Wall of Library Heroes


Mayor George Christopher appoints a Committee of 50 prominent citizens, including Marjorie Stern to examine the decline of the Library system, particularly the Main Library.

A civil grand jury reports that the Main Library is gloomy, soiled and odoriferous, a kind of skid row hostel for the homeless, and a building that is out of date. Only 1500 books were checked out from the Main Library in 1959 vs. 12,000 a year previously.

The new North Beach Branch opens. The old North Beach Branch, a Carnegie building on Powell Street, is renamed the Chinatown Branch.


San Franciscans for a Better Library, a citizens group is formed.


Prominent residents meet to form another Library support group, the San Francisco Library League.
The Committee of 50, San Franciscans for a Better Library and the San Francisco Library League join forces under a new name: Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.
(See Box 1).

City Librarian William R. Holman makes a master’s degree in library science a requirement for new librarians.


A new Eureka Valley Branch opens.


Calligrapher Richard Harrison donates his collection to the Library.

The Library begins pioneering efforts in the selection of children’s books that celebrate diverse cultures and do not perpetuate social stereotypes. Twenty years later the Effie Lee Morris Historical and Research Collection of Children’s Literature is created, honoring the Library’s first Coordinator of Children’s Services.


The Friends organization holds its first annual book sale of donated materials. It is chaired by Hilde Kolb and raises $4,000 that is used to purchase rare materials for the Library. Over the years, this sale becomes the biggest in the western United States. (See Box 1).

The Main Library establishes a collection of material on San Francisco history.

----Carved in stone, old Main Library, 1917


The Friends lobby the City for more funds and the book budget gets a significant increase.

The Library receives the private collection of Robert Grabhorn on the History of Printing and the Development of the Book, half of it a gift from the Friends.


Margaret "Mig" Mayer becomes the first Executive Director of the Friends. She will work behind the scenes supporting improved library services for 25 years.

The Library orders its first Japanese language materials for both the Main and Western Addition Branch.. A special Friends of the Japanese Collection raises money for several years to expand the collection. The Library will eventually collect materials in over forty languages.

The Western Addition Branch opens.

The State Librarian designates San Francisco Public Library as the hub of the Bay Area Reference Center (BARC), one of two regional reference groups in California.


City Librarian Holman resigns. The Examiner says Holman inherited “one of the most infamous cultural fossils in the country” and moved it in the direction of becoming a modern library.

The Library develops its first African American collections for Bayview, Western Addition, Ocean View and Ingleside branches.


Marjorie Stern is appointed to the Library Commission where she will serve until 1989.

A new Excelsior Branch opens. Commissioner Walter Jebe plays an important role in its creation.


San Francisco librarians organize a union, the Librarians Guild, which later becomes an affiliate of SEIU, Local 790. The Library Employees Association Fund, a separate staff asoociation, continues through the early 1990s.

The new Anna E. Waden Branch, named after its benefactor, opens in Bayview.


The Friends donate the first bookmobile to serve homebound persons.


New federal legislation funds the Early Childhood Project linking the Library with adults who work with children. The funds also launch Dial-a-Story.

Friends members form a new organization to lobby the state and city for more funding---Keep Libraries Alive! Leaders include Sally Brunn, Grace Macduff Parker, Billie Pearl-Schuler, Mary Louise Stong and Marjorie Stern.


A pivotal fight develops over the development of Marshall Square. Library supporters hoped to use the site for a new Main Library. Mayor Joseph Alioto, believing Library supporters cannot raise enough private money to furnish a new Main Library, supports locating a new Symphony Hall on Marshall Square. Library Commission President Ed Callanan disagrees and Library supporters campaign against the move. With the help of Supervisors Ron Pelosi and Bob Mendelsohn, and assistance from attorney William Coblentz, the Board of Education makes a parking lot on Van Ness Avenue available for the Symphony Hall and the Library gets Marshall Square.

The Library becomes an innovator in using video and audiotapes for the hearing and sight impaired.


A Performing Arts Archive is created and placed in the Presidio Branch through the collaboration of City Librarian Kevin Starr and former ballet costume designer Russell Hartley. In 1981 the collection moves out of the Library. In 1989 the independent Performing Arts Library and Museum is established.

The Library purchases its first children’s books in the Russian language.


The Library installs its first automation system to help improve circulation. The first children’s bookmobile is purchased.


Passage of Proposition 13rolls back property taxes and seriously diminishes the City’s ability to fund the Library and other public services.

Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk are assassinated at City Hall. The Eureka Valley Branch is renamed in memory of Milk, a longtime Library supporter and former Friends Board member.

City Guides, offering free neighborhood history tours, is started in the Main Library’s San Francisco History Room by Judith Lynch.


San Francisco and Shanghai develop a Sister City relationship under leadership from the mayors of both cities, Dianne Feinstein and Jiang Zemin. Eventually this will include a library book exchange program between the public libraries in both cities. Library Commissioner Ed Bransten will play a leadership role in the exchange of thousands of donated books between the two libraries in the years ahead.


City Librarian John Frantz threatens to close eleven branches if a proposed 20 percent budget cut is enacted. Keep Libraries Alive! demonstrates at City Hall. The Friends agree to temporarily pay the rent for the Business Branch. The Friends agree to take over the popular but unbudgeted City Guides program.


A budget compromise keeps all branches open.


A report by Columbia University library expert Lowell Martin recommends consolidation of branches to save money and improve service. The report is not well received by neighborhood activists who support branch libraries.

The Friends open Book Bay at Fort Mason to sell donated books and materials. The money helps fund Library projects the City could otherwise not afford.

The Friends and City Arts & Lectures, led by Sydney Goldstein, launch a literary lecture series that proves popular with the reading public.

Mary Louise Stong is appointed to the Library Commission, where she will serve for the next six years.

Next Page