Friends and Foundation of the San Francisco Public Library (Friends) is a diverse community of individual and individuals, families and institutions who love our San Francisco Public Library and work to make it exceptional. We champion free public access to information, resources and opportunities for all people. We envision the future of our libraries as robust centers of 21st Century literacy, economic opportunity, life-long learning, discovery and community life.
Our mission is to strengthen, support and advocate for a premier public library system in San Francisco.
We are the Library’s
Investors bridging the funding gap between what the city provides and the cost of additional programs, resources and services that San Franciscans want and need
Advocates for strong and permanent local public funding
Champions of the value of the Library in our community
We pursue our mission in two ways. First, we raise philanthropic support in the private sector and earned revenue from the resale of used books through our Community Book Program. Funds raised from both sources are dedicated to direct annual support the SFPL to enhance programming, collections and material needs and to sustain Friends’ operations, advocacy, book, and volunteer programs. Second, we educate the community and advocate to ensure that San Francisco maintains a local commitment to adequate and sustainable public funding for its Libraries through the Library Preservation Fund, the source of 98% of the SFPL’s budget. Our history is grounded in successful efforts to rejuvenate a poorly funded and struggling system into the premier urban Library we enjoy today.
Friends of the San Francisco Public Library was founded in 1961 by Marjorie Stern, Mary Louise Stong, Hilde Kolb and Grace Macduff Parker. For the first few years, volunteers performed every task, including organizing book sales, processing membership contributions, staging special exhibits and sponsoring citywide poetry contests. By the 1980s, Friends began to play a more active role as an advocacy organization for the Library. Those efforts culminated in 1988, when Friends realized their long time goal of a new Main Library by championing Proposition A, a bond issue that would fund $109.5 million to build a new Main Library. Friends helped pay for the cost of furniture, fixtures and equipment not covered in the bond. An extraordinary outpouring of more than 17,000 donations from residents and organizations in San Francisco and beyond made the vision of a new Main Library into a reality — the new Main opened its doors on April 18, 1996.
Friends continued its advocacy efforts in 1994 by championing the Library Preservation Fund, also known as Proposition E, a community-led effort to protect the Library from a pattern of annual budget cuts at City Hall. The passage of Prop E established the Library Preservation Fund, which guaranteed 15 years of funding by earmarking a percentage of City revenue for the Library in addition to setting baseline funding. The Library Preservation Fund has had tremendous positive impact, enabling the Library to increase operating hours by 53% and expanding the budget for books and materials by almost 400%. Noting the dire need to revitalize San Francisco’s neighborhood branch libraries and equip them for the 21st century, Friends led the advocacy effort in 2000 for the approval a $106 million bond measure to build and refurbish 24 neighborhood branch libraries citywide. As with the Main, Friends was tasked with raising $16 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment through the Neighborhood Library Campaign that concluded with the North Beach Branch reopening in 2014.
In 2007, San Franciscans again resoundingly asserted their desire for securely-funded library when they overwhelmingly passed Proposition D, which asked voters to renew the Library Preservation Fund and ensure another 15 years of stable funding for the library system. Prop D received 74.5% of the vote, more votes than any other proposition on the ballot. Over the next 15 years, Prop D will bring in more than $1.2 billion to the Library without raising taxes. The Library Preservation Fund is critical to the current and long-term health of our premier urban public library, and has made the San Francisco Public Library one of the only systems in California with every branch (28 of them) open seven days per week. Since its grassroots beginnings, Friends’ mission has grown to encompass advocacy, fundraising and programming to serve all neighborhoods of San Francisco.
In addition to its fundraising and advocacy for the Library, Friends is popularly known for its Community Book Program, a green reuse program that allows San Francisco to donate their books and resell them to raise funds through year-round Friends’ Readers Bookstores, online sales and the iconic Annual Big Book Sale held every fall at the Fort Mason Center Festival Pavilion.
Please check out the "what we do" page to read all the ways that Friends currently supports the Library and join us in our commitment to empowering communities and raising the standard of excellence for our libraries!
1961 – 1980s: Led by founder Marjorie Stern, formative years of community grassroots activism providing watchdog oversight leading up to systematic improvements in the Library.
1987: San Francisco Library Foundation, established around the initiative to raise $30 million to finish and equip the new Main Library on Larkin Street.
1988-1990: Friends leads successful advocacy efforts for approval of the bond measure to build a new Main Library. The Foundation galvanizes support for the City’s diverse communities, resulting in the creation of “affinity centers” dedicated to the experiences of African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Chinese, Filipino, Gay & Lesbian and environmentalist communities.
1994: Friends leads the successful campaign for passage of the Library Preservation Fund, establishing 15 years of protected set-aside of City revenue for the Library.
2004-2014: Friends raises $14 million in private funds in the Neighborhood Library Campaign for the public Branch Library Improvement Program, resulting in 24 state-of-the-art neighborhood branches.
2007: Friends leads the campaign to renew the Library Preservation Fund for another 15 years with more than 70% of the community voting yes.
2015: Friends raises funds needed to provision The Mix at SFPL (the Main Library’s new youth-designed 21st century teen digital learning center) with furniture and state-of-the-art computers and equipment for the sound studio, maker space and film studio.
2018: The San Francisco Public Library is awarded the 2018 Gale/Library Journal Library of the Year