In 1879, San Francisco opened its first public library on the second floor of Pacific Hall on Bush Street, which moved to City Hall in 1888. In 1918, a library station opened in the Daniel Webster School near 20th and Connecticut streets. Over time, with multiple reconstructions and expansions, this became the light-filled, seed-lending, Potrero branch, which closed, along with all municipal libraries, last March.
Early in the public health crisis, City employees were deployed in two- or more week shifts as Disaster Service Workers. Librarians were tasked with packing and distributing food, COVID-19 contact tracing, and other duties. Curators continue to engage in this work, serving as greeters at the Moscone Center South vaccination site. According to Genevieve Feldman, Potrero branch and acting district manager to San Francisco Public Library’s northeast branches, library staff contributed more labor to the City’s pandemic response efforts than any other department.
According to City Librarian Michael Lambert, the Potrero branch can’t yet be fully opened due to staffing issues, in part because librarians remain deployed as Disaster Service Workers. However, last month the branch joined 14 of 34 SFPL branches to offer curbside pickup.
Adam Lashinsky, a Hill resident for almost 20 years, welcomes the Library’s partial return. During his tenure in the neighborhood, Lashinsky and his family regularly participated in the storytime program. Ten years ago, they watched the branch being demolished and rebuilt. During the pandemic Lashinsky relied on the Excelsior branch to pick-up materials curbside.
“It gives me a warm feeling knowing I have access to all of their resources, they’ve done a great job with to-go, and while I don’t mind going to Excelsior it will be nice to have Potrero back,” he said.
Fourteen branches are now open for curbside pickup, including Mission Bay. SFPL is also fielding bookmobiles as a way to maintain access. Launched initially as a partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District, bookmobiles offer popup pickup library services, including at John O’Connell High School at 20th and Folsom streets. In addition, patrons can make online and telephone requests for books to be mailed directly to them. Non-English-speaking people can use the library’s tip line to connect with Cantonese-, Mandarin-, Spanish-, and Tagalog-speaking staff.
San Franciscans can request that a personalized Librarian-curated list be created for them. As part of the Biblio Boutique program, readers complete a short form to identify their favorite books and movies, and are provided a list of recommendations, which can be ordered for curbside pickup or downloaded digitally.
According to Feldman, during the public health crisis, SFPL expanded digital programming, which, as a result of enthusiastic community response, is likely to continue post-pandemic. Storytime, book clubs, and lectures are broadcast virtually and can be viewed flexibly. Readers can access a cornucopia of e-books and audiobooks, research databases, online discussions, and classes through the web.
According to Lambert, limited in-person services at the Main facility in Civic Center will become available on May 3. The Mission Bay Branch will follow suit on May 18, with cascading branch openings through the summer as San Francisco moves from yellow – less than one daily case per 100,000 people – into the green tier.