History of San Francisco Public Library

The San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) is dedicated to free and equal access to information, knowledge, independent learning and the joys of reading for our diverse communities. The library system includes the architecturally significant Main Library in the city’s Civic Center, 27 neighborhood branches including 7 Carnegie libraries, and four bookmobiles. With a collection of more than 3.7 million items, and circulation exceeding 11 million each year, SFPL serves more than 6 million visitors annually.

The doors of San Francisco’s first public library swung open on June 7, 1879 in Pacific Hall, a rented space housing a collection of 6,000 books in a Bush Street office building in the Financial District. It was relocated to a wing of City Hall in 1888, a facility that was virtually leveled by the 1906 earthquake. A noble, granite structure housing 200,000 volumes opened as a monument to knowledge in the majestic new Civic Center on February 15, 1917. This library has since been repurposed as the Asian Art Museum when the “new” Main Library opened April 18, 1996. Over the course of its 142-year history, the Library has significantly expanded its footprint boasting the 2nd most libraries per square mile in the country.

In June 2018, the Library was named Library of the Year by Gale/Library Journal for its active promotion of San Francisco’s values of inclusion, diversity, and equity, and its ability to create programs and policies that support those democratic values. The library embraces its role as the most democratic of institutions, providing safe and welcoming facilities for all. Through a robust array of services and programs, the library places an emphasis on literacy and learning, racial equity, digital inclusion, social justice, and healthy communities.

SFPL Through the Decades