San Francisco Public Library in San Francisco

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The San Francisco Public Library is a public library system serving the city of San Francisco. Its main library is located in San Francisco's Civic Center, at 100 Larkin Street at Grove. The first public library of San Francisco officially opened in 1879, just 30 years after the California Gold Rush. Since then, it has moved several times. The first three branches were opened from 1888 to 1889, in the Mission, in North Beach, and in Potrero Hill.


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 in Civic Center. 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. 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.

New Main Library

In 1986, a task force was set up to complete the design of Civic Center, including the use of Marshall Square, next to the main library at the time, for a new main library.

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. Due to this negative publicity, the library released an official response to Nicholson's New Yorker article, criticizing his claims.<ref name="newyorker_refute"/> However, Nicholas A. Basbanes devoted the entirety of chapter 9 in his magnificent Patience and Fortitude to the controversy, overwhelmingly substantiating Baker's charges. There has also been criticism in the local press that the airy and spacious atrium dramatically reduced the amount of floor space available for shelving the library's collection.

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


As of 2007, the San Francisco Public Library has 27 branches. The newest branch to open in over 40 years is the Mission Bay Branch Library, which opened to the public in July 2006.

Those listed in italics are currently closed for renovation as part of the Branch Library Improvement Program. The dates listed indicate the year of opening.

  • Anza Branch (1932)
  • Bayview Branch (1927)
  • Bernal Heights Branch (1920)
  • Chinatown Branch (1888-9 as North Beach Branch, renamed 1921)
  • Eureka Valley Branch (1902 as McCreery Branch, rebuilt 1962 as Eureka Valley Branch)
  • Excelsior Branch (1925) -- reopened 7/9/05
  • Glen Park Branch (1927) -- new facility opened 10/13/07
  • Golden Gate Valley Branch (1918)
  • Ingleside Branch (1925)
  • Marina Branch (1954) -- reopened 8/4/07
  • Merced Branch (1958)
  • Mission Branch (1888-9) -- reopened 5/5/1999
  • Mission Bay Branch (2006)
  • Noe Valley Branch (1916) -- reopened 3/8/08
  • North Beach Branch (1958)
  • Ocean View Branch (1902) -- new facility opened 6/7/00
  • Ortega Branch (1956)
  • Park Branch (1895)
  • Parkside Branch (1936)
  • Portola Branch (1928) -- new facility opened 2/21/09
  • Potrero Branch (1888-9)
  • Presidio Branch (1898)
  • Richmond Branch (1892) -- reopened 5/16/09
  • Sunset Branch (1918) -- reopened 3/31/07
  • Visitacion Valley Branch (1934)
  • West Portal Branch (1936) -- reopened 2/10/07
  • Western Addition Branch (1966)

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