The Making of the San Francisco Library Movement: Part 1
San Francisco is not just lucky to have a world-class Library. We created the conditions to make it exceptional.
To celebrate our 60th year, we present a special series in the newsletter recalling our history, honoring our legacy of advocacy, and inspiring us to pursue our next chapter. The San Francisco Public Library was not always a great Library. It was rather bad. Friends story is about community members, famous and not so famous, who decided to make our Library exceptional and worked hard over decades to do just that. For 60 years, people like you and me fought for, funded, and valued our most democratic and equitable public institution, creating the miracle we now enjoy. It is a history we continue to write. - Marie Ciepiela, Executive Director, Friends of the SFPL
Let's go back to 1957 when Hale Champion, San Francisco Chronicle reporter, wrote a scathing editorial claiming that so many things went wrong for so many years that the SFPL was "nationally ill-famed". The first branch was built in the Mission District during an expansionist era under Mayor James Rolph, reached an unprecedented level of use during the Great Depression, and expanded by eight branches care of a small number of wealthy patrons by 1963. But by the late 1960s, the Library system was stressed beyond its capacity and lagged far behind the literary world flowering around it. Mayor Joseph Alioto (1967-1971) vowed to make the Library a budget priority but struggled to make that happen. The public took notice, and a few brave women decided to take action.
The Friends of the San Francisco Public Library was founded in 1961 by determined, civic-minded young people who refused to accept San Francisco's mediocre library. Three young women emerged as leaders, laboring for decades without assistance from the elected political establishment to build a constituency that would become Friends' membership. Known as the "three Ms", they were Margaret Mayer, Mary Loise Stong, and Marjorie Stern. Against growing income polarization and a decline of civic investment in public resources, they captured a growing national library activism movement. They set the course for San Francisco's historic public investment decades later.
Greetings! We miss you, and we miss our Library. Communicating and connecting is so important right now and we hope our regular newsletters and emails have kept you informed about the status of the San Francisco Public Library and of Friends. We write today with a positive message: The Library is resilient; Friends is sustaining itself strategically; and the partnership is prepared for the future with an even stronger, more responsive Library that is prepared to meet any new challenges we might face.
We are proud of the Library’s role as a key partner in San Francisco’s response to COVID, as well as its recent action to open air respite centers in response to the West Coast wildfires. However, we are all anxious for our libraries to reopen and provide their core operations. As the community’s advocate for Library services, we assure you that we are monitoring developments and advocating for the safe reopening and resumption of all Library services and programs when possible.
In the meantime, our SFPL is once again demonstrating its excellence in innovative response. The following is a summary of current Library services:
Materials. SFPL To Go, front-door service for real books and media, is open at the Main Library and five branches (Excelsior, Marina, Mission Bay, Merced, and Eureka Valley) with more branches scheduled to open in October. Pop Up Pick-up service using the bookmobiles will also be dispatched to ensure more neighborhoods have access to books and materials.
eResources. Thanks in large part to the Friends community and the Library Preservation Fund, SFPL already has the largest eCollection of books, media, and technology applications of any urban public library. Use of eResources had skyrocketed by 60%.
Virtual programming continues to expand in priority areas of children’s literacy, school support, job search, career development, technology, ESL, and literary and cultural events. Friends continues to fund the authors, artists, experts, and materials for these new and evolving programs.
Citywide emergency response. SPFL staff continue to play critical roles in coordinated, citywide responses to COVID and wildfires. Designated branches will open as community hubs providing schoolchildren K-5 with access to free Wi-Fi, meals, and emotional support, while schools are physically closed. The Richmond Branch will be the first to open. While hundreds of Librarians have returned, many continue working in food distribution centers and as contact tracers helping to keep infections down.
Friends is in Good Health (thanks to you)
This year has presented us with complex decisions, as it has with community organizations holding fast to their missions. We are happy to report that Friends ended its 2019–2020 fiscal year in good health, thanks to our donors who helped us meet our fundraising goals. Sadly, we also had to implement cost-cutting measures, including closing the Fort Mason bookstore and laying off beloved staff, actions that no organization ever wants to take. We did not make these decisions lightly and share in the mourning of these losses. We are keenly aware of the challenges and economic uncertainty that lay ahead; and we are going to need your strong, ongoing financial support. Our responsibility is to advocate for you and to stay financially healthy as the caretaker for our beloved SFPL. Thank you so much for your support. We are profoundly grateful.
And what of the future of the SFPL…
Campaign for the Future of the Library
As many of you know, we entered 2020 unveiling our $10 Million Campaign for the Future of the San Francisco Public Library. The Campaign called for an infusion of support through 2023 to fund furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E) for the renovations of the Mission, Chinatown, and Oceanview branches; ensure the renewal of the Library Preservation Fund (voter-mandated library funds); and, double the direct support for the SFPL to over $2 million annually. We are still pursuing this campaign, albeit slightly modified. Our adapted plan retains our ambitious commitment to double the direct annual support, ensures the renewal of the Library Preservation Fund in 2022, and funds the FF&E for the Mission Branch renovation (which remains on schedule). Current challenges have forced a reassessment of the timeframe for the remaining two branch projects. We will keep you informed and invite you to take part as plans unfold. Meanwhile, we can look forward with anticipation to our next Library Laureates gala at the Main.
The Book Program
While we weather this trying period, we look forward to planning a new future for our book program as well. At this time, we can only operate online. We have increased stock in our online stores and have begun to sell new books by authors featured in SFPL programs (Fresh Prints of the SFPL). Our book donation services have reopened on a limited basis, by appointment only. When we can sell books face-to-face again, we will look to you for inspiring ideas: A new bookstore? A retooled Big Book Sale? New book-loving events? In the next few weeks, members of our Board and staff will try to reach out and talk to as many of you as possible to see how you are feeling and to chat about our great Library. If you have comments, suggestions, or questions, please feel free to send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please stay safe and thank you so much.
Work it! San Francisco Public Library is doubling down on programs to aid patrons who have lost work. With the unemployment rate at 12.5 percent in San Francisco, the public library is stepping up to help patrons find pathways to economic recovery with the launching of Work It, an ongoing series of virtual programs focused on job searching, career development, personal finance, and small business resources.
Highlights of programming include: a financial planning series; a virtual speaker series on health insurance, taxes, and investing; Jobs and Careers programs on Resume Writing Essentials, How to Get a California State Job, and Hope Levy’s Age as an Asset program, exploring ways for older adults to use their life experiences to land the perfect job. In partnership with California Employment Development, the Library will offer CalJOBS for Beginners in Spanish and Cantonese.
SFPL’s robust Jobs and Careers portal also offers a multitude of options for job seekers, such as live resume, interview, and career coaching with JobNow and EDD. Check out the Library’s Business and Personal Finance Resources, including COVID local resources and Smart Money Coaching for expanded one-on-one counseling on budgeting basics. Job seekers are also encouraged to check out the Library’s free technology workshop series, Tech Time. For more information, email the Business, Science, and Technology Center at email@example.com or visit sfpl.org.
We are touched and heartened by the outpouring of sentiment and affection for the beloved Fort Mason bookstore. Thank you for being our fans and supporters for so many years. It was a good run, and we share your sadness that it had to end.
We want you to know that it was a difficult decision to shutter our iconic bookstore. We want to share with you the considerations behind the closure and what the future holds.
The Board and staff of Friends have been considering changes to the structure of the book program for some time, in order to more effectively serve our mission for the San Francisco Public Library, which is to raise funds to augment Library programs, and ensuring access to books and resources to diverse communities across the city.
We hope the Book Program will fulfill this mission in three ways:
1. raising additional funds through earned revenue by selling donated books;
2. donating books to low-income communities through organizations and schools;
3. providing access to inexpensive books through our stores, events, and pop-ups in the community.
Closure and relocation of the Fort Mason bookstore were under discussion before the COVID-19 pandemic. The unexpected rampage of the pandemic and mandated health orders resulted in expediting decisions to avoid significant damage to the survival of Friends.
Here is what you should know:
Financial survival in a global pandemic. The shelter-in-place order in March shut down the possibility of conducting retail sales, forcing the furlough of some employees and ultimately the elimination of positions. These are terrible decisions that no one ever wants to have to make. Only now are we beginning to inch back into online sales with stringent limitations on the volunteers and staff, with safety protocols in compliance with the San Francisco Health Officer.
Expensive leases. Friends was burdened by increasingly expensive leases in San Francisco, including our administrative offices at 710 Van Ness Avenue, that had begun to affect how well we could carry out our mission to the Library.
The Fort Mason Center lease. In particular, the Fort Mason lease and the way it was structured precluded any opportunity to keep the lease through the pandemic and reopen after it ended.
For the remainder of the epidemic, we will focus on online sales, and then slowly add back face-to-face sales and literary events. In addition, we will have the flexibility of inventing something new, whether it is a brick and mortar location, or pop-up style traveling stores.
Although these changes have been hard, we are hopeful about the future of a new book program. Making these tough decisions unleashes the creativity and flexibility we need for the future.
The one thing we do know is that we need and want you. We ask you for your ideas and for your support as we rebuild. We have no doubt that we will emerge even stronger and look forward to continuing to work with you to spread our vision for the Library and for community literacy across the city.
Friends of the San Francisco Public Library
Writing in Lockdown - the Brown Handler Residents share their work in conversation with Lisa Brown and Daniel Handler.
Two years ago, Lisa Brown and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) created this Writer's Residency to provide local writers with free, adequate, and accessible space to produce creative work in San Francisco. Residents were able to work directly with the Library in tandem with their creative projects. The residents were using the space until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since shelter in place went into effect, the physical space component of the residency has not been possible, but the community built around the residency is still thriving. To catch up with the five talented writers, we have launched a six-part interview series with the current residents. In the series, now available on our YouTube channel and on our Library Friends Podcast feed, Lisa Brown and Daniel Handler check in with all the talented residents about how they are adapting to creatively working from home.
Each writer shares an excerpt of what they worked on during their residency year. Amanda Moore, a poet who draws inspiration from San Francisco and the neighborhoods she's lived in, shares poems that evokes the feeling of walking through the city. Shruti Swamy, a fiction writer, reads a story from her new book called A House is a Body, coming out on August 11th.
Don't miss these exciting conversations. Watch it below, or listen to it on our Library Friends Podcast!
Friends has started a new campaign called Voices Unite, to share and celebrate our unique community of librarians, library workers and patrons. In all of our content, including our new Library Friends podcast, we are posting interviews with these changemakers in our community. These intimate conversations give you a chance to learn more about the extraordinary people you used to pass by at the Library before the shelter-in-place order.
In May 2020, we interviewed Librarian turned Disaster Service Worker, Alan Wong. We also spoke with Daniel Matsumoto, an eResources Librarian at SFPL, about how the Library’s online services are adapting to the influx of traffic. Another can’t-miss conversation is an interview with historian and advocate Peter Booth Wiley on how the Library’s past can help us understand this turbulent new present, and how we can prepare for the future.
The Coronavirus pandemic has been hard on everyone, but from quarantine, librarians have taken the opportunity to innovate and engage with the public in free and accessible ways. These library workers are continuing the Library’s mission of free access to all, and Friends is here to provide additional financial support for technology, equipment and services to help tell this important story of public service.
Subscribe to the Library Friends Podcast and hear these stories:
I wanted to share with you the SFPL's official statement on the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, as well as the devastating impact of COVID-19 on people of color, especially African Americans. This statement was crafted by the SFPL Racial Equity Committee and Commission President Dr. Mary Wardell Ghirarduzzi, and makes clear that the Library stands with the Black Lives Matter movement and supports all efforts to end the systemic racism and inequality in our communities.
Friends of the San Francisco Public Library stands with the Library in its response and by our work for equitable access to resources and opportunity without racial and economic barriers. The library is the only institution that provides all of its resources - material, virtual, and human – free for everyone. It is the foundation of our democracy and embodies the call from communities around the world to embrace, nurture, and empower those who have the least and those who suffer the most from discrimination. Your dedicated support keeps our Library strong as a vital institution of justice and fairness.
When we think libraries, many of us think – BOOKS! But, libraries are so much more and are often the heart of a community. Libraries play host to arts and culture events, including music, author readings, museum exhibits, children’s storytime, and more. Libraries also provide and facilitate critical services, such as job support and educational activities.
Those who work in our libraries also play a critical role during crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, San Francisco librarians have become essential front-line workers, helping with communications, homeless services, distribution of resources, and guidance to vulnerable populations.
In a special episode of the News in Context podcast, Host Gina Baleria, also a board member of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, interviews three people responsible for making the San Francisco Public Library the beloved and award-winning place it is.
The panel represents various aspects of SFPL.
The panel and I explore the context of libraries and their role in communities – both every day… and during a crisis, as well as what the San Francisco Public Library is doing right now to support the community and those most vulnerable during this critical time.
Listen to News in Context every Friday at 8:30 am and 6:30 pm on 102.5 KSFP in San Francisco, or on your favorite podcast channel.
Alan Wong is a Librarian at the busy Excelsior Branch, who currently mobilized as a 'Disaster Service Worker' in the wake of COVID-19. We spoke with Alan (via mobile phone) to see how librarians are helping the City of San Francisco during this turbulent time.
What was the typical day look like before COVID-19?
Before COVID-19 times, my day would start when the branch opens. We have our quiet time that's when our regular patrons come in. I usually interact with our Chinese seniors who come in to read our Chinese newspapers or patrons who use the computer every day. Then around 11:00 a.m., we have our groups that come in for storytime. We see nannies with strollers and young schoolchildren holding the little rope coming in. That is how you know it is almost lunchtime. Then usually around 3:00 p.m., that is when schools let out, and all the kids come pouring into our library. There are about ten schools around us, a mix of public and private, elementary, middle, and a high school, so we get a large gathering of kids after school of all ages.
What does your typical day look like now after COVID-19?
Before the mayor announced Shelter in Place, some Disaster Service Workers were already activated, and right now, I'm still a Disaster Service Worker. My typical day is that I go to the San Francisco Marin Food Bank, on 101 by Cesar Chavez. I go with about 20 other Librarians, Techs, Pages, and we work together to put pack bags of produce and food for those in need. We create an assembly [sic] line of products like 50 pounds of potatoes and onions, boxes of apples and oranges, and bags of rice; then we go down the line and pack bags of produce for the public.
How many other librarians are on the front lines with you?
We have a good amount of librarians that I work with. At the food bank, I have coworkers from the West Portal, North Beach, and Richmond Branches.
Do you miss your patrons?
Yes, I have not seen any of them, which worries me, especially with my older patrons, but also my younger patrons who I see every day after school I miss. Even though they are always sneaking their chips and candy, it is normal for them to see me and then pretend not to see me as they sneak food, but that is all part of the fun.
We hope the library can come back soon at its full capacity.
Yes, I am very happy that everyone is using our online resources now, but once COVID-19 and the Shelter in Place are over, I hope to see you all come into the branch.
For the full interview with Alan Wong, listen to our Library Friends Podcast.
To celebrate San Francisco's Month of Climate Action, Friends has an exclusive interview with author Mary Ellen Hannibal about San Francisco, Covid-19, and citizen science. Hannibal is an award-winning author and journalist. Her most recent book, Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction, was named one of the best titles of 2016 by the San Francisco Chronicle. Reporting deeply, Hannibal digs into the origins of today's tech-savvy citizen science movement – tracing it back through centuries of amateur observations by writers and naturalists. Enjoy this interview!
The Coronavirus is top on everyone's mind, what do you think about it?
The reason we have this pandemic is because of habitat destruction around the world. We're taking viruses out of their native ecosystems, the plants and animals that have co-evolved to not be affected by them, and suddenly it finds a new host in humans.
It's a real wakeup call on why we need to stop this mass extinction that's going on, and we need to get much better information on where these plants and animals are. The way we do that is by citizen science.
Yes, citizens science! I love the iNaturalist app.
iNaturalist is amazing. It's fantastic, we can use it today to take action. Once it gets people out and to observe what's outside, that's the first step.
What has been your interaction with the Wallace Stegner Environmental Center at the San Francisco Public Library?
I love the Stegner center; it's a valuable resource. When I was writing The Spine of the Continent that came out in 2012, the Stegner librarian was very helpful. I needed to find government documents having to do with livestock regulation and transportation regulation around the environment. The center was a fantastic resource for me, not only what Stegner had and its collection but the Librarian knowing where to find relevant information in the government collections. I have to say, a writer like me cannot do this work without a good library, and the San Francisco Public Library is such a library. Having a specific collection around the environment is really helpful, and I want it to grow more and more.
You also worked with the Stegner Center for a map of the city?
Yes, the current Stegner Librarian, Kelley Trahan, and I were on a team on making a map of nature in the city. She was super helpful, and this map is available to purchase from the nonprofit, Nature in The City. It's a wonderful resource. I wrote it, Jane Kim illustrated it, and the Academy of Science and The Exploratorium were also involved. The Library was a great resource because I had to research a lot of history of the land and land-use changes as the map includes an understanding of those impacts on species that live on that land. I researched how these systems are constructed and how they unravel, and how we can reconstruct them in some places.
The role of nature in our is more and more important, partly because we have a lot of people who care. People can plant where they live, native plants, and it can become refugia (an area that allows a species to evade extinction). Your windowsill can provide resources for hummingbirds and bees and butterflies. If you give them a chance to get their resources, you're supporting them in their life histories.
Thoughts on Wallace Stegner, the person?
Wallace Stegner is a legendary, special writer who wrote a couple of classic novels, Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety. He also wrote an amazingly important book called Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, about the first surveyor who mapped the American West in the 1800s. He said back then that we shouldn't build out West because of the water. Everyone ignored him, but he was completely right.
It's wonderful that the Library is named for him; he is really someone to know. He has become kind of a symbol of the literary West. He was never reviewed in the New York Times but won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, so he's a figure who stands for how the East Coast intelligentsia never understands the West.
And your Ted talk comes out on April 1?
Yes, I focus on monarch butterflies, which is appropriate for the San Francisco Bay Area because we are one of the sites where we see a vast decline in monarch butterflies. I don't talk about the virus because it was filmed in December, but I do talk about extinction and what we can do.
You can use iNaturalist very easily, very close to home, and while keeping social distance. Discover your city, discover your block, discover your backyard, discover the park. There is nature everywhere. Look at iNaturalist on your desktop, zero in on where you live. I always want to see butterflies. So I go onto the app and see where people saw butterflies yesterday, because they are probably there today. I can go and see them myself.
Citizen Science Resources:
SciStarter - scistarter.org
Journey North - journeynorth.org
iNaturalist - inaturalist.org
Xerces - xerces.org