A Brief History of Friends

In 1999, Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and the Library Foundation of San Francisco combined; although initially called Friends and Foundation, the organization is now called Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.      

Thirty-eight years earlier, in 1961, the original Friends was founded by Marjorie Stern, Mary Louise Stong, Hilde Kolb, and Grace Macduff Parker. Volunteers performed every task in the first few years including organizing book sales, processing membership contributions, staging special exhibits, and sponsoring citywide poetry contests.

As time went on, Friends began to play a more active role as an advocacy organization for the Library. Those efforts culminated in 1988, when Friends realized their long time goal of a new Main Library by championing Proposition A, a bond issue that would fund $109.5 million to build a new Main Library. To help pay for costs not covered by the bond, the Library Foundation of San Francisco was established. An extraordinary outpouring of more than 17,000 donations from the residents and organizations of San Francisco and beyond made the vision of a new Main Library into a reality, and the New Main opened its doors on April 18, 1996.

Friends continued advocacy efforts by championing the Library Preservation Fund, or Proposition E, in 1994. The passage of Prop E established 15 years of funding by earmarking a percentage of City revenue for the Library. The Fund has had tremendous affect on our libraries; it enabled the library to increase operating hours by 53% and expanded the budget for books and materials by almost 400%.

Noting the dire need to revitalize San Francisco’s branch libraries and equip them for the twenty-first century, in 2000, Friends (now merged with the Library Foundation) led a $106 million bond measure to build and refurbish 24 neighborhood branch libraries city-wide. As with the Main, public bonds will not pay for equipment or furnishings inside the branches. To meet this need, Friends is charged with raising $16 million through the Neighborhood Library Campaign.

In 2007, San Franciscans again resoundingly asserted the vitality of libraries when they overwhelmingly to pass Proposition D, which asked voters to renew the Library Preservation Fund and ensure another fifteen years of stable funding for the library system.  Prop D received 74.5% of the vote, more votes than any other proposition on the ballot.  Over the next fifteen years, Prop D will bring in more than $1.2 billion to the library—without raising taxes.

Since its grassroots beginnings, Friends’ mission has grown to encompass advocacy, fundraising, and programming to serve all neighborhoods of San Francisco.  Our commitment to empowering communities and raising the standard of excellence for our libraries has never diminished.

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