Introducing the Public Knowledge Library

In September 2017, a temporary, non-circulating branch of the San Francisco Public Library opened inside SFMOMA’s Koret Education Center. Inspired by the work of the Queens Museum with the Queens Library in New York, we had begun by wondering about what the meaning of a public library branch might be within an art museum in our context. The result features books on a variety of topics for adults and children, local and thematic periodicals, a piece of SFPL’s original card catalog, and a vinyl listening station. While much of this could be seen as a nostalgic gesture, or as a reflection on the obsolescence of different media, our aim was for the space to be more than that. But what, we wondered, would a physical hub for the Public Knowledge initiative and the SFMOMA-SFPL partnership need to be?

Following are some remarks by Michelle Jeffers, Chief of Community Programs and Partnerships at SFPL on the occasion of the opening of the Public Knowledge Library.

At the library so much of our work involves sharing information – sharing a book, recommending a resource or helping you learn something new.

We believe in serving people where they are – open to everyone and finding a way to help San Francisco’s seemingly endless requests and needs. Need help from a social worker? We got that. Need a 3D prosthetic hand printed for your growing child who is missing a limb. Yep we can do that. Need an ebook for your kindle or a movie to watch on your business trip. OK – here you go. Want to go to a national park? We’ll give you a ride!

In our 138 year history, we’ve gotten pretty good at giving things away for free and helping people to find what they are looking for.
But our partnership with SFMOMA is so much bigger and bolder than that. Not just finding things and relaying information, but creating it too. The SFMOMA team and the artists they have brought in have encouraged us to think more deeply about what we do and who and how we serve the public.

Our team at the San Francisco Public Library has also made so much of this possible. Their dedication to important and challenging projects like this one has brought life to our ability to share new knowledge with the residents of San Francisco. A few years ago, I recall thinking that one of the amazing benefits of our branch library system is that they are so densely populated around SF that they are basically walking distance to every resident of San Francisco. And that’s mostly true except I think we kind of miss this area at the confluence of the city’s commercial and business districts. From 1929 to 1988, we had a business branch in the city.

But even closer, was Branch #5, the Harrison Branch which opened in 1896 on Harrison Street. In 1901 it moved just 2 blocks away from where we are now and was renamed the Phelan Branch. But it burned down in the 1906 earthquake fire. So really we haven’t had a South of Market neighborhood branch since 1906. It’s taken us 111 years to get one back. So thank you SFMOMA – my hats off to you for making it happen.