Since March, all 28 library locations in San Francisco have been closed to patrons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, a phased reopening is expected to begin next month.
The plan is to start with offering pick up and drop-off services at the Main Public Library and the Excelsior Branch Library. No patrons will be allowed inside, only at the entryways to pick up materials they request by email, phone or online.
The service will be called “SFPL To Go.”
“I am fully aware of how anxious library staff and our beloved patrons are for reopening library services in our community,” City Librarian Michael Lambert told the Library Commission Thursday evening. “And I am excited that we are now on the precipice of launching this service.”
Staff will pull the requested materials and the patrons will receive a notification when it’s time for them to come pick them up from an ADA accessible table. A plexiglass guard on the table will separate staff and the public. Face coverings must be worn.
Staff will pre-check out the materials and place them into a paper bag for patrons to grab. Materials returned in the book drops would be quarantined for 72 hours before staff handles them.
Twelve other branches are contemplated for the service as well, including in Chinatown, Richmond, Ortega, Visitacion Valley, Mission Bay, Merced, Bayview, Eureka Valley, Ingleside, Portola, Western Addition and Marina.
Lambert said one of the keys to reopening was to have health and safety plans approved for the two locations by the City Administrator’s Office. That approval was granted Wednesday morning.
At the Main Library, patrons will pick up materials inside the vestibule at the Larkin Street entrance. The pick up service will operate seven days a week, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 5:30 p.m.
Library officials expect 250 to 500 patrons daily at the Main Library. Patrons will line up outside at designated points six feet apart. Ordinarily the site has about 440 employees, but will be staffed on the busiest days with under 100.
“We will have library security present to help ensure the physical distancing and also to enforce the public’s requirement to have facial coverings,” Lambert said.
The Excelsior branch would open five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with the pickup service at its 4400 Mission St. entrance. Library officials expect an average of 30 people a day.
The next steps to reopen by next month include working out issues with the library’s employees.
Due to the change in work conditions, SEIU 1021, the labor union that represents library staff, this week requested a meet and confer process, according to Lambert. The labor negotiations, which involve the Department of Human Resources, could result in changes to the plans.
“We are highly confident that the SFPL To Go service model will ensure the health and safety of our staff and patrons,” Lambert said.
Library Commissioner Teresa Ono called the plans “very thorough.”
“They are well thought out, easy to understand,” Ono said. “They meet the needs of all of the patron comments that I’ve seen.”
Since library personnel have transitioned to perform duties as Disaster Service Workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lambert is also working with the Department of Human Resources to have an adequate number of them recalled to work at the libraries.
“We will begin recalling staff to stand up these locations hopefully in early August,” Lambert said.
Opening additional branch libraries will require approval of site specific health and safety plans and the recall of more staff.
Lambert said in the beginning the library may be busy with a rush of book returns.
“We have hundreds of thousands of patrons that have been hanging on to their books and unable to return them since March,” he said.