Two-year Mission library closing raises questions of where patrons will go

Plans to temporarily close and renovate the Mission District’s Public Library Branch for up to two years have left some patrons in an increasingly gentrifying neighborhood worried that they will lose a free community space.

“It’s a really well-used library so it definitely could accommodate more space, but I’m concerned that two years seems like a long time and that there will be a loss for the community,” said library patron Amy Berk. “There are a lot of people here that really need and rely on the library. All the nannies and the kids that go there — that’s huge.”

Apart from Civic Center’s Main Library, the Mission Branch Library at 300 Bartlett St. is the fourth busiest of The City’s 27 branches, said San Francisco Public Library Spokesperson Mindy Linetzky. Planned renovations are likely to include an expansion of the historically protected building’s envelope to address first-floor space issues by creating a multi-functioning area and community room.

“The first floor, especially where the children’s area is, is very broken up. It’s difficult to get around and what we’d like to do is open that up better,” said Linetzky, adding that preliminary design plans include adding a “large program room.”

“Most of our large libraries have dedicated program rooms and this one does not,” she said.

One suggestion being considered to continue the library’s services includes using bookmobiles, but some library-goers want The City to establish an interim physical space near the current library. Construction is expected to break ground in 2020.

“My strongest concern is that we have a physical branch library in the Mission District during the 18- month to 2 -year period that our treasured branch at 24th and Bartlett is closed,” wrote Mission resident Eddie Stiel in an email addressing the neighborhood’s supervisor, Hillary Ronen.

Ronen did not respond to requests for comment by press time, but assured Stiel in an email that she would “do everything my power to get a replacement or the most robust version of replacement services as possible.”

Stiel said he attended a community hearing held last month by SFPL and city officials to inform the community and gather input, and “could not get any of the city workers at the meeting to commit that we will have an interim branch library.”

Stiel said he is concerned about vulnerable community members losing access to the internet.

Just under half of the households in the Mission — about 46 percent — were not connected to the internet in 2014, according to a survey by Mission Promise Neighborhood.

“Having a computer is expensive. Internet access is expensive. The library provides that service for people — it’s free and open to anybody,” said Stiel.

Library patron Tina Liu, who grew up in the Mission District, agreed that there are “a lot of households here that aren’t connected to the internet.”

Liu said that she remembers when the library closed temporarily for seismic upgrades in the late 1990s, its services were relocated to a vacant space in what is now the U.S. Bank building at 22nd and Mission streets.

“As long as there is a temporary space where people can go and make book requests and check outs and have a couple of computers — because a lot of people come here mostly for using the computers — I think it can work out,” said Liu.

Along with a second floor computer lab, the library currently features a children’s reading room with bilingual programming that draws parents and nannies from the surrounding area.

Budget for $19.8 million, construction would include expanding the building “towards Bartlett and towards Valencia streets” and relocating it’s main entrance to 24th Street and the restoration of a “grand staircase” that was removed in an earlier renovation, Linetzky said. The San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission must first approve the proposal.

Also incorporated in the plans are additional bathrooms and a dedicated area for teens. SFPL’s Chinatown and Ocean View branches are also slated for renovations in the coming years.

The children’s programming will continue in a temporary location, potentially at nearby recreation centers, schools or nonprofits, according to Linetzky.

“All of our story time programs, our school-aged programs we do plan to continue. They are very popular and finding the right location is going to be high priority for us because we want to continue those services” said Laura Tarango, the Mission library’s children’s services manager.

Tarango added that the library is a cornerstone in the community.

“I think we are a place where people feel comfortable coming to access free information and programming

and we are open to the public, we don’t ask questions about who you are and what you want to do here,” she said.

Efforts are also being made to preserve the library’s other services, such as the computer lab, assured Linetzky, who said that SFPL is working with The City’s real estate department and has also sent out its own staff to scout for appropriate locations, although a site has not yet been identified.

The library also currently offers a laptop and wifi device loan program, which will continue and possibly be expanded, according to Linetzky.

“Ideally we would like to find an alternative site where we have not only the programs but a small book collection,” she said, adding that space is “tight” in San Francisco.

SFPL currently owns four bookmobiles where patrons can pick peruse a small literary collection. Assigning a bookmobile to the Mission is still an option, said Lintezky, but added that “it would be better to have an actual spot with librarians.”

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