Posted by: bluesyemre | September 15, 2022

Peek at What Your Neighbor Is Reading and the Trends Transforming San Francisco’s Public Libraries

San Francisco Public Library staff organize books at its main branch on Friday, August 26, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The San Francisco Public Library has a little-known tagline: “Every library, every day.” 

In the days before Covid, City Librarian Michael Lambert said this was an easy motto to stick to: each of the city’s 27 public library branches and its main library site opened seven days a week, serving thousands of San Franciscans with their reading and resource needs. 

But with a global pandemic that shuttered public buildings and prohibited social gatherings, the last two years have been anything but typical for the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL). 

All SFPL branches closed for public use in March 2020, and remained closed for another 14 months. Programs came to a screeching halt early on, and recent in-person attendance has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. Material circulation patterns changed dramatically during this time, and the city even employed two-thirds of the library’s staff as Disaster Service Workers. 

“Pre-COVID, we would offer well over 15,000 programs, classes, and events a year, and we would draw half a million people that would come to the library just for these experiences. We’re not there yet,” said Lambert. 

But in recent months, what looked like overwhelming challenges for SF’s main public learning institution turned into an opportunity for ongoing change and transformation—what Lambert says is a crucial turning point for the library in the wake of the pandemic. 

“People don’t stop reading and didn’t stop reading,” said Randle McClure, SFPL’s Chief Analytics Officer. Even as the circulation of physical books and materials dwindled, the library saw other transformations in its operations: eMaterials shot up in popularity, virtual events became popular with patrons around the world, and the library found other ways to serve the community. 

“That’s really a success story of ours throughout the pandemic: to be able to provide [services] even when our doors were closed,” said McClure. 

The result? Things are looking up for SF’s libraries. Here are 5 trends that show SFPL programming strategies and circulation trends bode well for the future of the system.

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