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
As we shelter in place, we are keenly aware of how precious our loved ones and community are to us. First, thank you so much for the work you are doing to stay sheltered and follow the directives of city officials to bring our community through this unprecedented global crisis.
I also know that you care greatly about our beloved San Francisco Public Library and that its closure is difficult. I am writing to update you about how the Library and Friends are responding to the crisis.
What is happening at the Library? All 28 libraries are currently closed to regular business. When they can reopen, we can expect there will be no programming offered outside of basic library services through the end of May. However, the Library is still actively providing critical services to the San Francisco community.
You may have heard that the Library was engaged in a massive effort to convert library buildings into emergency childcare centers to augment childcare capacity for healthcare workers (with distancing protocols). Put on hold after the Mayor’s shelter in place order, it appears that the Library may again be able to activate this program for our heroic healthcare workers and their families. We will keep you posted if the program reopens. Additionally, where possible, Library staff members have been deployed to assist other city departments and community organizations on food distribution and services for our most vulnerable residents.
The Library is also operating as usual in its virtual form. This is an opportune moment to explore its vast offerings of electronic collections and applications. The Library’s IT department has been hard at work ensuring that students, parents, and teachers have access to online resources through the Scholar Card Program and tutoring services through applications like Brain Fuse. Additionally, you and your family can access streaming and eServices, including eBooks, movies, classes, historical documents, etc., for both education and entertainment.
We are grateful for the continued provision of free resources and the public service of our dedicated Library leaders and staff. We are also immensely proud and grateful to all of you who have taken active roles for many years as advocates and donors in supporting the strong public library infrastructure that is making the difference in San Francisco right now.
What is happening at Friends? With our staff working from home, Friends continues to operate in all areas except the Book Program. In line with the Mayor’s and Governor’s shelter in place orders, we have closed the Donation Centers and both the bookstores indefinitely. In the coming weeks, I will be able to provide updates on the Book Program and other book-related events.
Along with promoting the eServices of the Library and providing you with regular updates, Friends is also in the planning process of producing other media, such as a Friends’ podcast series and possibly streaming storytimes by branch Librarians. Please visit our website and our social media channels for updates.
Our work to support and protect the Library continues unabated. In that vein, I want to take this opportunity to tell you about the campaign we have launched for the Library’s future. Below is a podcast that lays out our new Campaign for the Future of the Library detailing how Friends will meet the needs of the Library over the next five years. The podcast is a recording of the presentation made by the City Librarian, Michael Lambert, and myself at the annual Mary Louise Stong Breakfast on Friday, February 7th. This is a great overview of our plans, and you will hear more about it later.
My thoughts and wishes for good health and safety go out to all of you in this unprecedented time of fear and uncertainty. We will make certain that we continue to bring the comforts, joys, and power of the Library to you as best we can.
P.S. Friends will assuredly do all that we can now and be ready for the Library when the crisis is over. Please feel free to support us now if you are moved and if you can. We are truly grateful.
The Library Friends Podcast is a way for you to get more connected with the Library. We have fantastic content planned for the next couple of months that includes author interviews, Library programs, profiles of librarians, and recordings of special events.
Our latest episode, The Future of Our Library: Inside Out, is a presentation from City Librarian Michael Lambert and Executive Director of Friends of the Library, Marie Ciepiela. They discuss Friends' Strategic Plan for the Library and the three upcoming renovations at the Mission, Chinatown, and Oceanview Branches. You'll also hear from Board Chair Beth Kelly, and Board Member Jay Auslander during the presentation. Stay tuned until the end to hear from City Archivist, Susan Goldstein, talk about the incredible materials available to the public in the SF History Center on the 6th Floor of the Main!
Find the podcast by searching "Library Friends Podcast" on your favorite podcasting app, or by clicking the links below:
Every year we had to spend the evening of February 28th with our next-door neighbors, Barney and Emma. They were a couple whom we struggled to connect meaningfully with. Their apartment was the mirror floor plan of ours, and they were demographically identical to us, but the most delightful little coincidence was that we and they had the same anniversary.
Technically that’s not correct. Our anniversary was Leap Day, February 29th, which famously does not return every year. When Barney and Emma found out about this, they insisted we celebrate our anniversary with them, as if we were children with summer birthdays, and they were teachers pitying us with an ice cream social.
As we stepped into their apartment for their first anniversary we had the feeling of being subjugated. It was not our anniversary. Our anniversary was arguably the next day, but technically it was on a day that squeezed itself into and out of the calendar as a mischievous little treat. The forces of conformity, we felt, were bringing us into line.
We spent the evening cheersing. We got wine teeth. And slowly we regained our confidence, as we realized that they were boring. They were both good-looking, with clear skin and expensive tattoos. She wore makeup competently, he was pretty tall. Their conversation topics were well-reviewed podcasts and documentaries, or sometimes a debate prompt like, “Is a hotdog a sandwich,” meant to provoke good-natured pedantry. Their apartment was put-together, with the spider plants and the end tables and the tasteful bong. It was stimulating because it was stultifying, in that it made us think compulsively about their sex life. The source of their interest in each other, when they seemed so dull, had to be that which was concealed, and it had to be pretty compelling. But we equally enjoyed thinking that wasn’t the case at all: that their shallow and conventional relation to each other went all the way down, and they had no secret. And naturally we enjoyed thinking that they were thinking the same of us, and how wrong that would make them.
We went mad with smugness. It seemed thematically harmonious with the difference between the basic February 28th and the idiosyncratic February 29th. We went back into our own apartment clinging to each other and immediately made love.
They brought us around again the next year. February 28th. Technically, our first anniversary had not yet come to pass. It was Barney and Emma’s second. This time it was a party. Heterosexual couples populated the apartment and Barney and Emma took on the energetic aspects of hosts. We brought some chairs over from our apartment as well as plain potato chips. It was as humid as a gym. We learned which couples were married and which couples were engaged. We agreed that the corniest thing that could happen this evening would be for Barney and Emma to get engaged. Which is what they did. In high school, people go out for four years without ever moving beyond mouth stuff, but when you’re 30, people go out for two years and then get married. We found ourselves clapping and even slightly crying. In the face of so much joy, and pride, and social reward, our smugness felt adolescent and unbecoming. Who were we to imply that they were marrying simply to follow convention, or rather, that that was at odds with emotional actualization? What did we know about them? And how stupid were we not to see what they saw plainly, and had seen all their lives, which was that enjoying convention was akin to having a button that you could push for an instant orgasm, and pushing it over and over again, with no fear of reprisal, and no threat of insanity, and no diminishment of rapture?
The third year, on February 28th, they held their wedding. The date was to be carried into their married life as their wedding anniversary. They would have a bashful little routine to do for the rest of their lives, exactly like ours, “Well, it’s our first anniversary, well, technically our fourth, well, who’s counting…”
Barney and Emma’s wedding took place in the stunning botanical garden walking distance from our apartment. We were not invited. We were not, in truth, their friends, only their neighbors. We agreed to take care of their dog during the tumultuous day. Their dog had the same name as everyone else’s dog, and occupied the sweet spot of photogenic but not purebred. The dog was a celebrity on Instagram and had hundreds of thousands of followers. It had had several traumatic experiences on airplanes, flying for trips related to its quick rise to fame, so it was now too nervous to attend the wedding.
We allowed ourselves to think it an ill omen for their marriage. The way they maneuvered this child-substitute, the avatar of innocence, as a prop for their vanity. We didn’t think the voice they gave the dog in its Instagram captions was very fitting for the dog. Naturally we envisioned the dog as a baby, and Barney and Emma as narcissistic parents.
“You’re famous,” we told the dog. “You have three hundred and fifty thousand Instagram followers.” It had no reaction, which was the point.
Come now into our apartment, we told the dog. We encircled it conspiratorially like witches and passed our hands over it. The dog will like us better than its parents. It will see something and know something about us. But instead it got too nervous and peed on the carpet and cried and cried. When Barney and Emma came to retrieve it, giddy drunk and profusely thankful, they were married and it was the early hours of March 1st. We decided that taking care of a baby was actually easier than taking care of a dog, or even a plant. Because it was made of the same things as you and you knew what it needed. And also because you loved it more.
The fourth year, February 28th was at last followed by February 29th. Leap Day. But by that date Barney and Emma, the couple, did not exist anymore. Barney had succumbed early to his midlife crisis and had left not only the apartment but his career and the state, and was never heard from again. Emma kept the dog, who lost an eye to an infection and became even more beloved online wearing little outfits with eye patches.
So we spent Leap Day, our first anniversary, after four years, alone. The traditional first-anniversary present theme is paper, and the fourth anniversary present theme is flowers or fruit, so we made each other crude flowers and fruits out of paper, and had a silly time smelling them and biting them, saying, “Mmm, smells like nothing,” and, “How fibrous, you know, the roughage is good for you.” From the point of view of this story, this might seem like the first time we were properly alone together. But that’s not true. We actually spent almost all our time alone together, and our deranged jealousy and contempt of our good-looking neighbors didn’t preoccupy more than a week of each year. Now that their relationship was over, we marveled at how accelerated the whole thing had been, from courtship to divorce, and our smugness crept back. We, on the other hand, had spent four years coming to our first anniversary, luxurious and slow like a blooming flower. That Leap Day we had the sense that we were living against a unique clock that was stopped most of the time and only ticked down rarely, and that our slow progress afforded us secret hours. This, of course, was a grave error, and a wild misinterpretation of the nature of things. ⬛
Friends of the San Francisco Public Library is thrilled to announce the second class of writers chosen for the Lisa Brown and Daniel Handler Writer’s Residency. These five writers will spend the year using the Friends’ office to work on their projects and partner with five library branches to share their talents with the community. Residents began moving into the office in October and have made the space their own. One Resident brought in a ceramic donut and unicorn painted by his children, which inspired another Resident in her writing. Follow along on Twitter or Instagram (@FriendsSFPL) for a front-row seat to this year’s Residents in action.
2010-2020 Brown Handler Writers Residents:
Earle McCartney’s short stories have appeared in ZZYZVA, The Common, Meridian, Big Fiction and The Greensboro Review. He received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was a recipient of The San Francisco Foundation’s 2013 Joseph Henry Jackson Award. A native of rural southern New Jersey, Earle has lived in San Francisco for the last twelve years.
Amanda Moore’s poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies including ZZYZVA, Cream City Review and Best New Poets, and her essays have appeared in The Baltimore Review, Hippocampus Magazine and on the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s blog. She is a Contributing Poetry Editor at Women’s Voices for Change, a Board member for the Marin Poetry Center and a high school teacher. Amanda lives by the beach in the Outer Sunset with her husband and daughter.
Mia Paschal is an actress and playwright who moved to San Francisco from Milan, Italy to study with Ed Hooks. Along with her ensemble theater and film work, she has written and performed four awardwinning solo shows: some life, This Lily Was (Fontana), Along the Path of Larks and Swallow and Heartbreak Velocity. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Oakland Museum of California have also commissioned her to write site-specific works, My Jim Dine Valentine and Trevlig. Writing in Italian, French, Danish and English, her poetry will next be featured in the winter issue of The Copenhagen Review.
Maddy Raskulinecz is a fiction writer from Maryland, now living in San Francisco. Her fiction has appeared in ZZYZVA, Guernica, Joyland, Tin House Online and elsewhere, and was recently included in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2019. She holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins University.
Shruti Swamy is the winner of two O. Henry Awards. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, the Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. She is a Kundiman fiction fellow, a 2017–2018 Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University and a recipient of a 2018 grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her story collection, A House Is a Body, is forthcoming from Algonquin Books in August.
Last year’s Brown Handler Residents published their first books, received offers from literary agents, published in national publications including the New York Times and Departures magazine and presented their work at the Friends’ Lit Crawl Event in at the Mission Branch Library. The generosity of Lisa Brown and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) provided free and accessible studio space in which to work, and a deeper connection to writers, librarians and our library community. Reflecting the Library’s mission as a democratic, public and accessible institution, Friends is committed to supporting writers from a wide spectrum of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation and genre. For more information and to find out more about the projects the residents are working on, visit friendssfpl.org/residency.
Give books! A book is such a personal and meaningful gift and buying one at the Friends Bookstores at the Main and Fort Mason makes your gift even more special. Proceeds from book sales go toward providing necessary financial support and advocacy for the SFPL.
Give a Friends Bookstore Gift Certificate. Available to purchase at both bookstores. Let your loved-ones enjoy restocked selections every day, from new and rare art books to the most incredible collections of history and fiction. They may get lost in the bookstores all day!
Give a Friends Membership. Members get 10% off all books in our bookstores and over thirty other independent bookstores throughout the city! Along with discounts, members receive invitations to Library and author events, tickets to the Big Book Sale Member Preview, and this At the Library SFPL monthly publication delivered to their home.
Give a gift to Friends. Make an impact for your community, for free public access to our award-winning Library, and exceptional Library programming by making a personally significant gift to Friends. Here are ways that you can give:
Make a year-end gift online (including tribute gifts): go to FriendsSFPL.org/Support-Us
Make a gift of appreciated stock (Beneficiaries of 2019 IPOs encouraged!)
If you are 70.5+ years young, please consider making a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD). A QCD is a direct transfer of funds from an IRA custodian, payable to a qualified charity. QCDs can be counted toward satisfying required minimum distributions (RMDs) for the year. Also, QCDs don't require itemization, which due to the recent tax law changes, means you can take advantage of the higher standard deduction, but still use a QCD for charitable giving.
Example: A married couple both over age 65 now receives a $27,200 standard deduction; so itemized deductions must exceed that amount to reduce taxable income. Under the new tax laws, itemized deductions for all taxes are limited to $10,000. Further, home mortgages may be virtually paid off and medical deductions are still not allowable except in the rare year of serious illness. This all means that if you directly donate the “remaining” $17,200 and claim it as a charitable itemized deduction, it will produce no additional tax benefit. As an alternative, you can transfer the $17,200 directly from one's IRA under QCD and reduce your adjustable gross income (AGI) by that full amount while still preserving the full $27,200 standard deduction. (The standard deduction for single filers is $13,600.)
Information on all ways to give can be found at FriendsSFPL.org/Support-Us, and you can also contact Craig Palmer, Chief of Advancement directly at (415) 477-5235 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Retired, and still making a difference
On Friday, Feb. 23, Luis Herrera retired as City Librarian. During his 13 years serving San Francisco, he championed massive change in the library system and was a beacon of inspiration for librarians and library lovers alike. Luis may have packed up his office, but he remains staunchly passionate about continuing to make an exceptional difference at the San Francisco Public Library. And guess what? You can too, by contributing to the Luis Herrera Latino/Hispanic Interest Collection.
Looking at what Luis has accomplished can put into context how effective this new fund can be. In 2012, Luis was named Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year, and a few years after that was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the board of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. As a member of the Board of Trustees of the Latino Community Foundation, he was a champion in the Latino community nationally.
We remember Luis as one of San Francisco’s most influential City Librarians, and his amazing work for our City has garnered national attention. The branch capital improvement projects, led by Luis, transformed neighborhood libraries into community beacons. Fast forward to present day, and every library is open seven days a week; a national model of service for all urban libraries.
Now is your chance to contribute to a special collection beloved by Luis. The Luis Herrera Latino/Hispanic Interest Collection helps to bridge gaps in the library’s selections, making new and important Spanish language content available throughout the system. The collection also funds programming catering to Latino communities and aims to bring more people into our libraries.
Help us continue his great legacy through contributing to this special opportunity. Visit friendssfpl.org for more information.
From community connections to children’s literacy, our SFPL far transcends books. The San Francisco Public Library is a beacon for so much good in San Francisco. From homeless services, immigration help, author readings, craft and performance programs and unrestricted internet access, the library is a free space that empowers every member of our society with tools to learn and engage the community around them. No matter the socioeconomic background, every person in San Francisco is a part of the library. Whether it’s participating in library services, or supporting the voter-approved Library Preservation Fund, the library is part of our identity. Board member Sarah Jones said it best in a recent speech at the 2019 Library Laureates fundraiser, “It’s not the library, it’s our library.” Friends is an integral part of making sure the library is fully equipped to take on its important work. While the city covers the library’s staffing and operational costs, private donations allow Friends to pay for expenses that fall outside of the city’s capacity and to more quickly respond to needs. Support include fees for subcontracted service providers; honorariums for authors, artists and curators; collections acquisition; equipment; program supplies; food; multilingual materials; and professional training to keep SFPL librarians on the leading edge of innovation. By supporting Friends, you can see the direct impact you are having on the 2018 Library of the Year. The partnership between Friends, the Library, and you is the reason our library is so successful and nationally recognized as a beacon of inclusivity in our community
Friends provides over $1 million in direct support to the San Francisco Public Library. While the city covers the Library’s staffing and operational costs, private donations allow Friends to fund expenses that fall outside of the city’s capacity and to quickly respond to needs. Support includes fees for subcontracted service providers; honorariums for authors, artists and curators; collections acquisition; equipment; program supplies; food; multilingual materials production; and professional training to keep librarians on the leading edge of innovation. Friends’ support is spread throughout:
Additionally, we work in tandem with SFPL on key signature community partnerships, including Summer Stride, One City One Book, the Effie Lee Morris Children’s Literature Lecture Series, Connect with Tech Week, the James Hormel LGBTQIA Endowment, the Wiley Innovation Fund, and the Lisa Brown and Daniel Handler Writer’s Residency.
Together, our partnership makes the award-winning difference: Friends, the Library, and YOU.
Library Laureates 2019 celebration. Top right: Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Elaine Castillo, Thi Bui and Marie Ciepiela. Lower left: Daniel Handler and Dave Eggers.
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