San Francisco’s libraries are springing again to life

The limited reopening of the main San Francisco library this month brings hundreds of guests through its doors every day. But there are plans for the next month to reopen all floors, increase capacity, end a visiting deadline and even let people read at tables.

And as the main library expands its reopening, more of the library system’s 27 branches will also reopen – although it will take a few months for all of them to open. The two, who opened this week, each saw hundreds of guests on the first day.

Weeks ago, library officials and Mayor London Breed celebrated the reopening of the main library on May 3rd for personal service after more than a year since it closed due to COVID-19. “There’s nothing like browsing the shelves and picking out your next book,” Breed said at the time.

Since reopening, the main library has seen an average of around 400 to 450 guests per day, far from the average of more than 2,000 prepandemics. But more visitors are expected next month as the main library expands its reopening and more people will feel comfortable when the state lifts its COVID-19 level restrictions on June 15.

Currently, users are allowed to go to the first floor of the main library, where they can access the photocopier, use one of the 14 public computers, browse the book collections, and ask questions to staff. At this point, they are limited to visits of up to an hour.

However, starting June 14, the library plans to reopen all floors of the main library to visitors, library officials said this week. And there will be no time limit for your visit. You can search collections on all floors, use a number of computers to be determined, and sit at tables. However, the number of seats is limited as there is only room for one person per round table and two people per rectangular table. Masks and social distancing are still required.

The current capacity of the main library is limited to a maximum of 55 simultaneous users. That will increase to 750 in the next month. The current operating hours remain in effect. They are Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. and Sunday from 12 noon to 5.30 p.m.

“We hope everyone comes back,” Library spokeswoman Michelle Jeffers told The Examiner Friday. “It’s nice when it’s a busy, busy place.”

Jeffers said the current daily usage of the reopened libraries was “a large number”. Although there is a capacity limit, she said they never got to a point where they had to hold people up by the door.

“Certainly they don’t match where we were before the pandemic,” Jeffers said of the customer numbers. “I think it takes a while for people to feel good again when they are in some form or way in the church.”

Nevertheless, the demand for branches to be reopened is apparently high. But it will take time for that to happen.

The Chinatown branch opened on Monday when about 300 visitors came through the door, followed by the Mission Bay branch on Tuesday which library officials said there were also about 300 customers.

The latest timeline shows the Ortega, Richmond and Visitacion Valley stores reopening for personal service on June 21st and the Excelsior stores reopening on June 22nd.

In July, the offices in Bayview, Bernal Heights, Eureka Valley, Glen Park, Ocean View and Western Addition will reopen for personal service.

“We don’t know what exact dates they’ll open yet,” Jeffers said. “We’re aiming for mid-July.”

Jeffers expected the remaining library branches – with the exception of the newly renovated mission branch – to be reopened for personal visits by September.

One reason for the schedule is a staff shortage. Many library staff were deployed as disaster relief workers to help with the city’s pandemic response.

“The reopening of these libraries and the establishment of additional locations for personal services depend on the staffing capacity,” said city librarian Michael Lambert to the library commission this week. “I know all of our residents want their facility to reopen and reopen for personal service.”

He said the library had more than 100 disaster relief workers and 139 jobs that were vacant last year.

“It will take us some time to bring all of our employees back from civil protection work and fill our vacancies,” he said.

While the libraries were closing due to COVID-19, a roadside service known as SFPL to Go was launched in August in some locations, starting with the main library. The library will add the Bernal Heights, Golden Gate Valley, Ingleside, North Beach, Sunset and Western Addition branches to roadside service in June, followed by the Noe Valley, Parkside and Presidio branches in July. SFPL to Go ends in mid-June in the main library and branches when they reopen for personal services.

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