On the ground floor of the Mission branch of the San Francisco Public Library, just past the circulation desk, is what the lead architect of the library’s 2020 renovation deemed a “sacred space.”
The room features bookshelves along the perimeter lined with children’s literature, and an open space in the center with appropriately-sized tables and chairs for young patrons.
Programs for children, such as storytime in both English and Spanish, are typically offered on weekday mornings, but on this particular Sunday afternoon, kids read on their own. It is clear why patrons who attended last month’s community meeting regarding the renovation project underlined the importance of this area designed for the community’s children.
While some kids thoughtfully browsed the aisles in search of a book that caught their attention, others sat down as they held vibrantly illustrated stories in their small hands.
A mother is led into the colorful space by her five-year-old, curly haired daughter.
“I love coming to the library and that it’s a space we can come to regularly,” said Heather Davis. “We can find books that she’s interested in and get exposure to without having to buy them.”
Her daughter, Ella, has recently taken an interest in Elena of Avalor, an adventurous teen princess and the protagonist of the eponymous Disney television series.
Ella hands her mom a book based on the TV series and shares that she loves princesses because “they have magic,” before shyly hugging her mom.
The mother-daughter duo, who visit the Mission Branch library at least once a month, live nearby. Not only is the distance convenient, but Davis visits the library out of a sense of nostalgia. “I also remember going to the library when I was a kid,” she said. “My mom was a librarian and she would take me on Saturdays.”
As the daughter of a librarian, she recognizes the importance of the public institution as a place that is open and valuable to everyone. Even as an adult, she visits the library on afternoons to read and work upstairs in the general floor area. She finds the librarians are always ready to serve help all the families who frequent the library.
“My daughter has learned that the librarians can find things that I cannot find,” said Davis. When she can’t locate a specific book, her daughter, “without fail,” asks the librarians to help.
When Ella was just getting interested in princesses, Davis recalled an instance in which a librarian asked what kind of princess stories she was looking for. “There’s so many stories, and [the librarian] pointed us in some really great directions and books that [Ella] liked and were good for her age group, as well as more interesting princess stories,” said Davis.
Ella, who is also into books about dinosaurs and nature, takes her mom by the hand around the corner to another bookshelf.
The young and voracious reader selects a book about the coral reef. It’s a beloved book that she’s checked out at least 10 times, according to her mom. “I like ocean stuff and I needed learning about emotions!” Ella explains in the straightforward manner of an adult.
They walk to the other side of the bookshelf, where Ella finds a lift-the-flap storybook titled Walk This Wild World. While her mom holds the book, she searches for the camouflaged flaps to explore new animal habitats with each turn of the page.
Although Davis was unaware that the city expects to break ground on the library renovation in the summer of 2020, she cited the Noe Valley Branch as a possible alternative during that time.
“We can make it into a bus adventure,” she tells her daughter. “What do you think?”