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.