San Francisco Public Library eyes return of some branches this summer

Citywide

SFPL's Golden Gate Valley branch. | Photo: Paulett Taggart Architects

This afternoon, the San Francisco Public Library's commission will meet to discuss, among other things, a phased reopening plan for limited services at some of the city's 28 branches.

Closed to the public since March 13, the city's libraries have been pressed into service as emergency child care facilities, while employees have been diverted to the city's COVID-19 prevention efforts.

While the library has worked hard to increase access to digital resources and bring staples like kids' storytime online, many clients who depend on it for Internet access and physical books have had to go without. 

According to a memo on the library's updated COVID-19 safety plan, a first-round reopening date hasn't been set yet.

But spokesperson Michelle Jeffers confirmed the library would be aiming to open "a big portion of [branches] this summer. I'm hoping it's next month, but I can't say definitely."

The expectation is that the library will follow Department of Public Health guidelines that have been instituted for retailers, like bookstores.

As with retail, the first phase would involve contactless curbside pickup, which the library is calling "SFPL To Go." If case counts remain low, that would be followed by restricted, socially distanced entry and, ultimately, access to shared reading rooms and computer terminals.

However, Jeffers said the horizon for reopening all the library's branches was still hazy. Today's meeting, from 4:30-7:30 p.m., will be open to public viewing and comment as the commission decides which branches will reopen first. 

The process may be complicated by the massive damage the pandemic has caused to the city's budget, with an estimated $1.75 billion shortfall over the next two and a half years. Mayor London Breed has already ordered city departments to cut their budgets by 10%

A source close to the library system said that means some branches may not reopen for months, or even a year. The source said that in an internal meeting, the library discussed a worst-case scenario of fully reopening in July 2021.

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