Making Book on the Library
San Francisco’s New City Librarian
San Francisco's new library chief likes books. Luis
Herrera also likes the public. That's what he said yesterday at Mayor
Gavin Newsom's press conference to introduce him as the new city
"This job is a partnership," Herrera said. "I want to
work with the community to empower the community." He comes to the job
after a decade managing Pasadena's 10 libraries.
His new job is replete with challenges, as San
Francisco Public Library has developed a not entirely undeserved
reputation for ignoring the public will in the rush to embrace high-tech
Librarians queried by the Call expressed relief that
the seven-month search for a leader is over and reiterated their support
for a city librarian who will bring a fresh approach to the problems of
running the 27-library system. "Books are important" Herrera said. In
Pasadena, he worked hard to balance literature with technology, a
high-wire act for every 21st-century library.
Inside and outside SFPL, there has been some dismay
at former library administrations' steps to diminish the number of books
in the neighborhood branches to make room for new computers, meeting
rooms, and related "gathering places." The move to turn libraries into
community centers with books concerns many librarians as well as the
It's too early to tell, but the Library Commission
appeared to have a new focus on reading and literacy. "The central mission
of the library," said President Charles Higueras, is “love of literature
and (addressing) the need for literacy and the public's desire for
lifelong learning. There is also an 'urban agenda,' which accommodates
immigrants and latchkey kids," especially those with low incomes.
Insiders noted that the commission president previously extolled the
benefits of high tech, to the exclusion of so-called high touch.
As San Francisco city librarian, Luis Herrera will
put his stamp on several other controversial issues facing SFPL.
Introduction of radio frequency chips, or RFID, to track books is in the
new budget, an item that has consistently produced controversy. Another
sore spot is a plan to oust a childcare center from the Bernal Heights
library. The proposal has provoked community outrage and heated testimony
at Library Commission meetings from dozens of concerned citizens,
including School Board president Eric Mar. The plan comes up for a vote at
the Commission February 17.
Also on SFPL's agenda is the $109 million Main
Library, which is still needs around $28 million worth of work. Several
million are budgeted for improvements in the next fiscal year. The
library's most capital-intensive project is the $106 million branch
improvement program, which is now five years from scheduled completion. On
tap is the construction of five new branches and renovation of 19 others.
Delays have caused massive price escalation mitigated somewhat by nearly
$10 million in State funds to advance the program.
The Board of Supervisors new Citizens Advisory
Committee for the library has ruffled some feathers among the SFPL's upper
echelon. However, both Herrera and the new head of the powerful Friends of
the Library, Donna Bero, have expressed a willingness to work with the CAC.
Mayor Newsom noted that city librarian Herrera is
taking over a system with 2.3 million books that served 6.8 million
visitors last year. Thanks to a property tax set-aside, the library is
relatively wealthy, with a $58 million budget that guarantees there will
be no layoffs or service cuts in fiscal 2005-2006. "When it comes to
libraries," Newsom said, "the city puts its money where its passions are."