San Francisco Public Library
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Wall of Library Heroes

1918

The Sunset and Golden Gate Valley branches open with funds from the Carnegie Foundation.

1920

The Main Library begins to acquire rare books at the instigation of Library Trustee William Young. The Library also starts collecting works from San Francisco’s fine printers and binders who are gaining international stature.

1921

The Library budget is $185,000 a year.

Carnegie Foundation funds build two new buildings: the North Beach Branch on Powell Street and the Presidio Branch on Sacramento Street.

A new Eureka Valley Branch opens, replacing the McCreery Branch that was damaged in the 1906 earthquake.

1925

The Excelsior and Ingleside branches open.

1926

A report by the San Francisco Center indicates that Library children’s services are under-funded and that the Library “does not appreciate the value of assistants who are graduates of library schools.”

1927

The Glen Park and Bayview branches open.

The Library names the rare book and fine printing collection in memory of Max J. Kuhl, a rare book collector and the attorney for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition of 1915.

1928

The Portola and Ocean View branches open.

Trustees President James Phelan commissions an outside study of the Library. The report concludes that the Library has an excellent collection considering its near destruction in the 1906 earthquake and fire, but the Library is under-funded, and its staff is largely untrained and seriously underpaid.

1929

With the Great Depression, Library funding declines while the number of people using the Library skyrockets.

The Business Branch opens in the financial district.

1931

A new City Charter converts the Library Board of Trustees into a Library Commission appointed by the Mayor.

1932

The Anza Branch opens.

1933

As poor economic times continue, Mayor Angelo Rossi appoints a Citizens Advisory Committee that recommends major cuts in the Library budget. The book budget is cut significantly.

1935

The Visitacion Valley Branch opens.

1936

The Parkside, West Portal and Bernal branches open, all in rental sites.

1940

Library staff, almost entirely women, campaigns successfully for civil service protection.

A new Bernal Branch opens in a city owned site.

Local businessman Alfred Furhman leaves money in his will to the Library. The bequest, still generating income as of 2003, has enabled the Library to acquire thousands of additional books and materials on economic and political subjects.

1943

Shelf space for the Main Library’s collection reaches capacity.

The City seeks federal Works Progress Administration funds to build an addition to the Main Library but is unsuccessful.

Mayor Roger Lapham seeks federal funds for construction of ten branches but is also unsuccessful.

1945

Commission Secretary Laurence J. Clarke is appointed City Librarian and begins to make plans for a bond issue for an addition to the Main.

1947

On April Fools Day, Library Commissioner Nat Schmulowitz donates his collection on wit and humor to the Library with an endowment to buy additional books in the years ahead. The gift, named the Schmulowitz Wit & Humor Collection in his honor, eventually grows to become one of the largest of its kind in the world.

1948

A bond issue for 18 new branches and an addition to the Main Library, championed by City Librarian Clarke, fails by 12,000 votes.

1949

Citizens concerned about the future of the Library meet to form the first, short-lived Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. Nat Schmulowitz presides. Dr. Charles Albert Schumate is elected President. One of the participants, Mary Louise Stong will champion the Library cause for the next half century.

“OUR FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY IS THE ONE INSTITUTION THAT SERVES ALL REGARDLESS OF WHO YOU ARE OR WHAT YOU DO.”
----Mary Louise Stong, friend of the Library (1920- 2002)

1951

The new Parkside and Potrero branches open replacing rented facilities.

1953

Voters turn down a limited bond issue to remodel the Main Library and make it more efficient.

1954

The Marina Branch opens.

1956

The Ortega Branch opens.

1957

Anna Waden, a health department employee of modest means, leaves money in her will to construct a new branch in Bayview/Hunters Point.

The Chronicle runs a series of articles critical of the Library by reporter Hale Champion. One headline asks, “Where are the books?” while another article states “Public Library a Disgrace to San Francisco.”

1958

The Library Commission retains Emerson Greenaway, President of the American Library Association, to survey San Francisco’s Library and make recommendations. The report urges the City to increase Library funding, hire professionally trained staff, and, ultimately, replace the Main Library with a larger facility.

The Merced Branch opens.

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