Mission Bay Branch Issues Most Library Cards in San Francisco

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Located near the corner of Fourth and Berry streets, Mission Bay library—which opened on July 8, 2006—is the San Francisco Public Library’s (SFPL) youngest branch. With almost 36,000 visits last year, it issues the most new library cards in the system, averaging about 300 passes a month, compared to roughly 50 at other branches.

Patrons are attracted by convenient access to the K, T and N Muni lines, and an airy interior that features large windows with views of Mission Creek. In addition, the branch offers a solid programming suitable for an array of ages.

Jana De Brauwere joined the library as branch manager last July. A 10-year SFPL veteran, she was the Russian-speaking adult services librarian at the Richmond branch previously. She’s proud of Mission Bay’s diverse offerings, which include popular Storytime on Tuesday mornings; yoga classes on Wednesday evenings; and book and knitting clubs for adults. Activities are held in the library’s large programming room, adjacent to an outdoor patio that’s often used when the weather is nice.

“The Mission Bay branch is back in business with in-person programs for all ages,” she said. “In the age of A.I., I feel that the role of the community library is to build community by connecting people with information.”

De Brauwere is particularly excited about the February launch of the Mission Bay Library Garden Club, which over the next several months will convene to discuss such topics as container gardening and growing micro greens, along with plant and seed exchanges.

Mission Bay is one of only five SFPL branches that has a vinyl collection with records available to borrow; the others are located in the Marina, Eureka Valley, Park Branch, and Western Addition.  

“We have a nice collection that we rotate in our window display,” De Brauwere said.

Knitting club members select an LP to play before they get down to business in the programming room.

The branch is located in a building owned by Mercy Housing, the nation’s largest nonprofit affordable residential developer; many regulars are low-income seniors. With 70 percent of the residents native Chinese speakers, De Brauwere partnered with a colleague at the Main Library to host classes that teach how to access SFPL’s vast digital collection of Chinese newspapers, books, magazines, and audio books.

“Our Chinese-speaking seniors can drop in, ask for help, do printing, play with computers,” said De Brauwere. 

In addition to Chinese, she noted that the Russian and Spanish adult collections are consistently used.

On the other end of the patron spectrum are the branch’s pint-sized visitors. De Brauwere noted that Mission Bay experiences constant turnover, with families in particular often only staying in the neighborhood for short spells. In line with San Francisco’s demographics, many young parents decide to relocate to be closer to the elementary school they select for their child, a phenomenon that could change after the Mission Bay school opens in 2025. 

“We see a lot of babies to pre-schoolers, but usually nothing after that,” said De Brauwere. 

The branch wants to hire a full-time children services librarian. 

“The job is a demanding position, especially for this community. Today, we do one Storytime a week—Tuesdays at 10:15 a.m.—and can only let 54 people in. At a minimum, we have 80 people show up; they line up half an hour before we open to get tickets,” she said. “While Storytime is geared towards toddlers, we see all ages, and would like to split the event to accommodate different ages. If we had five story times a week, people would show up for that. And we want to let everyone in.” 

The library holds a monthly Storytime in partnership with local preschools, such as Mission Bay Head Start, and Kai Ming Head Start. As a carryover from the pandemic, the library also offers craft kits for all ages, containing pre-cut pieces that can be assembled at home into a pinecone birdfeeder, rain cloud, or a melting snowman. 

The branch is located near South-of-Market, with the City’s highest concentration of unhoused people. It’s been subject to disruptive and inappropriate behavior. While library staff have been trained on how to handle safety situations, De Brauwere feels fortunate to have a security guard present five days a week and hopes to extend that to daily coverage.

“Everyone is welcome to use the library as intended,” she noted. 

As at all SFPL branches, anyone who can show a picture identification and proof of California residence is issued a card. Living in San Francisco isn’t a requirement.

Another draw for readers is the “Lucky Day Collection.” 

“The principle is to have a browsable collection of bestsellers; those that are just appearing on New York Times lists, books that have hundreds of holds on them,” De Brauwere explained. “We incentivize patrons to come to the library and browse the collection. If it’s your lucky day, you get to check one of these popular books out.” 

Volumes are identified by a light green “Lucky Day” paper band around the cover.

The branch also has an expansive Blu-ray and DVD collection. 

“We have a lot of DVDs from the Criterion Collection being published to Blu-ray,” said De Brauwere. “These movies are normally not available on streaming services. Our collection is vast, and we keep ordering.”

De Brauwere shared a unique patron benefit; the ability to check out a California State Park pass, which provides free vehicle day-use entry to more than 200 state parks. 

“We have about 20 of those available at Mission Bay library. People can check them out for three weeks—just like a book—and go to visit state parks.”

Pictured: San Francisco Public Library, Mission Bay branch. Photo: Sharon Risedorph