A library for everyone: Palo Alto branch reopens with new name, new features | News | Palo Alto Online |


A library for everyone: Palo Alto branch reopens with new name, new features

After $18 million makeover, Rinconada Library to be officially unveiled Feb. 14

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Palo Alto's Newell Road library has held a secret for decades: a soaring brick fireplace. It's been hidden behind the stacks in the middle of the main room, according to Monique le Conge Ziesenhenne, the city's library director.

The freestanding fireplace is one of many surprises library patrons will find in the renovated Palo Alto Main Library — now renamed the Rinconada Library. Rinconada's completion marks the conclusion of Palo Alto's library-renovation spree, in which the city overhauled four of its libraries and rebuilt its fifth, Mitchell Park. Measure N, a $76 million bond measure approved by voters in 2008, paid for Rinconada, the Downtown Library and the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center. The Children's Library and College Terrace upgrades were paid for by both city and community funds.

Rinconada's $18 million makeover, taking the facility from a dated 1950s look to a heritage gem with a contemporary twist, will be officially unveiled Saturday, Feb. 14, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Its Valentine's Day-opening theme, "Love your library past, present and future," reflects where the library has been, where it is now, and what the library can potentially become, said Eric Howard, assistant library director, during a recent tour of the branch.

The updated library fits into the current trend of how libraries are being reinvented as information hubs offering knowledge in a variety of formats while being true community spaces.

Rinconada has maintained its historical elements while updating its usefulness. Now there are four group-study rooms equipped for electronic devices; two outdoor patios with bistro-style furniture for plein-air reading; a conference room that doubles as a space for teen programs, such as makeX workshops, study groups or meetings; a special teen space; and a community room overlooking the library's heritage redwood grove and community gardens.

Gone are the impersonal tables stuck in the middle of the room, surrounded by walls of aging book collections bearing a certain library smell. The furnishings have been replaced by padded seating with attached, swivel laptop tables arranged as if in a salon. A bank of windows and LED lamps infuse the space with light.

Books are still there, framed by redwood-clad bookcases, but now there are warm-toned kiosks displaying new books in bookstore style. There are double the number of computers — 31 — Wi-Fi for Internet access, televisions in the study and conference rooms, and streaming video and e-books.

Standing in the new 3,000-plus-square-foot lobby that serves as a quiet space and additional event location, Howard admired the light streaming in from the skylight roof.

"It is the space that attracts people," he said.

Howard and Ziesenhenne have high expectations for Rinconada's popularity.

"It's the warmest library we have," she said of the ambiance.

In some ways, the makeover returns to the original intent of founding architect Edward Durell Stone in 1958. A photograph from the Palo Alto Historical Association taken that year shows a reading room that once had the air of a '50s modern living room, with sleek, black vinyl sofas and a circular central table. Today, the living-room ambiance has been restored with colorful padded chairs, coffee- and end-tables and rolling laptop carts. The original clock on the chimney and black metal chandelier remain.

Ziesenhenne and Howard are banking on teens flocking to the cozy lounge chairs with flip-out leg rests in the new Teen Zone, which was designed in consultation with teens.

Kids can do research on a bank of computers, read books geared toward their interests, use their laptops or gather with friends for study or conversation in the meeting room.

A new 3,716-square-foot wing is suffused with light, which includes the skylight lobby and the Embarcadero Room, which is outfitted with a kitchen and the technology needed for presentations. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the landscaped grounds, including a 100-year-old camellia tree, redwood grove and sculptures that contain touch-sensitive LEDs, allowing viewers to change the light colors at night.

Rinconada will house a small collection of children's books.

"We've kept it to serve parents with small children who come when the library is open late," Ziesenhenne said.

The Palo Alto Library Foundation raised more than $4 million for new furniture, equipment and books for all three libraries in the Measure N bond. Of that, $1 million was allocated to books and other collection materials for the system, she said.

The Friends of the Palo Alto Library also provides annual donations to the city's libraries. One $88,000 project this year will help update the libraries' adult nonfiction collections, which contain some books dating back to the 1980s, she said.

Rinconada houses several special collections, including local interest, local authors, gardening and arts and also historical items. The Palo Alto Historical Association, which was once housed in the library, has relocated to Cubberley Community Center.

Rinconada also houses the Foundation Center Funding Information Network, a resource for nonprofit organizations and individuals seeking grants.

One thing the renovated library will not have is a drive-up drop-off for returning books. Instead people will have to park (or walk) and return the books inside or drop them in exterior wall slots.

Programming for the library is still in the development stage. Library officials are putting together a three-year strategic plan that will develop many ideas for programs.

"This library will sponsor more hardware stuff," Howard said, giving as one example a robot-making program that administrators hope to sponsor this summer. "Mitchell Park focuses more on software."

The popularity of libraries as community spaces and information centers has been demonstrated in the numbers of new patrons Palo Alto is already seeing, Howard and Ziesenhenne said. Since the rebuilt Mitchell Park Library opened on Nov. 6, it has registered 2,566 new library cards through Jan. 23, Howard said.

"Only 440 cards were issued to the other four locations during that time," he said. By comparison, 6,400 cards were issued at all branches in all of last year.

Mitchell circulated nearly 120,000 items in December and January; the last fiscal year, it circulated about 585,000 items.

And it has had more than 400 bookings of its group-study room through Jan. 23.

"It's almost like we doubled the library system," he said.

There could be growing pains for the library system. Staff could have to contend with people waiting in lines or a higher volume of items on reserve or more questions from patrons, he said.

And along with the evolution in services and technology, the community's expectations of what a library is and can be will also keep changing. Howard said the time when technology seemed to threatened to make libraries obsolete is past.

"Libraries are still evolving, and we're never going to stop evolving. We're trying to be ahead of the curve," he said.


Rinconada Library fast facts

Original building

Year built: 1958

Original purpose: Part of Palo Alto's civic center, along with the building that's now the Palo Alto Art Center

Architect: Edward Durell Stone, an early proponent of modern architecture in the U.S.

Landscape Architect: Eckbo, Royston & Williams

Square footage: 25,000, including the basement

Collection size: 100,000 volumes

Historic features: Lighted ceiling with redwood dividers; light panels with a circle-and-grid motif; high, gabled ceiling above the reading room; redwood plank soffits and paneling; metal spoke chandeliers; freestanding brick chimney; terra cotta screen walls; low horizontal wood-shake roof; brick entrance walls

Cost: $500,000, including land acquisition

Funding source: $700,000 bond measure approved by Palo Alto voters in 1956 (for Main (now Rinconada) and Mitchell Park libraries)

Renovation and expansion

Year built: 2014

Architect: Group 4 Architecture, Research & Planning, Inc.

Landscape Architect: Gates & Associates

Square footage: 28,716 (3,716-square-foot addition)

Collection size: 120,000 volumes

New additions: Four group-study rooms; Embarcadero program/community room; additional public restrooms; vending machine room; skylight lobby

Upgrades: Ground source heat pump system; structural brace frames; radiant-heating floor slab; low-flow plumbing fixtures; energy-efficient and LED lighting; ecological bioretention areas. Landscaping achieves the original intent of creating a unified campus with the Art Center.

Cost: $18 million

Funding source: Measure N, $76 million bond measure approved by Palo Alto voters in 2008 (for Rinconada, Downtown, Mitchell Park libraries and Mitchell Park Community Center) The Palo Alto Library Foundation paid for new furniture, equipment and books for the projects.

Source: Palo Alto City Library


Rinconada Library grand re-opening

The Valentine's Day celebration of the newly renovated Rinconada Library will offer activities for people of all ages, from live music, a docent-led tree walk and robot-making demonstrations to historical presentations, storytelling and an art tour.

Library officials are asking the public to walk or bike to the event, take a shuttle bus or park on the street. Much of the library's parking will be closed off.

Where: 1213 Newell Road, Palo Alto

Cost: Free

Info: cityofpaloalto.org/library

• 10:30 -11 a.m. Music by Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra Ensemble

• 11 -11:30 a.m. Opening ceremony (Outside south library entrance)

• Noon-12:30 p.m. "Rinconada Library Past, Present and Future," with Steve Staiger, Palo Alto Historical Association historian, and Monique le Conge Ziesenhenne, library director (Embarcadero Room)

• Noon-1 p.m. Tree Walk with a Canopy arborist (Outside north library entrance)

• 12:30-1 p.m. "Your Dreams Take Flight," a presentation about finding funding for nonprofit organizations through the Foundation Center with Kathy Shields, senior librarian (Embarcadero Room)

• 1-1:30 p.m. Sssnake Ssstorytime with Ssspecial Visssitor Deborah Anthonyson, senior librarian, and the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo (Children's area in the library)

• 1-1:30 p.m. Art Tour with Elise DeMarzo, manager of the city's public-art program (Outside between the library and the Palo Alto Art Center)

• 1-4 p.m. makeX demonstrations (Teen Zone)

• 1-4 p.m. Make a Valentine (Activities in Palo Alto Art Center with a display in the library)

• 2-3 p.m. Music by the Firebird Chinese Orchestra with introduction by local author Emily Jiang (Embarcadero Room)

• 3-4 p.m. "Growing Up Humming," by local author Mike Spinack (Embarcadero Room)

• 3:30-4 p.m. Children's Theater storytelling with the Palo Alto Children's Theater (Children's area)


Rinconada Library hours

Monday: Noon-8 p.m.

Tuesday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Wednesday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Thursday: Noon-8 p.m.

Friday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Saturday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Sunday: 1-5 p.m.

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


3 people like this
Posted by Ellie
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 13, 2015 at 8:16 am

Been through it - was surprised it is so well done. Looks very much like old Main but better. Well preserved while improved. The new community room looks out on a redwood grove, the community garden and old magnolia tree. Really nice. And the adjacent outdoor spaces will be great to hang by people using community room and others. I didn't expect it to be so nice.

4 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2015 at 8:21 am

I'm really happy this is back open, absolutely, but perhaps signage a bit more than "library" would be nice. Is there still controversy over the re-naming? If not, then please label it "Rinconada Library" rather than generic "library."

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2015 at 8:27 am

Hope that it is easy for those of us who want to get in and out as quickly as we can. It is good for us to manage to get and out quickly and for others who would prefer to be there for a while that we can get out of their way.

Since there are no drive thru drop off boxes, we need some 5 minute parking spots!

10 people like this
Posted by curious
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Feb 13, 2015 at 10:24 am

does anyone know why there are no drive-up, drop-off boxes? so now we not only need to park, but need to return books during library hours?

1 person likes this
Posted by Library Patron
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2015 at 10:36 am


There are automated return slots just outside the library's entrance, just like it is at Mitchell Park.

16 people like this
Posted by perplexed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2015 at 11:22 am

No drop off area for passengers, no 15-minute spaces to return/check out books,instead some recharging stations. Quite a value statement here.
This is a library, not a parking lot. There is a complete disconnect in what was done here.

13 people like this
Posted by Mystified
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 13, 2015 at 11:34 am

I'm curious what was the thinking behind removing the dropoff box where you could return things without having to park.

3 people like this
Posted by Mitchell Park Library User
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 13, 2015 at 11:35 am

Just to add to the exchange between Curious and Library Patron, the outside automated return machines operate 24/7 and they give you a receipt for your returned book.

Seems worth popping out of your car to use, given the benefits. Plus some exercise doesn't hurt, even if it's getting out of your car!

16 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 13, 2015 at 12:05 pm

@ Mitchell Park Library User - for those of us with small children, "getting out of your car" can be a major project! I predict that the Children's Library drop box (which you can reach from your car, although its on the passenger side of a vehicle) will be overflowing on a regular basis.

6 people like this
Posted by Onine Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 13, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Remember that the drop-off slot is only on the north side, not on the south side between the library and the Art Center.

8 people like this
Posted by Annie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2015 at 4:59 pm

Add me to the list of people that miss the drive-by drop boxes. It was especially useful when my kids were little. Yesterday I wasn't feeling well but still needed to find a parking space at Mitchell and get out to drop off my books that were due. Minor, but it would have been great to just drive by and dropoff.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Last time I tried to call in at the library on my errand run, I found that for my couple of minutes stop I had to "fight" for a parking spot. Next time I will drag a child with me so that I can use the carpool spot. It is easy to say park and getting out of the car is good exercise, I would counter with saying that there are not enough parking spots. We could definitely do with some 5 minute parking spots.

5 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2015 at 9:29 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

I agree that a drop off box is very convenient but is that really what most of you want to comment on? Its a fabulous library!

5 people like this
Posted by Swan
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 13, 2015 at 9:47 pm

The renovation was very thoughtfully designed, and the end result is wonderful. I am impressed with how the historical character of the building shines through the now bright and updated interior space. I also love the way the library links with the Art Center. Excellent job!

15 people like this
Posted by SCB94303
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 13, 2015 at 10:18 pm

SCB94303 is a registered user.

For people who are handicapped and then need to get their wheelchairs out of their car to return a book, this is not a good solution; it is a lot of trouble. Then they need to get the wheelchair back into the car before getting themselves back into the car - think of the trouble that is. It doesn't seem like the city ever thinks of handicapped people. How about making life a little easier for them?

Like this comment
Posted by Traditional-Libraries-Obsolete
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Why would anyone use a traditional library when you can get virtually everything in the world in which you might be interested on the NET?

Claiming that this is a library for everyone perhaps is a mission statement, but people who value their time, and the quality of information that interests them will not go to a Palo Alto library.

This is just another money pit that will benefit few in this community.

18 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2015 at 4:31 pm

The exquisitely (but, I assume, unwittingly) ironic humor about that comment from "Traditional-Libraries-Obsolete" isn't just that it's badly wrong, but that you'd have no idea just HOW seriously wrong it is unless you spent some real time today with libraries and the sort of things they contain that aren't online!

I encounter that contrast constantly, because I use both. The internet is a trove of _convenient_ information rather than _complete_ or _quality_ information. The best _reference_ sources generally aren't online or Googlable (it costs money to assemble quality information -- you get what you pay for), and most writen work of all kinds created in the last century is legally protected by copyright and not online.

Crowing that traditional libraries are "obsolete" thanks to the internet is like spending your whole life in a small room and thinking you've seen the world. Just your world, alas.

2 people like this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 15, 2015 at 5:06 pm

@Common sense -- Well stated. However, I think Traditional-Libraries-Obsolete (yeah, right!) gives away his(?) game with this at the end of their post: "This is just another money pit that will benefit few in this community."

Never mind, of course, that access to any library is free and available to any member of the public.

9 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 15, 2015 at 6:32 pm

What's with those limited and unstable hours? How are we supposed to remember? And how can students study late? Spend $18 million on the building, and it can at least be open from 9:00-9:00 each day.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2015 at 7:17 pm

There is a lot of truth in a lot of what people are saying both sides of the argument.

Libraries are not the same as they used to be. They are not going to be used the same way. The internet is taking over a lot of the research that the majority of people will be doing and the average high school student. However, there is a lot of information that can't be found without going to a library. But at the same time, how many people will be looking for that kind of information. I have been trying to look into the family history and without something like Ancestry.com, the only other way to do some of this research is to do a lot of travel and visit local libraries and historical records offices.

Most periodicals are now online. Many old films and tv shows can be found on Netflix or similar. The same for old records.

But even though there are lots of good reasons for using a Kindle, many people still want to read a paper book. I use both and they each have their own advantages.

So getting back to libraries. They are not defunct, but they are being used in a different way. I don't know anybody who claims to still go to the library to cruise the shelves in search of a good book. I don't know anyone who walks or rides a bike to the library and then returns home. I am sure there may be some people who do it, but their numbers are small.

I put my books on hold and when I receive notification that they are available in my choice library, I stop at the library on an errand run or on the way home. I have on many occasions turned up at the wrong time on the wrong day and have to return another time. I am in the library 5 minutes, rarely speak to anyone, and back in my car and on my way to continue with my life. It is an errand. It is not a place I choose to spend a great deal of my time. I believe I am in the majority of users. I want a hold desk, a checkout machine, possibly a library catalog machine, and a simple to use return box. If it is late at night, or raining, I don't want to get out of my car. If I can't find a parking space, I drive to my next port of call and forget the errand for that day.

Our libraries have to suit everyone. At present, the design of how we use them has been suited to an ideal which probably doesn't exist. The parking situation is not a sensible one. Who on earth is going to charge a car at the library? Probably some out of towner who finds themselves low on charge and needs to find a charge before the battery goes flat. Certainly not a Palo Alto resident on a library run. What on earth is a carpooler or share car? Are we going to have zipcars at the libraries? Otherwise, perhaps these spots should be called family spots rather than carpool spots. And why should anyone be expected to get out of their car in the dark or in the rain just to return a book. The old style drive thru book drops worked fine for those who used them. I used them myself at times even though I generally parked and returned books.

The library design has done itself a disservice. We are being patronized into thinking how wonderful the new facilities are, when in all honesty, most of us won't notice.

5 people like this
Posted by Common Sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2015 at 8:47 pm

Most cities in this area have one large new library, open many hours every day, with lots of modern features and large collections. Some have one or two small branches.

Palo Alto has chosen to have many library buildings. This means small collections in each and limited open hours, because of the cost of staffing and buying collections. It isn't cost effective. If your neighborhood library isn't open when you want it to be, or it doesn't have the materials you want, it isn't useful. You also have to drive to another part of town to get what you want. It would make more sense to have maybe a couple of libraries which are open all day every day and evenings, with big collections and adequate staff.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 17, 2015 at 8:54 pm

I was there this evening and want to compliment the planners for the facility and grounds. It is really a beautiful facility. There are colored structures outside that change color so that is interesting. And the parking area and outside grounds are beautiful.

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 18, 2015 at 7:42 am

For all of those Kindle advocates you are probably sitting in your house by yourself with no sense of community. That is not very appealing.

I love the new Mitchell Park library and all of the children having a place to go - people in meeting rooms, a cup of coffee, older teenagers in meetings and hanging out. Especially the location next to the park invites people in. That is how you get children socialized and community oriented.
Also student from the charter school hanging out there. People need a safe place to go - not in their home or a bar. Older people reading books and magazines - having a social outlet.

Rinconada has always had that attraction - a place for kids to hang out, next to the park and art center where you can stroll in and check out the latest goings on.

That is great community building - a place for all ages to get out of the house, get relief from work, have a place to meet others, next to parks where other activity is going on.

And look at the books - great art work on the book covers.

5 people like this
Posted by However
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2015 at 9:27 am

This may be true
>Most cities in this area have one large new library, open many hours every day, with lots of modern features and large collections. Some have one or two small branches.
Our libraries have cut out so much, I wouldn't trust them having one branch.
Cut hours, cut days, cut drive-up return boxes, cut parking spaces, rules, rules, rules, short days! unrememberable closing times, unruly children, noise.
Built an ostentatious huge Mclibrary at Mitchell Park where library content is less important than sterile open space; awful sculptures. Spacehogging vehicle charging stations that interfere with library users, inappropriate, ostentatious use of space.

Lots of values expressed, (like electric cars, open space) not relevant to libraries.

5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 18, 2015 at 11:15 am

Diana Diamond has quite a bit to say today about the crazy library hours and the need to put back the drive-through drop box.

Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 18, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Funny comments by Diana Diamond - thanks Online Name.

If the two libraries auto check-in the books, then might as well drop off at the Childrens Library near Rinconada library to avoid 25 cent fees if returning the morning after the due date. The walk is shorter too.

Like this comment
Posted by Patron
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2015 at 5:56 pm

I visited the refreshed library. It is improved.

I hope they have a cleaning and maintenance budget to keep all of the outdoor furniture, desks and light color fabric and paint from becoming dirty and dingy.

2 people like this
Posted by User friendly is gone
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 28, 2016 at 1:23 pm

However puts it well:
Our libraries have cut out so much, I wouldn't trust them having one branch.
Cut hours, cut days, cut drive-up return boxes, cut parking spaces, rules, rules, rules, short days! unrememberable closing times, unruly children, noise.
Built an ostentatious huge Mclibrary at Mitchell Park where library content is less important than sterile open space; awful sculptures. Spacehogging vehicle charging stations that interfere with library users, inappropriate, ostentatious use of space.

Have you tried reserving a room for a meeting? rules, rules, limited hours.
And those ostentatious charging stations free for rich people.
Downtown closes at 6, no exceptions, also closed Sunday AND Monday.
Bureaucracy gone amok.
It hasn't always been like this, our libraries used to be user friendly.

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