Frequently Asked Questions

Here's everything you need to know about SFPL To Go, our front door pick-up service, and our library services while our buildings remain closed to the public. 

 

About SFPL To Go

What is SFPL To Go?

SFPL To Go is a service that safely delivers requested library materials to patrons at the library front door.

SFPL To Go is San Francisco Public Library’s version of “curbside pick-up” that we’ve seen successfully rolled out by restaurants, retail and other libraries in the region. Our service model is a contact-free front door service where patrons can queue up outside our buildings to pick up their requested books at the library entrance.This service is currently available at the Main Library and select branch libraries. Please check back for updates on other locations opening soon.

If you have items on the hold shelf or holds wait lists, you will be notified by the Library on your next steps. These could be to pick up your long-awaited items, to cancel items you do not want any more or to move items to an open (or soon-to-open) library. You may now request materials from any open Library location for pickup.

How does SFPL To Go holds work?

SFPL To Go allows patrons to safely pick up library materials they have placed on hold at the library front door.

SFPL To Go is just like getting your holds before the pandemic, except for a few key differences. Patrons will receive their holds at the front door of their library.

Only staff will be allowed inside the buildings for safety reasons.

We will check out your materials to you beforehand and let them sit overnight; this is for your and SFPL staff’s safety. We will email, mail or call you when your items are ready to be picked up.

When you come to the library, you will wait in a physically distanced line, at least 6 feet apart.  Let library staff know your last name and the last 4 digits of your library card number. We recommend that you bring your library card, just in case you don’t remember. Staff will get your item(s) and set them on a table for you to pick up, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance with you.

The initial checkout period will be for 28 days (not the usual 21) so you have time to pick up your holds and still won’t lose any precious reading or viewing enjoyment. Renewals will still be for 21 days.

Who can use SFPL To Go?

SFPL To Go is a service for anyone with a library card that allows for checkout of physical materials.

Anyone with a full access, welcome or eCard secured since the library closed on 3/13 can use SFPL To Go. Just search for what you want on the Library’s website and request it for pick-up at an open (or soon-to-open) library. You will receive a notice via email, USPS mail or on the phone that you have materials that will be ready to pick up in a day or two.

What are the hours and locations for SFPL To Go holds pick-up?

Hours at Main and other branch libraries are different.

The Main Library will be open 7 days a week for SFPL To Go. MondaySaturday, 10 a.m.5:30 p.m. and Sunday 125:30 p.m.

Open branch libraries will be open TuesdaySaturday, 10 a.m.5:30 p.m.

You can find library addresses at Our Locations.

When will SFPL To Go holds be at my library?

It’s a bit complicated and we appreciate your ongoing patience.

To be honest, it may take a little while. There is a backlog of holds to process and deliver, including: those on the holds shelf when the order to Shelter in Place went into effect in March 2020; holds on new items received during closure and holds placed on books and other materials during closure. Library staff will need to find these items on the shelves and prepare them for retrieval. Plus, we have holds on materials being placed as we start SFPL To Go.

All this is to say that we cannot tell you exactly when your item(s) will be ready for pick-up. We truly appreciate your patience and understanding while we work through the patron requests before we get to yours. Thank you!

Why are the items already checked out to me before I pick them up?

We are doing pre-check out for your health and safety.

For your safety and for the safety of our staff, we are providing contact-free holds pick-up service. We check the items out ahead of time so that you do not need to pass your library card to staff—or take it back after they have touched it. You'll simply say your name and the last 4 digits of your library barcode when you get to the front of the line at an SFPL To Go location, and then we will give you your held items.

You will have 10 days to pick up your hold. Items are due in 28 days from pre-check out and may be eligible to renew.

Does pre-checkout reduce the time I can keep my items?

Prior to COVID-19, items were due 21 days after checkout. For SFPL To Go, we are extending the initial loan period to 28 days to account for the time you will need to come pick them up. In addition, your items may be eligible to renew for 21 days.

Why isn’t my neighborhood library open?

We are sorry that your branch library is not open at this time. While developing our phased plan for resuming library service, we considered the following:

  • Equity – prioritizing locations in the City with higher percentages of the population shown to be in vulnerable categories and most in need of library services due to socioeconomic or linguistic factors.
  • Geographic distribution throughout the City – each district will eventually have an SFPL To Go location.
  • Architecture –  the physical layouts of each location need to have adequate space to allow for the public to pick up their materials and enable the staff to work together safely while adhering to social distancing.

Additionally, the biggest constraint to reopening our library system is the lack of staffing capacity. Approximately 41% of the Library’s workforce is deployed as Disaster Service Workers (DSW) performing myriad roles to support the City’s emergency response.

We recognize any plan to reopen some neighborhood libraries and leave others closed will leave gaps in coverage for providing library services to our residents. We also sympathize with our patrons who are being severely impacted by the cuts to public transit, which we recognize makes traveling to another branch more challenging. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we strive to resume library operations as expeditiously as we can across the maximum number of locations possible. 

Why has it taken so long to offer this service?

The City and County of San Francisco has prioritized public health and the emergency response in a way that differs from every other municipalities in the region and the country. Reopening Library sites is dependent upon securing approval of site-specific health & safety plans from the Office of the City Administrator. The plans for the Main Library and several branch libraries have been approved. We have and are continuing to submit plans for additional locations. We also need to recall library workers from their Disaster Service Worker activations in order to staff the service.

Can I  donate books to  the library during COVID-19?   

Please do not bring your used books to donate to the Library or leave them at the doors of the branches. Book donations can only be taken by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library at its donation center in Potrero Hill. The Friends' Donation Center is currently closed but is planning to reopen for book donations in a limited capacity and by appointment in late August. Please visit the Friends of the Library website for updates.

Holds and Reserved Materials

How will I know when my holds are ready? 

We’ll let you know when your item(s) are ready at an SFPL To Go location via email, phone or mail.

 

Your items will be checked out to you before you come to pick them up. We are doing this to increase safety of contact-free holds pick-up experience. How you are informed depends on whether you have an email address in your account.

This is a good time to update your account to email notice preference if you can! With email notices, you will receive the most robust notices and communications possible from the libraryIf you are not receiving notices, there might be an issue with your account; you can call 415-557-4400 or email info@sfpl.org for assistance from library staff.

If we have your email address, you will get an email when your items have been pre-checked out to you, and your item(s) will be ready for you the next day your pick-up location is open.

If we do not have your email address and have a phone number, you will receive a phone call your item(s) are pre-checked out to you, and your item(s) will be ready for you the next day your pick-up location is open.

If we can only contact you through USPS mail, we will send you a notice via USPS mail that your items have been pre-checked out to you and will be ready the next day your pick-up location is open.

Why are my holds not ready at the same time? 

Due to current public health and safety concerns, we currently have minimal staffing in our buildings and we simply are not able to process all the accumulated holds at one time. We are working as fast as we safely can to get you all your requested library materials. We appreciate your patience and understanding! 

How can I get my item on the hold shelf at a closed library? 

You can have them moved to an open library.

If you have items on the holds shelf at a closed library, you can request that they be moved to one of our open library locations. To move your item(s), email info@sfpl.org or call 415-557-4400.

Why are holds so slow to fill? My item is available on the shelf. 

Due to current public health and safety concerns, we currently have minimal staffing in our buildings and we simply are not able to process all the accumulated holds at one time. We are working as fast as we safely can to get you all your requested library materials. We appreciate your patience and understanding! 

Why is the library asking me to cancel my holds? 

It would help us if you canceled holds you do not want anymore.

We are asking you to cancel only the holds you no longer want. We have received a lot of requests for library materials since we closed. You would be doing us a big favor by canceling any you don’t want. Then we can focus our time on the items you do want! 

To cancel your holds, visit sfpl.org and login to your library account; email us at info@sfpl.org, or call at 415-557-4400 to cancel.

I have a hold on a book that is on the shelf. Why isn’t it ready for pick-up?

There are a few reasons your hold isn’t ready. Other patrons may be waiting for it ahead of you. Your book may only be at a closed library and we are not able to get it for you. We are working as fast as we can. We will notify you when your hold is ready.

Returning Materials

How do I return library items? When do bookdrops open?

Bookdrops are open again, at open libraries!

Bookdrops will be open during public service hours* at the Main Library and all open SFPL To Go branch library locations. Any fees incurred since March 13 will be waived when your materials are returned.

If SFPL To Go operations are suspended due to an air quality incident, bookdrops will remain open during their regularly scheduled SFPL To Go hours. In the event of a heat wave or extreme air quality incident, bookdrops will be open at air respite locations that also serve as SFPL To Go locations (Main Library and Mission Bay).

Bookdrops will also be accepting LINK+ and Interlibrary Loan (ILL) materials at this time. Yes, we know that this is a bit unusual; we figured it would be best to let you return all your library materials. Again, any fees assessed since March 13 will be waived when LINK+ and ILL items are returned.

And if you just haven’t gotten to all your SF Public Library items checked out before the Library closed on March 13, they will remain checked out until October 31. Feel free to enjoy them until then.

I returned my books yesterday. Why aren’t they checked in yet?

For the safety of staff and the public, we will quarantine all returned materials for 96 hours before we check them in. We will take extra care to make sure they are checked in after quarantine and removed from your library account. Any fees since March 13 will be waived on all returned materials.

Safety and Health Concerns

Why does air quality affect SFPL To Go operations? Why does SFPL To Go close during heavy smoke events?

air-qualityWith wildfires in the surrounding areas, the Air Quality Index (AQI) in San Francisco can fluctuate between Yellow/Moderate to Red/Unhealthy, and possibly even Purple/Very Unhealthy. Because SFPL To Go is an outdoor operation, when the AQI reaches above 150/Red the Library must temporarily suspend SFPL To Go service to limit exposure to poor air quality for patrons and staff. However, bookdrops will remain open.

We recommend that you check our website and/or the AQI to verify whether or not we are open before you travel to pick up your materials. You can also call (415) 749-4900 for an air quality status update.

Will it be safe to pick up items? I’m concerned about waiting in line.

SFPL To Go has been approved by the City as meeting safe guidelines for service delivery.

We have designed a front door pick-up service where library staff and patrons will remain at least 6 feet apart. Library materials will be pre-checked out and available to quickly “grab and go.” Staff will be wearing masks and gloves. Patrons will be required to wear masks and line up outside our buildings in a physically distanced manner, 6 feet apart. Library security and custodians at every site will ensure smooth and safe operations.

Protecting health and safety is our top priority, and SFPL To Go is designed accordingly. The Library’s site-specific health and safety plans are in place that have been approved by the Office of the City Administrator.

Are the items safe to handle? Is it safe for patrons? Is it safe for staff?

Guidance on safe materials handling has been provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the City and County of San Francisco Department of Public Health.

  • Your holds will be placed on a table for you to “grab and go.” You may bring a reusable bag, but per health guidelines, you may not place your bag on the table. If you need a bag, one will be provided.
  • Once you arrive, you will not be allowed inside the building.
  • A staff person will greet you at the door behind a table at least 6 feet distant, with a barrier.
  • When staff places your items on a table, they we will move away and allow you to approach and take your items.
  • When you return your items, staff will isolate them for 96 hours. Items will remain checked out to you until it’s safe for staff to handle them.

I have mobility/health issues and cannot make it to the library. How can I get materials?

You can designate a borrower to pick up your items if you are not able to come to the library.

The library has always allowed patrons to designate a borrower to pick up their library materials if they are not able to come in person. During the coronavirus pandemic, this is even more important for patrons who are in vulnerable groups and cannot safely venture out.

You can email info@sfpl.org or call 415-557-4400 to add a designated borrower to your library account. You will need to provide your full name, library card number, date of birth, address, email and telephone number. Once you have verified yourself, staff will add the name of your designated borrower to your library account.

For SFPL To Go service, your designated borrower will need to state your last name and the last 4 digits of your library card number in order to pick up front door holds. We recommend that your designated borrower bring your library card to the pick-up.

You may also be eligible for the Library by Mail service. You can find more information at Library by Mail.

Help with Your SFPL Account

Who can help me with my account PIN, fees, email address, etc.?

You can call or email Library staff.

Library staff is available to answer questions by phone and email from Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., and Sunday, 12–6 p.m. Contact us at 415-557-4400 or info@sfpl.org and visit sfpl.org/contact.

I lost my library card. Can I still get items?

SFPL staff can assist you with your account from Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., and Sunday, 12–6 p.m. Contact us at 415-557-4400 or info@sfpl.org.

Can I get a library card?

Yes, if you live in SF you can get a library card.

Until library buildings are open to the public, residents and employees of the City and County of San Francisco may apply online for a library account that may be used to place holds, borrow items and access online resources. Apply online or call 415-557-4400. No physical cards will be issued at this time. Once we open our library buildings to the public, you will be notified to come in and get a physical library card.

Can I use LINK+/Interlibrary Loan (ILL)?

The library has not resumed LINK+ or Interlibrary Loan service at this time.  You may not request items at this time and existing requests cannot be filled. Limited assistance is available by email at info@sfpl.org.

You may keep your LINK+/ILL item until its October 30 due date. You may return any LINK+ and ILL items to open bookdrops. Bookdrops will be open during public service hours at the Main Library and all open SFPL To Go branch library locations. Items will be checked in and removed from your account after 96 hours. As other libraries open, we will include them here.

Future Library Services

What’s next for SFPL? What services are coming?

The Library has prepared a draft plan for a phased return to full service that corresponds with the City and County of San Francisco’s health directives and easing of restrictions. All phases are contingent on SFPL’s staffing capacity, as much of our workforce is deployed as Disaster Service Workers, and on the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community.

PHASE 1: Launch of SFPL To Go
SFPL To Go enables patrons to reserve materials and pick them up at the front doors of select Library locations. Bookdrops at SFPL To Go locations are open for materials return.

PHASE 2: Limited In-Person Service at Select Library Locations

The Main Library and selected branches will reopen for limited browsing of physical materials, but with reduced hours, special hours for vulnerable patrons and limited access to stacks. Holds pick-up service is transitioned inside to a self-service model with self-checkout. Library staff at select locations continue assisting patrons with Reference and Readers Advisory through chat, phone calls, emails and limited face-to-face interactions. There will be no public seating, and access to computers and community rooms will be strictly limited and adhere to social distancing and other public health and safety requirements and may vary from location to location. No in-person public programming, only virtual.

PHASE 3: Limited Service at All Locations

Limited in-person library services are expanded to all 27 branches. Regular service hours resume at all locations with limited staffing at service desks. Specific hours for vulnerable patrons may be established. Limited in-person materials browsing and limited public computer services are provided. Seating use will be gradually reintroduced and configured based on social distancing recommendations. Additional library services may be reintroduced at library locations where physical layout can accommodate the services. Some public programming may resume with limitations on group size. Online programming continues.

PHASE 4: Resumption of Full Library Service (YIPPEE!)

Libraries return to full service; some modifications and practices from previous stages may continue based on ongoing guidelines and community needs.

 

Library Closure FAQs

How can I reach a librarian on the phone?  

The TIP Line (415-557-4400) is a telephone ready-reference service where librarians at the Main Library are available Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.6 p.m., and Sunday, 126 p.m.

  • Questions about their account
  • Updates on library services during the COVID-19 closure
  • Short, quick information queries 

Longer, in-depth reference queries will be forwarded to the library’s Ask a Librarian email.

What library resources can I access while library locations are closed?

You can now check out physical materials via our front door pick-up service, SFPL To Go. The Library’s abundant digital offerings, including eBooks, eAudiobooks, streaming movies, research databases and digital magazines and newspapers are available 24/7.

We have increased our lending and reservation limits on our most popular eMaterials so you can maximize your reading, listening and viewing experiences from home. Additionally, we have increased our reservation limits for all of these services.

You can now check out 25 books and reserve 25 titles in OverDrive and Axis360. We purchase the hottest new titles and have tens of thousands of books and audiobooks for you to choose from.

We have also increased the checkout limit to 30 items in Hoopla. Hoopla offers the latest music, current books and videos on all types of subjects, such as fitness at home.

On Kanopy, we have raised our limit to 15 movies a month. Kanopy Kids, which has a variety of educational and entertaining movies and videos, is now unlimited for our library patrons.

In addition, we offer many opportunities for eLearning—build valuable job skills or work on your resume, get one-on-one tutoring and homework help, all from your home. Visit our Virtual Library to learn more.

What if my items are due during the closure? Will I accrue late fees?

All materials checked out before the Library closed on March 13 are now due October 31, 2020.

As of September 2019, San Francisco Public Library is fine freeno late fees will accrue on your account.

Are eBook due dates affected by the library closure?

eBook due dates are not affected by the library building closures.

My library card is about to expire. How can I renew it?

Any library card with an expiration date of January 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020, will now expire on January 31, 2021.

What are Community Learning Hubs and am I eligible?

San Francisco will transform facilities around the city into supervised Community Learning Hubs to support distance learning for high need San Francisco Unified School District students starting this fall. Additionally, the City will extend its emergency child and youth care program to support families during COVID-19.

Eligibility

Learning Hubs will be offered to select families based on priority population criteria which includes HOPE SF, public housing and SRO residents; homeless youth; foster care youth; English language learners; African American, Latinx, Pacific Islander and low income Asian families. The priority eligibility characteristics include applicants who are multi-system involved, who indicate they have no internet access and who are without a digital learning device. The Hubs will begin operating on Monday, September 14.

For more information, visit dcyf.org/care.