Wall of Library Heroes


The Friends launch Project Read, a program teaching adults how to read. Olive “Babs” Waugh is its first director. Later, the Library will take over the program.

----United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)


Attorney James W. Haas, a member of the Friends board, convinces the group to support a masterplan for the entire Civic Center that would locate a new Main Library on Marshall Square and a museum in the old Main Library building.

Mayor Feinstein expresses skepticism that Library supporters can raise the private money needed for a new building at a meeting about the master plan with City Librarian Frantz and commissioners Callanan, Stern and Stong.

Mayor Feinstein asks for a ten percent budget cut from the Library and other departments to address a budget shortfall.


Mayor Feinstein appoints a task force headed by Deputy City Mayor Peter Henschel to develop a Civic Center master plan.

A report on Civic Center by consultants Becker and Hayes/Omni-Group criticizes the Main and calls for building a new Library next door on Marshall Square.

Hundreds meet at the Main Library on the 25th anniversary of the Friends. New York City Librarian Vartan Gregorian speaks eloquently about the need for a new Main Library.


The Fire Marshal calls the Main Library a fire hazard and closes the stacks until 100,000 books are removed.

The Friends start organizing a bond campaign, for the new Main Library. (See Box 1).

Deputy Mayor Henschel asks Asian Art Museum chair Judy Wilbur if the museum would be interested in taking over the old Main Library building. The idea is controversial. The Museum Board expresses interest but makes no commitment.

Ken Dowlin, one of the nation’s leading advocates for the high tech library of the future, is hired as the new City Librarian.

A second study by Becker and Hayes/Omni-Group underscores the advantages of Marshall Square for a new Library. Yet another study, this one by consultant Skidmore Owings & Merrill, recommends that the existing Main Library be used as a museum.

Mayoral candidate Art Agnos advocates construction of a new Main Library, saying, “We’ve had enough studies. Let’s act.” He is elected in December.

In the final weeks of her term, Mayor Feinstein sends the Board of Supervisors a series of recommendations for Civic Center, including building a new Main Library on Marshall Square and turning the old Library into a museum. Worried about winning voter approval of a bond issue over $100 million, city officials reduce the recommended bond amount by $15.5 million from construction cost estimates.

Marjorie Stern begins discussions with various business and community leaders about forming a Library Foundation to raise millions of dollars for the new Main. Many are skeptical about the success of such fundraising for a public library. (See Box 3)


Mayor Agnos and the Board of Supervisors approve Proposition A that would authorize funds to build the new Main Library and to start branch renovations. They also approve Proposition N that would allow the Asian Art Museum to take control of the old Main Library.

Seventy-six percent of voters approve the bond for a new Main Library and branch renovations. Proposition N is also approved. (See Box 1).

The Asian Art Museum Board agrees to relocate to the old Main Library and leave Golden Gate Park.

Marjorie Stern leaves the Library Commission and is named Honorary Commissioner for Life.

Mayor Agnos, facing a major budget shortfall, proposes cuts for various departments including the Library. A major political fight erupts between city officials and neighborhood activists over possible closure of several neighborhood branch libraries. Eventually only the Business Branch is closed.

(See Box 1, and electronic archives)

Mel and Charlotte Swig, major civic and philanthropic leaders, agree to chair the fundraising campaign for the new Main Library if an experienced foundation executive such as Martin Paley becomes Executive Director of the Library Foundation. Paley agrees. (See electronic archives)


A committee of 25 community leaders interviews various architects for the new Main Library and recommends two firms working in association. The City approves the recommendation and hires Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris of San Francisco, and Pei Cobb Freed & Partners of New York City. (See Box 1).

Mig Mayer retires as Executive Director of the Friends.

The Loma Prieta earthquake severely damages the Main Library. The glass floors in the seven-level book stacks twist as the earth moves shearing into long thick shards and dumping hundreds of thousands of books on the floor. City building officials close the Library and decide that staff members cannot be ordered into such an unsafe space. Ignoring the danger, staff members volunteer to retrieve the books and, working with community volunteers, move the books to temporary storage space in an empty building in the Presidio that staff calls the Carlson Stacks in honor of Library Commissioner Dale Carlson who helped broker use of the building. Main Library repairs take several months. Building repairs take several months.

When the Main re-opens, hundreds of people gather for a celebration , including a troupe of accordion players..

The Library forms the Council of Neighborhood Libraries to provide activists a forum to discuss library policies. (See electronic archives).

In support of freedom of speech, the Library hosts “I am Salman Rushdie” Day at the Main Library.

Another difficult budget year forces the Library to cut services, including updating the out-of-date and labor-intensive card catalog.


Sheet music collector Dorothy Starr dies, leaving a collection of 500,000 pieces of published music. The Friends purchase the collection from her estate for the Library.

Design work for the new Main Library is underway. Because the City had earlier reduced the bond size $15.5 million, officials eliminate one entire floor from the plan to stay within budget.

At the Presidio Branch, users of the Library for the Blind meet to decide whether to relocate to the new Main Library. After vigorous debate, community leader Rose Resnick makes an impassioned speech to move to the new Main Library. The group votes overwhelmingly to move.


Chronicle columnist Herb Caen proclaims that the new Library will henceforth be known as the New Main. Eventually the New Main periodical reading room will be named in his honor.

The Library Foundation organizes for the huge fundraising effort ahead. It will be called the Main Campaign.

A fundraising study by Charlie Howland suggests the Library Foundation will be unable to raise even $20 million because California is in a recession and the Library has no existing donor base. Nevertheless, Mel Swig sets the goal at $25 million, with an additional $5 million to start an endowment. Actions by the Foundation, Commission, various communities and individuals impact the success of the campaign.

Library Foundation Executive Director Paley believes the democratic role of a public library in society is key to the success of the campaign. He asks communities often ignored by major civic campaigns to take a leadership role in the Main Campaign. Community leaders respond with enthusiasm.

The Library Commission, believing the New Main offers a rare chance to revitalize the Library system, adopts a Five Year Strategic Plan that includes new services for traditionally underserved communities, organizing around special collections where there is broad public interest, achieving wider use of current Library resources and developing more dependable sources of revenue.

Library Commission President Steve Coulter advocates creating a gay and lesbian historical archive, the first in a public library in the U.S. At a press conference announcing its creation, author Randy Shilts warns the crowd:

“We’re losing far too many people to the AIDS epidemic - it’s essential we not lose our history, too.”

Gay and lesbian leaders, including publisher Sherry Thomas, civic leaders Alvin H. Baum, Jr., Coulter, Chuck Forester, Gary Gielow, Marya Grambs, James C. Hormel, Dorrwin Buck Jones, Robert W. Sass, Jan Zivic and others work to define and shape the archive. (See Box 3 and our electronic archives).

The Library Foundation organizes fundraising committees around special collections and the Library designates specific areas of the New Main as Centers for collections of community interest. (See Box 3 and our electronic archives)

The Chinatown Branch, the City’s busiest, is scheduled to be doubled in size. A fundraising campaign for the branch, linked to the Chinese American Center in the Main Campaign, is organized. Community leader Rosalyn Koo plays a key role for both the renovations and fundraising. (See Box 3). This effort to recruit all segments of the community in the fundraising and organizing around collections and services becomes known as the Affinity Group campaign. Around the country, other libraries and civic efforts adopt a similar model. In the years ahead, the Centers prove popular with the public and become focal points for exhibitions and special programs. (See Box 3 and our electronic archives).

Over the next three years the Main Campaignastounds the skeptics and raises $36 million under the leadership of the Swigs, Paley and many volunteers, becoming one of the most successful fundraisers in the history of American libraries.

The Main Library opens the “Prides & Joys” exhibit of rare books and fine print volumes in the collection. It is organized by printer Andrew Hoyem, Marjorie Stern and other book collectors and rare book enthusiasts.

Library activist Sally Brunn dies. The Noe Valley branch is named in her honor in 1992.

Labor unions help the Main building effort. The Building and Construction Trades Council led by Stan Smith agrees to tear down the old USO building on Marshall Square as a gift to the Library. During World War II, the same union built the USO as a gift to American soldiers.

The Library acquires several important gay and lesbian collections, including the largest private pulp fiction collection in the U.S. and the papers of the late Supervisor Harvey Milk and of Mattachine Society founder Harry Hay. (See electronic archives).

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