriquez, and many other local artists.
But the real star on Saturday is the rebuilt library building. Mullan gets excited pointing out new touches, from the 125-seat multipurpose room (for readings, concerts, and lectures) to her art and music department, which now occupies the top floor, previously an off-limits storage area. "We've got a great view of the bay," crows Mullan. "At least we do until the apartment building goes up next door."
Mullan has spent much of her life championing music that doesn't get mainstream attention. She created the regular concert series in the original library building, including the free annual jazz festival. She relishes putting the refurbished building to full use, including the installation of sound systems donated by local top-end company Meyer Sound.
A trombonist who started out working in Washington DC, Mullan quickly fell into the world of music, producing women's concerts on the East Coast and here, then became the manager of all-woman jazz band Alive. She organized benefit concerts for the Berkeley Women's Health Collective "until I got sidetracked into the library," where she's been for fifteen years. Music has been an important component of library programming ever since, thanks to Mullan. With Saturday's festival, even as diverse culturally and age-wise as it is, "we couldn't cover everything that happens in our community. But hopefully it'll give a good flavor."
For those focused on the library's prime function, there are books, and they can be checked out. "We've got what we call the opening day collection," Mullan says. "While we've been out of the building we've been buying -- a lot -- so this will be people's first chance to see all the new books."
When the doors close at 5 p.m., patrons will be escorted outside to the library plaza where Jeff Narell's Longfellow School student steel band performs. "Then we reopen Monday and begin a whole new era," Mullan says, "where we've got two-and-a-half times the space and the same size staff. It will be fun!"
Berkeley Public Library's Grand Opening Day is a free festival Saturday, April 6, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Central Library, 2000 Kittredge Street at Shattuck Avenue. 510-981-6100.