Post-Occupancy Evaluation of Main Library

Executive Summary


The Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) of the San Francisco Public Library was recommended by a Strategic Audit commissioned by the Mayor, which was completed in April, 1997 a year after the building was opened to the public in April, 1996.

At the time the POE was commissioned in January, 1999, the administrative team members responsible for the design and construction of the facility had been entirely replaced. The new administrative team views the POE as an opportunity to obtain a baseline report by a group of outside experts to determine how public services could be improved by changes to the facilities. The direction given to the consultants was to evaluate the "here and now" of the library's operation, so that cost and value of making change could be considered by all levels of the organization.

The current administration maintains allegiance to policies and decisions made by the former administration only in so far as those decisions allow effective service to be provided. The new administration has made a number of incremental changes, however they have waited for the POE to provide an overview of changes that needed to be considered.

The consultant team consisted of Cynthia Ripley, a principal of Ripley Architects, who directed the study, and is recognized for the design of new and renovated library buildings. The team included both library and technical consultants. The two library consultants have extensive professional credentials; Florence Mason is a former librarian, professor who specializes in facility and management consulting. Susan Kent, in addition to her consulting practice, is the current director of the Los Angles Public Library.

Purpose of the Study

  • Provide an objective, empirical assessment of the performance of the New Main Library;
  • Identify problems with the library facility and propose solutions to those problems;
  • Prioritize recommended changes and improvements so that the library may deliver the highest level of service to the largest number of patrons, or those most critically affected by a particular issue;
  • Provide information about the cost of any proposed changes, as well as a cost benefit analysis;
  • Assist the library in prioritizing improvements;
  • Provide the Library with objective information about the strengths and weaknesses of the library facilities so that the library building can better meet the needs of the public and library staff;
  • Contribute to the published literature on library design guidelines in order to help San Francisco as well as other cities when they plan new libraries.

Project Clusters and Costs

Proposed renovation consists of interior space planning changes requiring removal of non bearing partitions, patching of ceilings and floors, relocation of lighting, relocation of existing service desks, installation of shelving units. All exiting shelving and furniture can be reused. Maintaining the design standards of the existing building is paramount.

Changes to the building's mechanical, electrical systems require reconfiguration of the distribution systems. The one structural change is the development of a bridge between the west half of the 2nd floor to the Children's Center and the grand stair, which will require a light steel structure. This connection is intended eliminate the dead end at the 2nd floor which confuses and frustrates users and staff. The connection will require additional security and library staff. The proposed recommendations can be clustered into six projects which are described in section four as follows:

Renovation Project 1 Lower Level

Classroom Addition and New Collection Shelving

Renovation Project 2 6th Floor Relocations


Renovation Project 3 First and Second Floor

Part A Expand Browsing and Collections at 1st and 2nd Floors
Part B Expand 2nd floor Collections and Access
Part C First and Second Floor Desk Expansion
Part D First Floor Rest Room Expansion

Renovation Project 4 Third and Fourth Floor Renovations

Part A 3rd and 4th Floor Service Desk Relocation and New Furniture Installation
$ 1,663,757
Part B Expand Collection Areas

Renovation Project 5 Fifth Floor

Part A Relocate Periodical Shelving and Increase Reading Room Seating

Brooks Hall Renovation

Complete the Brooks Hall renovation for archival collections, back government documents and storage space.

Benefits of Renovation

The library is currently full. The benefit of implementing the facility changes is to make space for the collection and public services to allow the library to serve as the vital information resource which San Francisco needs. The alternative appears to be reducing the public collection to fit the building, or paging materials from a remote location.

In addition, on line public terminals at tables and carrels will be increased.

When materials are on open shelving, staff who currently page materials will be able to provide increasingly effective public library services.

Clarifying the way finding in the building will also liberate staff from traffic control, enhancing their ability to assist users with information retrieval.

Non-public departments will be able to serve the entire system more effectively and more cost effectively because they will have adequate space and excellent delivery access. Archival shelving and fixed shelving for back government documents will be provided in Brooks Hall.

Project Closeout Items and Maintenance Trouble Spots

In addition to the facility recommendations made by the POE consultants, there are several other open facility issues at the library resulting from the original design and construction contract.

There appear to be a number of incomplete project closeout items. Once the building was occupied, project closeout appears to have slowed. The Department of Public Works is in the process of completing project closeout items, although the fact that there are open items three years after the building was opened to the public is unusual. There should be no additional cost for this work.

A number of conditions under warranty need to be addressed. There appear to be a number of items for which the warranty period was extended for 5 years which do not function correctly. The building engineers need to clarify these items and exercise these warranties with the installers' and manufacturers' representatives. If they are unable to accomplish this, the library needs to adopt an alternative approach before the warranties expire. There should be no additional cost for this work, although staff time will be required.

A number of conditions which have proved to be difficult to maintain but which were designed, constructed to current standards have been identified by the maintenance staff. To solve these conditions, the library will need to hire architects, engineers and contractors to design and construct repairs. The consultants and contractors may be hired from the city or from the private sector. If the Library is using public funds for projects, the Library appears not to have the authority to contract for design and construction services directly and will need to have a Project Manager from DPW manage the work and retain services.

DPW currently holds a sum of approximately $3,000,000, the result of a settlement between the city, the contractor and the design architects for dispersal on behalf of the Main Library. The Library must determine the priority use of these funds. A further determination should be made as to whether these funds are restricted to outstanding items from the original construction contract. The Library needs to establish an internal project team and a reporting structures and measurable expectations with DPW in order to come to closure on completing the building and use of discretionary funds.


The consultants collected data through background document review, interviews, focus groups, staff and public surveys, observation and analysis of building systems. The data gathering provided information that helped the consultants to understand the range of services offered by SFPL at the Main Library.


The study finds that the building is both a significant example of contemporary civic architecture, and that serious operational problems are caused by the facility. The staff experiences major problems providing public services and the public has difficulty accessing services. Findings and recommendations are presented in the following areas:

  • Functional Design issues - related to how the building spaces are configured and their impact on functional and operational issues;
  • Legibility Issues - how well users are able to navigate within the building to find materials and services;
  • Capacity Issues - related to the building's capacity to house materials, services and staff;
  • Library Staff Issues - related to back of house library functions
  • Facility Staff Issues - related to the building's daily operations and maintenance.

Modified POE Study Scope

In undertaking the study, the consultant team was disposed to focus first on library operations, and then to see if the facility needed to be changed to improve them. They recognized that management policies need to be evaluated as well as facilities, but this was not the subject of the study. The consultants approached the task with a sense of the importance of remaining independent both from individuals responsible for the design and construction of the building and the many critics of the library.

The team was familiar with the capital investment in the facility and the prestige of the architectural design team. The consultant team has not interacted with the Commission or library administration to devise a way to implement change; this is left to the library. Rather, the consultants have tried to frame the study as "a review by outside experts" and set of recommendations, which the library can adopt or develop. The POE Report is intended to assist those who support and love the library to make positive change as all great and vital institutions must.

After the initial background investigation, the consultants concluded that operational problems were severe enough to warrant change and that public services could be improved by renovating interior areas of the facility. The consultants' perspective was a long term one. The building is going to be in use for a long time - perhaps a 100 years or more. Change may be needed now, and it will probably be needed every 10-15 years. As one of the important centers for information for the city of San Francisco, the library will have to keep pace with the appetite for information that characterizes our age.

After the initial reconnaissance, and with the approval of the Library Administration, the consultants more closely defined the study objectives to focus on an investigation of the following issues:

  • Discovering the extent to which the existing collection was accommodated in the existing building, and the means to increase space for future collection growth;
  • Examining means of improving public access to materials in the library;
  • Investigating methods of improving the public's ability to obtain services from staff or use of equipment;
  • Assessing methods to improve the functional aspects of the building in terms of materials handling and operations affecting both staff and the public.


The Main Library building envelope is fixed by its Civic Center location; expansion can only occur by reconfiguring interior floors or by using existing floor configurations for different purposes. An important basic assumption on the part of the library is that the library's collection will not be reduced and that it will grow. This policy decision leads to the overriding set of recommendations concerning ways to make room for the collection, including reconfiguring floors, using Brooks Hall for archival and back government documents, and finding other offsite locations for non public service departments to release space in the Main Library for public services. Its finite capacity should be reserved for public services, not back of house operational functions which support the entire library system.

Brooks Hall, a former underground Exhibit Hall, should be used on a limited basis for designated collections and services and should be staffed independently. The public should access these collections directly from the Civic Center Plaza. Staff offices and reading areas can be designed with special lighting and finishes to achieve a quality similar to "First Stop" offices. In the consultants view, Brooks Hall presents some liabilities for the library because it is essentially warehouse space which requires a tremendous investment to bring it to a useable level for any other purpose than housing large collection which requires minor staff support. Hence the recommendation that it be used for the City Archive, which the library is charged with maintaining and will grow and other special archives which are growing; and government documents older than ten years. These types of collections require a great deal of shelving and the regular structural bays, as well as the grade level floor slab make Brooks an ideal candidate. Limited facilities storage for the Main Library and the Friends and Foundation book sale could also be assigned to Brooks.

Under no circumstances should funds be spent to upgrade Brooks Hall exclusively for major staff space or public space. The tendency to use Brooks for public collection overflow should be resisted, otherwise it is likely that it will continue to house an accumulation of uncatalogued material and equipment as it does today. Paging material from Brooks Hall to public service points in the Main Library is a costly waste of staff resources. If collections in storage on the lower level of the library are moved to Brooks Hall, the remainder of the public collection should be shifted so that materials requiring greater security or are less used move to vacated lower level storage space. The 1st and 2nd floors should be dedicated to new and popular materials, the 3rd, 4th and 5th floors should house the remainder of the collection on open shelving, which is kept fully accessible. The 6th floor and corner rooms on other floors should remain dedicated to their special collections, with overflow made available in the Brooks Hall Archive.

The library's current shelving as measured by the consultant team is 150,000 linear feet in the main building and 45,357 linear feet in Brooks Hall. A good deal of this shelving is compact shelving, housing material in the public collection on the 3rd, 4th and 5th floors that has to be paged. Some of these materials may require greater security, but not all of it.

If floors are renovated in a similar manner to the recommendations in this report, the amount of shelving can increase to 154, 242 linear feet in the Main Library (a gain of 4,188 linear feet). This gain can be accomplished with the conversion of compact shelving to fixed shelving allowing public access on the 3rd, 4th and 5th floors. If Brooks Hall is renovated according to the recommendations it will accommodate 109,410 linear feet (a gain of 64,054 linear feet).

Offsite space for non public services staff such as Personnel, Technical Services, Supplies and Delivery, Automation, Finance, could be located in leased or permanent space. The existing Federal Building in United Nations Plaza should be investigated to determine its ultimate designation, as well as other leased space in the Civic Center. Another alternative would be to locate offsite staff near a new or renovated branch. The site should be selected on the basis of delivery requirements, parking and public transit requirements for staff. Offsite locations should also take co-locations and partnerships with other libraries into consideration, such as UCSF in Mission Bay, Hastings, the State Library, City College and other private colleges, to save on administrative costs.

The following specific recommendations for facility changes to the Main Library are discussed and diagrammed in the body of the report.

2. In order to improve user access to the collection:

  • Closed areas of compact shelving on the 3rd, 4th and 5th floors need to be opened for public access and replaced with fixed shelving so that the public can have access to these materials without the delay of having them paged.
  • Signage needs to be improved throughout;
  • Service points in the East Side of the 3rd,4th and 5th floors should be relocated for maximum visibility from stairs and elevators; and the number of service points needs to be consolidated to 2 per floor to allow staffing at all times.
  • The 1st and 2nd floors need to be re-planned and staffed in order to clarify access to the building and to provide more room for the new book and browsing collection;
  • The online catalog needs ongoing investment and improvement.

3. In order to improve materials management and back of house library operations:

  • The main return and circulation sequence of activities needs to be consolidated in one desk to use staff effectively;
  • Sorting needs to move directly adjacent to the intake function;
  • Automated clearing of fines and overdue books needs to be accelerated;
  • External book drops need to be redesigned or dismantled;
  • The loading dock needs to be more flexible for different sized loads.

1. In order to improve capacity and provide space for collections:

  • Some non-public service departments, which serve the system as a whole, need to move to another location which has parking, delivery and public transit access.
  • Storage on the lower level can be freed up by moving archival materials and back government documents to a newly established city archive and back government documents center in Brooks Hall. An independent entry from the Plaza and attractive staff and reading rooms needed to be provided in Brooks Hall. (Note: a full underground floor was omitted from the library during the design phase which has greatly contributed to the space shortage. Brooks Hall can serve as a replacement for that lost space.)
  • Less used material from the public collection can then be moved to compact shelving and new fixed shelving on the lower level where it can efficiently be paged within the Main Library;
  • The density of fixed shelving and number of user stations on floors can be increased. They are underutilized because of large ceremonial spaces.

4. In order to improve facilities management and maintenance:

  • The maintenance budget needs to be prepared by a proactive team, including both the facilities manager and the finance director, which is committed to maintaining a major civic building;
  • Facilities staff may need to be increased to maintain the building as it ages. Ongoing training and recruitment needs to be included in annual budgets;
  • The Commission needs to support the facility improvement budgets not only to prevent deterioration, but also to support facility upgrades, with appropriate staff or on-call specialized consultants to manage the upgrades. The engineering staff has the time to operate and maintain facilities, but not to budget and manage renovation projects. Building maintenance and facilities renovation is two separate functions. A facilities renovation/budgeting group needs to be established which has library facilities as its core focus.

Specific findings resulting from the data analysis are the following:

  1. Improvements to collection space are needed. In spite of the ample foot print and the provisions of compact shelving areas, there is not enough foot print to shelve the current collection. Some of the space problems result because of the number of openings in the floors, which reduces usable floor area.
  2. The "legibility" of the building should be improved. Users cannot find their way from the entry to service points or to collections to get to the materials or help they need. The on line catalog interface seems to contribute to these difficulties as does the shelving sequencing of the collection. All these factors contribute to making searching difficult for users. Building signage is decorative, but does not provide any strategic way finding or materials location system that function with the online catalog.
  3. There are significant back of house operational issues. Staff encounters difficulties moving materials through the building and as a result, materials are damaged or are not as readily available for use as necessary in a library of this size. The Technical Services Department is overcrowded and delivery of materials to them is destroying the service elevator.
  4. There are facility management issues that affect the ongoing operation and maintenance of the 367,000 SF facility. The public toilets are very difficult to maintain. The AV systems in the auditoriums are deficient. The loading dock does not work.