Library Timeline

  • 1877

    Residents of San Francisco hold a meeting at Dashaway Hall, initiated by Andrew S. Hallidie, to advocate the funding and establishment of a free public Library.

    Best seller in 1877
    The American by Henry James
  • 1878

    Governor William Irwin signs the Rogers Act, instituting a property tax to raise Library funds and creating a board of Library trustees.

    Best seller in 1878:
    The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green
  • 1879

    San Francisco History Room, from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 14, 1881 First San Francisco Public Library opens on the second floor of Pacific Hall on Bush Street (between Kearny & Dupont, now Grant Avenue).

    First City Librarian, Albert Hart, is hired.

    Best seller in 1879:
    Progress and Poverty by Henry George
  • 1888

    City Hall Library moves to the Larkin Street wing of City Hall, in the new Civic Center.

    Best seller in 1888:
    Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy
  • 1888-89

    First three branches are opened, in the Mission, in North Beach, and on Potrero Hill.

  • 1889

    The Library is nominated for federal depository status by U.S. Senator George Hearst and continues as a federal depository to the present day.

    Best seller in 1889:
    Stories by Guy de Maupassant
  • 1892

    Richmond Branch opened.

    Best seller in 1892:
    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • 1893

    Library relocates to the third floor of City Hall's McAllister Street wing.

    Best seller in 1893:
    Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • 1895

    Park Branch opened.

    Best seller in 1895:
    The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  • 1898

    Presidio Branch opened.

    Best seller in 1898:
    Black Rock by Ralph Connor
  • 1901

    Andrew J. Carnegie
    Andrew J. Carnegie
    The foundation established by Andrew J. Carnegie gives $750,000 to the city to help fund a new main Library and several branches. See "History of Carnegie Libraries" by Tim Kelley (PDF).

    The Library Commission is formed.

    View 1901 Borrowers' Handbook

    Best seller in 1901:
    Graustark by George Barr McCutcheon
  • 1902

    Eureka Valley Branch opened as McCreery Branch. Rebuilt as Eureka Valley in 1962.

    Ocean View Branch opened.

  • 1903

    San Francisco voters pass a bond issue to supplement the Carnegie bequest.

    Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, leader of the City Beautiful movement, begins to design a master plan for San Francisco, including a Civic Center with a new Library building.

    Best sellers in 1903

    Lady Rose's Daughter, Mary Augusta Ward
    Gordon Keith, Thomas Nelson Page
    The Pit, Frank Norris
    Lovey Mary, Alice Hegan Rice
    The Virginian, Owen Wister
    Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, Alice Hegan Rice
    The Mettle of the Pasture, James Lane Allen
    Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to His Son, George Horace Lorimer
    The One Woman, Thomas Dixon Jr.
    The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, John Fox Jr.
  • 1906

    City Hall In Ruins After The 1906 Earthquake And Fire Daniel Burnham presents his final plan for the city's redesign. But shortly afterward the earthquake and fire destroy much of the city including the Library collection housed in City Hall. Of the Library's 166,344 volumes an estimated 140,000 were destroyed. Temporary quarters were established on Hayes Street near Van Ness. Two of the six branches were destroyed.

    Best sellers in 1906:

    1. Coniston, Winston Churchill
    2. Lady Baltimore, Owen Wister
    3. The Fighting Chance, Robert W. Chambers
    4. The House of a Thousand Candles, Meredith Nicholson
    5. Jane Cable, George Barr McCutcheon
    6. The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
    7. The Awakening of Helena Ritchie, Margaret Deland
    8. The Spoilers, Rex Beach
    9. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
    10. The Wheel of Life, Ellen Glasgow
  • 1907

    The Library moves to a temporary location between Van Ness & Franklin, Fell & Hayes.

  • 1908

    The city begins to raise funds and consider plans for a new Civic Center.

  • 1914

    The temporary Main Library reaches capacity.

    Architect George W. Kelham; image courtesy Alexandra Kelham Phillips
    George Kelham
    Architect George W. Kelham's design for a new Main Library - the first building to be constructed specifically for the Library - is chosen for a Civic Center location, the block bound by Larkin, McAllister, Hyde, and Fulton streets.

    Carnegie Foundation funds are earmarked for the building of branch libraries in the Richmond, the Mission, the Sunset, Noe Valley, and Golden Gate Valley.

  • 1915

    Ground is broken for the Main Library.

    Best sellers in 1915:

    1. The Turmoil, Booth Tarkington
    2. A Far Country, Winston Churchill
    3. Michael O'Halloran, Gene Stratton Porter
    4. Pollyanna Grows Up, Eleanor H. Porter
    5. K, Mary Roberts Rinehart
    6. Jaffery, William J. Locke
    7. Felix O'Day, F. Hopkinson Smith
    8. The Harbor, Ernest Poole
    9. The Lone Star Ranger, Zane Grey
    10. Angela's Business, Henry Sydnor Harrison
  • 1916

    Noe Valley Branch opened.

    Laying Cornerstone for Main Library, April 15, 1916 The cornerstone for the Main Library is laid - ten years after the devastating earthquake of 1906.

    Silver trowel
    Silver trowel by Shreves
    Presented to the Board of Public Library Trustees by the McGilvray-Raymond Granite Co.
    April 15, 1916
    On the occasion of laying the cornerstone
    Public Library, Civic Center
    by His Honor Mayor James Rolph, Jr.

  • 1917

    Main Library The Main Library is dedicated and opens to the public. Materials are moved by horse and wagon to the new Beaux Arts building.

    Best sellers in 1917

    1. Mr. Britling Sees It Through, H. G. Wells
    2. The Light in the Clearing, Irving Bacheller
    3. The Red Planet, William J. Locke
    General - Nonfiction
    1. Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, Robert W. Service
    2. The Plattsburg Manual, O. O. Ellis and E. B. Garey
    3. Raymond, Sir Oliver Lodge
    1. The First Hundred Thousand, Ian Hay
    2. My Home in the Field of Honor, Frances W. Huard
    3. A Student in Arms, Donald Hankey
  • 1918

    Sunset Branch and Golden Gate Valley Branch opened.

  • 1920

    The Main Library begins to acquire rare books and the works of San Francisco fine printers and binders: a collection that in 1927 is named for Max J. Kuhl and is currently housed in The Book Arts and Special Collections Center.

    Bernal Branch opened as Library deposit station. Became full branch in 1936.

  • 1921

    Carnegie Foundation funds are used to finance branches in North Beach and on Sacramento Street. See "History of Carnegie Libraries" by Tim Kelley (PDF).

    North Beach Branch renamed Chinatown Branch.

  • 1925

    Excelsior and Ingleside branches open.

  • 1927

    Glen Park and Bayview branches open.

  • 1928

    Portola Branch opened.

  • 1929

    Badge reading Business Library (a department of the Main) opens in the Russ Building in the Financial District.

    Best sellers in 1929

    1. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
    2. Dodsworth, Sinclair Lewis
    3. Dark Hester, Anne Douglas Sedgwick
    4. The Bishop Murder Case, S. S. Van Dine
    5. Roper's Row, Warwick Deeping
    1. The Art of Thinking, Ernest Dimnet
    2. Henry the Eighth, Francis Hackett
    3. The Cradle of the Deep, Joan Lowell
    4. Elizabeth and Essex, Lytton Strachey
    5. The Specialist, Chic Sale
  • 1932

    Gottardo Piazzoni Painting A Mural
    Gottardo Piazzoni Painting A Mural
    Piazzoni Murals begin to be installed in the Main Library's Rotunda.

    Anza Branch opened.

  • 1934

    Visitacion Valley Branch opened.

  • 1936

    Parkside and West Portal branches opened.

    Best sellers in 1936

    1. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
    2. The Last Puritan, George Santayana
    3. Sparkenbroke, Charles Morgan
    4. Drums Along the Mohawk, Walter D. Edmonds
    5. It Can't Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis
    1. Man the Unknown, Alexis Carrel
    2. Wake Up and Live!, Dorothea Brande
    3. The Way of a Transgressor, Negley Farson
    4. Around the World in Eleven Years, Patience, Richard, and Johnny Abbe
    5. North to the Orient, Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • 1943

    Main Library declared filled to capacity.

    Best sellers in 1943

    1. The Robe, Lloyd C. Douglas
    2. The Valley of Decision, Marcia Davenport
    3. So Little Time, John P. Marquand
    4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
    5. The Human Comedy, William Saroyan
    1. Under Cover, John Roy Carlson
    2. One World, Wendell L. Willkie
    3. Journey Among Warriors, Eve Curie
    4. On Being a Real Person, Harry Emerson Fosdick
    5. Guadalcanal Diary, Richard Tregaskis
  • 1947

    Nat Schmulowitz
    Nat Schmulowitz
    Nat Schmulowitz, a local lawyer and former Library Commissioner, donates his collection of humor books and magazines to the Main Library, forming the core of the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor (SCOWAH) located in The Book Arts and Special Collections Center.

  • 1948

    Voters turn down bond issue to fund eighteen branches and an addition to the Main Library.

  • 1949

    Citizens concerned about the future of the Library meet to form the first Friends of the San Francisco Library.

  • 1952

    Article in the San Francisco Chronicle criticizing the Library Series of articles in the San Francisco Chronicle criticizes the Library.

    Best sellers in 1952

    1. The Silver Chalice, Thomas B. Costain
    2. The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk
    3. East of Eden, John Steinbeck
    4. My Cousin Rachel, Daphne du Maurier
    5. Steamboat Gothic, Frances Parkinson Keyes
    1. The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version
    2. A Man Called Peter, Catherine Marshall
    3. U.S.A. Confidential, Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer
    4. The Sea Around Us, Rachel L. Carson
    5. Tallulah, Tallulah Bankhead
  • 1954

    Marina Branch opened.

  • 1956

    Ortega Branch opened.

  • 1957

    Hale Champion's series in the San Francisco Chronicle negatively critiques the Library's operation and services.

  • 1958

    Cover of report by Emerson Greenaway Emerson Greenaway, an eminent librarian, delivers a report recommending additional city funding, improvements to the Main Library, and hiring of trained staff.

    Merced Branch opened.

    Best sellers in 1958

    1. Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
    2. Anatomy of a Murder, Robert Traver
    3. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
    4. Around the World with Auntie Mame, Patrick Dennis
    5. From the Terrace, John O'Hara
    1. Kids Say the Darndest Things!, Art Linkletter
    2. 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty, Pat Boone
    3. Only in America, Harry Golden
    4. Masters of Deceit, Edgar Hoover
    5. Please Don't Eat the Daisies, Jean Kerr
  • 1959

    Mayoral memorandum announcing the formation of the Mayor's Committee of Fifty
    Mayoral memorandum announcing the formation of the Mayor's Committee of Fifty
    Mayor George Christopher creates the Committee of Fifty, a group of prominent cultural and business leaders, to build support for the Library.

    North Beach Branch opened in current location.

    Best sellers in 1959

    1. Exodus, Leon Uris
    2. Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
    3. Hawaii, James Michener
    4. Advise and Consent, Allen Drury
    5. Lady Chatterley's Lover, D. H. Lawrence
    1. 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty, Pat Boone
    2. Folk Medicine, D. C. Jarvis
    3. For 2¢ Plain, Harry Golden
    4. The Status Seekers, Vance Packard
    5. Act One, Moss Hart
  • 1960

    San Franciscans for a Better Library, a citizen's group, is formed.

  • 1961

    Early Friends of the Library logo
    Early Friends of the Library logo
    The Committee of Fifty, 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.

    Best sellers in 1961

    1. The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone
    2. Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger
    3. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
    4. Mila 18, Leon Uris
    5. The Carpetbaggers, Harold Robbins
    1. The New English Bible: The New Testament
    2. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer
    3. Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book
    4. Casserole Cook Book
    5. A Nation of Sheep, William Lederer
  • 1963

    Example from the Richard Harrison Collection of Calligraphy and Lettering by Judy Detrick
    Judy Detrick
    Richard Harrison, local calligrapher and collector of calligraphy, gives his collection to the Library, currently located in The Book Arts and Special Collections Center.

    Effie Lee Morris was appointed the first Coordinator of Children's Services.

  • 1964

    Sheet music cover: The Golden Gate March The Main Library establishes a collection of materials on local history, later named the San Francisco History Room, now called The San Francisco History Center.

    The Friends holds its first annual book sale, raising $4,000 to purchase rare materials for the Library.

    Best sellers in 1964

    1. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John Le Carré
    2. Candy, Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg
    3. Herzog, Saul Bellow
    4. Armageddon, Leon Uris
    5. The Man, Irving Wallace
    1. Four Days, American Heritage and United Press International
    2. I Need All the Friends I Can Get, Charles M. Schulz
    3. Profiles in Courage: Memorial Edition, John F. Kennedy
    4. In His Own Write, John Lennon
  • 1965

    Woodcut image from the Hypnerotomachia Poliphhili, printed by Aldus Manutius, Venice, 1499
    Woodcut image from the Hypnerotomachia Poliphhili, printed by Aldus Manutius, Venice, 1499
    Robert Grabhorn's collection of 1,500 rare books becomes part of the Main Library's Special Collections, located in The Book Arts and Special Collections Center.

  • 1966

    Western Addition Branch opened.

    Best sellers in 1966

    1. Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann
    2. The Adventurers, Harold Robbins
    3. The Secret of Santa Vittoria, Robert Crichton
    4. Capable of Honor, Allen Drury
    5. The Double Image, Helen MacInnes
    1. How to Avoid Probate, Norman F. Dacey
    2. Human Sexual Response, William Howard Masters and Virginia E. Johnston
    3. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
    4. Games People Play, Eric Berne, M.D.
    5. A Thousand Days, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
  • 1967

    Bay Area Reference Center (BARC) funded. Main Library designated "third-level" research center for Northern California.

  • 1969

    San Francisco librarians form the Librarians' Guild, which soon replaces the Library Staff Association.

    Best sellers in 1969

    1. Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
    2. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
    3. The Love Machine, Jacqueline Susann
    4. The Inheritors, Harold Robbins
    5. The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton
    1. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, William Morris, editor
    2. In Someone's Shadow, Rod McKuen
    3. The Peter Principle, Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull
    4. Between Parent and Teenager, Dr. Haim G. Ginott
  • 1970

    City Employees Picketing In Front Of City Hall
    City employees picketing in front of City Hall
    The Librarians' Guild supports the four day city wide strike of public employees.

  • 1972

    The Library begins walk-in service for the blind and visually impaired, now called The Library for the Blind and Print Disabled.

    Find the Funds - Keep Libraries Alive button Keep Libraries Alive! forms to protest the closing of branches to meet cuts in the city's budget for the Library system.

  • 1973

    Dial-A-Story begins. This service, aimed at preschool-age children but used by many, offers stories in English via telephone.

  • 1974

    The Library Commission, the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, Keep Libraries Alive!, and other citizen groups fight successfully to retain Marshall Square as the site of a new main Library.

    California Video Resources Project begins producing and collecting videotapes.

    Best sellers in 1974

    1. Centennial, James A. Michener
    2. Watership Down, Richard Adams
    3. Jaws, Peter Benchley
    4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John Le Carré
    5. Something Happened, Joseph Heller
    1. The Total Woman, Marabel Morgan
    2. All the President's Men, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
    3. Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman, Merle Miller
    4. More Joy: A Lovemaking Companion to The Joy of Sex, Alex Comfort
  • 1978

    Library bookmark reading: The passage of Proposition 13, rolling back property taxes, negatively impacts the city's ability to fund the Library and other public institutions.

    Library begins sign language and video services for the Deaf, now called Deaf Services Center.

  • 1980

    January: CLSI, the Library’s first automation system, goes online at the Main.

    Special Media Services (circulating video collection, media production, and services to Deaf) started in the Communications Center (Presidio Branch). In 1982 moves into the Main Library. (Audio Visual Center and Assistive Technology)

    Best sellers in 1980

    1. The Covenant, James A. Michener
    2. The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum
    3. Rage of Angels, Sidney Sheldon
    4. Princess Daisy, Judith Krantz
    5. Firestarter, Stephen King
    1. Crisis Investing: Opportunities and Profits in the Coming Great Depression, Douglas R. Casey
    2. Cosmos, Carl Sagan
    3. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement, Milton and Rose Friedman
    4. Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins
  • 1982

    Report by Lowell Martin recommending consolidation of branches catalyzes public support for the branches.

  • 1983

    Project Read, the Library’s literacy program, begins.

  • 1985

    Book Buddies was established. Children’s librarians train volunteers to read to children in San Francisco hospitals. As a component of that program, Dial-A-Story lines in Cantonese and Spanish were started.

  • 1986

    A task force is created by Mayor Feinstein to complete the design of the Civic Center, including use of Marshall Square for a new Library.

    Best sellers in 1986:

    1. It, Stephen King
    2. Red Storm Rising, Tom Clancy
    3. Whirlwind, James Clavell
    4. The Bourne Supremacy, Robert Ludlum
    5. Hollywood Husbands, Jackie Collins
    1. Fatherhood, Bill Cosby
    2. Fit for Life, Harvey and Marilyn Diamond
    3. His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra, Kitty Kelley
    4. The Rotation Diet, Martin Katahn
    5. You're Only Old Once, Dr. Seuss
  • 1987

    Business Library closed due to budget cuts.

  • 1989

    Damage caused by the Loma Prieta Earthquake
    Damage caused by the Loma Prieta Earthquake
    Loma Prieta Earthquake severely damages the Main Library building and the stacks are permanently closed to the public.

    This is the last year that the card catalog is maintained. All cataloguing is now entered into the online database.

  • 1990

    Dorothy Starr
    Dorothy Starr
    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.

    Best sellers in 1990

    1. The Plains of Passage, Jean M. Auel
    2. Four Past Midnight, Stephen King
    3. The Burden of Proof, Scott Turow
    4. Memories of Midnight, Sidney Sheldon
    5. Message from Nam, Danielle Steel
    1. A Life on the Road, Charles Kuralt
    2. The Civil War, Geoffrey C. Ward with Ric Burns and Ken Burns
    3. The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Heritage: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother, Jeff Smith
  • 1992

    Lesbian/Gay Center collection begins, now called the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center.

    Loan of audio Compact Discs Begins.

    Ground is broken for the New Main Library on Marshall Square. Hundreds attend the ceremony, including Mayor Frank Jordan. He uses the same silver shovel Mayor "Sunny Jim" Rolph held when ground was broken for City Hall.

    The Library excavation uncovers part of the old jail and other rubble from City Hall when it collapsed in the 1906 earthquake. Also found is a wedding band, one of the last remains of the Yerba Buena Cemetery that once held more than 5,000 bodies and was removed in 1870.

  • 1993

    Municipal Cable TV Station (CITYWATCH, Channel 54) begins, now called Channel 26, SFGTV. SF Community Television Corp. moves into Main Library.

    Rotary phone Automated router (Telephone System) installed, last rotary phone removed from branches.

    Best sellers in 1993

    1. The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller
    2. The Client, John Grisham
    3. Slow Waltz at Cedar Bend, Robert James Waller
    4. Without Remorse, Tom Clancy
    5. Nightmares and Dreamscapes, Stephen King
    1. See, I Told You So, Rush Limbaugh
    2. Private Parts, Howard Stern
    3. Seinlanguage, Jerry Seinfeld
    4. Embraced by the Light, Betty J. Eadie with Curtis Taylor
    5. Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Deepak Chopra
  • 1994

    The Library establishes Internet access and an early Web site.

    Telephone Information Project (TIP) starts.

    Community (Automated) Information Projects begin: S.F. African-American History Network, AIDS Information Network, Community Information Project. (San Francisco Community Services Directory.)

    Dial-up to SF Catalog begins.

    The Children’s Bookmobile begins providing collections and services for children in daycare.

  • 1996

    New Main Library opened on April 18.

    New Main Library
    New Main Library
    Focus Collections: The new Library houses many focus collections: African American, Gay and Lesbian, International, Chinese, Filipino, Environmental, Teen, and Jobs & Careers.

    The first Teen Services Librarian position was created.

    Best sellers in 1996

    1. The Runaway Jury, John Grisham
    2. Executive Orders, Tom Clancy
    3. Desperation, Stephen King
    4. Airframe, Michael Crichton
    5. The Regulators, Richard Bachman
    1. Make the Connection, Oprah Winfrey and Bob Greene
    2. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, John Gray
    3. The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams
    4. Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach
    5. The Zone, Barry Sears with Bill Lawren
  • 1997

    Email reference service is available augmenting answers to questions in person, by telephone, fax, and in writing.

  • 1999

    Over 25,000 historic photographs are digitized and made accessible on the Library's Web site. (Historic Photo Collection)

  • 2000

    Main Library Post Occupancy Evaluation Report (POE)

    Voters approve of Prop A, a $106 million bond measure, for improvements to nineteen neighborhood branches and the construction of four new branch buildings.

    Best sellers in 2000

    1. The Brethren, John Grisham
    2. The Mark: The Beast Rules the World, Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
    3. The Bear and the Dragon, Tom Clancy
    4. The Indwelling: The Beast Takes Possession, Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
    5. The Last Precinct, Patricia Cornwell
    1. Who Moved My Cheese?, Spencer Johnson
    2. Guinness World Records 2001, Guinness World Books Staff
    3. Body for Life, Bill Phillips
    4. Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
    5. The Beatles Anthology, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
  • 2001

    Book Amnesty cartoon by Phil Frank
    Book Amnesty cartoon by Phil Frank
    Overdue Book Amnesty, June 1 - June 15.

    E-Books and QandA Cafe introduced to the Library.

  • 2004

    Happy 125th Birthday Library image San Francisco Public Library turns 125!

    Best sellers in 2004

    1. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
    2. The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Andrew Sean Greer
    3. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
    4. The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
    1. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Al Franken
    2. South Beach Diet, Arthur Agatston
    3. Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss
    4. The Price of Loyalty, Ron Suskind
    5. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Mark Bittner
Take our survey