San Francisco Public Library

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Coordinates: 37°46′44″N 122°24′59″W / 37.7790°N 122.4163°W / 37.7790; -122.4163

San Francisco Public Library
San Francisco Public Library (logo).jpg
Established 1878
Location San Francisco, California, United States
Branches 27
Size 3,478,293
Access and use
Circulation 10,971,974
Population served 825,863
Other information
Director Luis Herrera, City Librarian
References: [1]

The San Francisco Public Library is the public library system of the city of San Francisco. The Main Library is located at Civic Center, at 100 Larkin Street.


In 1877 a residents' meeting was called by Andrew Smith Hallidie who advocated the creation of a public library for San Francisco. A board of trustees for the Library was created in 1878 through the Rogers Act, signed by Governor of California William Irwin, which also created a property tax to fund the Library project. The San Francisco Public Library opened in 1879 on Bush Street at Kearny Street and hired Albert Hart as the first librarian. In 1888 the Library moved to the Larkin Street wing of City Hall at Civic Center. The first three branches opened from 1888 to 1889, in the Mission, in North Beach, and in Potrero Hill. In 1889 the Library became a Federal depository by nomination of Senator George Hearst.

In 1906, architect Daniel Burnham presented his plans for a new Civic Center for San Francisco, including a new library building. These plans were put on hold after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which destroyed about 40,000 volumes, nearly 25% of its holdings. The library moved to temporary quarters while a new building was designed and built. In 1917, the new main library building, designed by George W. Kelham, opened in the Civic Center.[2] Ten major murals by California Tonalist Gottardo Piazzoni were installed in 1931-1932; four more were completed in 1945, but left uninstalled until the 1970s. [3]

New Main Library[edit]

In 1986, a task force was set up to complete the design of the Civic Center, including the use of Marshall Square, next to the main library at the time, for a new main library.[2] Construction on the current Main Library began on March 15, 1993, at a cost of US$109.5 million.[4] The building was completed in 1995 and opened a year later on April 18, 1996. The old main library, which was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, was rebuilt as the new Asian Art Museum.

At over 376,000 square feet (34,900 m2) and with six floors above ground and one below, the new library is more than twice as big as the building it replaced. The new library features over 300 computer terminals, room for 1100 laptops, and a new wing for children. The city spent nearly $140 million on the new library.[citation needed] Library visitations doubled in its first year open, from 1.1 million to 2.1 million, and the number of library card holders nearly tripled.[5]

Nonetheless, the Main Library has its critics (see also: Guerrilla librarian). In October 1996 author Nicholson Baker wrote a scathing article in The New Yorker about the weeding of books from the library as it moved to the new building. He was also critical about the elimination of the card catalog when the computerized catalog was introduced.[6] Due to this negative publicity, the library released an official response to Nicholson's New Yorker article, criticizing his claims.[5] There has also been criticism in the local press that the airy and spacious atrium dramatically and deliberately reduced the amount of floor space available for shelving the library's collection which resulted in the destruction of well over 200,000 books which were then buried in a landfill, gutting the research collections of one of the finest research facilities on the West Coast, [7][8] all of which occurred far from public sight or review. Later, under intense pressure that included then Mayor Willie Brown, City Librarian Ken Dowlin whose policy it was to weed and subsequently destroy the books, was forced to resign in January 1997.[9]

The library was prominently used in the 1998 film City of Angels.[10]

Branch Libraries[edit]

The San Francisco Public Library has 27 branch libraries.[11]


  1. ^ Luis Herrera (2012). "Statistics System-Wide FY 2011-2012" (.PDF). San Francisco Public Library. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  2. ^ a b 125th Anniversary Timeline History of the San Francisco Public Library
  3. ^ Hamlin, Jesse (2005-06-27). "Orphaned Murals to Find Home / Three proposed sites for old S.F. Library artwork". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  4. ^ "San Francisco Public Library/Other Facts about the Building". Retrieved 2006-12-10. 
  5. ^ a b "San Francisco Public Library challenges accuracy of The New Yorker's "Author vs. the Library"". 1996-10-11. Archived from the original on 1998-12-03. Retrieved 2006-12-10. 
  6. ^ Baker, Nicholson (1996-10-14). "Letter from San Francisco: The Author vs. The Library". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2008-12-25. 
  7. ^ Wildermuth, John (2000-01-05). "Cost of Redoing S.F. Main Library Put at $28 million/Report notes lacks of shelf space". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2006-12-10. 
  8. ^ "Dumped Books: The Indiscriminate Mass Weeding of the San Francisco Public Library". Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  9. ^ "Dumped Books: The Indiscriminate Mass Weeding of the San Francisco Public Library". Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  10. ^ "Filming locations for City of Angels (1998)". 
  11. ^ "Libraries". Retrieved 25 August 2013. 

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