San Francisco Public Library

Larkin Street entrance of the San Francisco Main Branch Public Library

Larkin Street entrance of the San Francisco Main Branch Public Library

While I am in this historic city on the last leg of my tour, I took the opportunity to visit the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library.  I was interested to visit after viewing a time lapse video created following its construction from 1993 to 1996.

The library is situated downtown near the Civic Centre.  This square includes the beautiful City Hall (which is nearly 100 years old), the War Memorial Opera House  home to the local opera and ballet and Symphony Hall.


Like the City Library in Salt Lake City, the architects have chosen to use a  lot of glass to ensure that natural light can pervade through the multi level building.  It may or may not be a good idea that the appropriately titled History Center of the library is located on the sixth floor.

I chose to climb the stairs so as to peek in on other areas of the library.  This included the children’s floor and the Government Information Center.  As is the case in Salt Lake, people can access items in multiple destinations and then process their own self check -out on the ground floor upon their exit.

The History Center included two large external display areas, currently hosting displays through April.  The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni) historical photograph display was interesting; taken by, and donated by a long term employee.  (View their archive online via HistoryPin.) I had also observed after a trip to the landmark Coit Tower that the Library’s History Center had co-ordinated a small display about Lily Coit for whom the tower is named, including her story and original documents from her life.

The History Center is also responsible for the archives of the city.  It was very busy with researchers accessing fragile books on protected pillow bases with two members of staff available to assist.  It has a free service for researchers providing obituary look ups in San Francisco newspapers.  Browse their historical photograph collection online – by subject.

The neighborhood has a high African-American population as well as an Asian community where English is a second language. I had a light lunch in the downstairs café where private (volunteer I suspect) tutors were having a quiet English class over a nice bite.



About infolass

Local and Family History Librarian, Yarra Plenty Regional Library, Melbourne, Australia
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