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.