The bylaw change aims to keep the San Francisco Public Library’s funding intact


As the San Francisco Public Library‘s Preservation Fund expires next year, Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí on Monday announced a charter amendment that would renew the institution’s important budgetary resource.

If the law is approved by the board of directors this summer, it would come to a vote on November 8th.

The conservation fund was established in 1994 by the nonprofit Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. For years prior to the fund’s establishment, the library system faced budget cuts, paltry book budgets, and reduced opening hours.

The nonprofit’s 1994 ballot proposal, which earmarked funds for the library through a property tax assessment, ensured consistent, earmarked funding, and the measure passed with more than 70% of the vote.

The funds are derived from a base budget, which is less than 2% of the city’s total budget, plus a property tax of 0.025 cents per $100 of estimated appraisal.

“Our libraries are an integral part of the fabric of San Francisco, providing needed services to seniors, families and everyone in San Francisco who loves to learn,” said Safaí, who represents District 11. “The renewal of the Library Preservation Fund is critical to protecting this community resource for future generations, and I am grateful for the community and colleagues’ leadership and support of Mayor Breed in this effort.”

The Library Preservation Fund is the library’s largest source of budget, accounting for 95% of its fiscal 2022 budget of $171.2 million.

Since its inception in 1994, the Conservation Fund has been vital to the continued operation of the main library and its 27 branches. The library has expanded its hours, collections, and program efforts while also participating in renovation and construction projects throughout the system.

These projects include providing funds for a $35 million renovation of the Chinatown Branch Library. Improvements include the restoration of the main reading room, improvement of the overall design and layout of the building, and the establishment of facilities for children and young people.

Also earmarked is a $25 million renovation of the Mission Branch Library, which will add more public restrooms, increase usage and space flexibility, and support multilingual collections and services, among other things.

Michael Lambert, the city librarian, said the support from both Breed and Safaí, as well as voters from previous elections, “shows San Francisco’s confidence in our institution.”

While Lambert has always viewed the library as a community resource, over the past two and a half years his perception of these spaces as centers of learning has increased.

During the pandemic, libraries across San Francisco became places for students to conduct distance learning. In free time, library staff have had to rethink how they run programs like story hours and art and drawing workshops in virtual spaces.

As the library nears pre-COVID operational levels, Lambert said he doesn’t want to throw away the lessons learned about the pandemic because they have taught him and his staff how to reach communities in alternative and creative ways.

Lambert says the preservation fund for the library was “a game changer.” The Library Journal, an American trade journal, named the SFPL “Library of the Year” in 2018.

The conservation fund was last renewed in 2007 with the support of 74% of San Francisco voters and expires on June 30, 2023. The revised amendment authorizes the fund for 25 years through June 2048, an extension from its current 15-year term.

The charter change also sets a new standard for weekly service hours, ensuring library doors are open system-wide for 1,400 hours per week, a 16% increase from the current baseline.

“The fact that not only are we on the verge of renewing this fund, but we will be renewing it for longer this time. It really secures the future of our institution,” Lambert said.

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