Oh, wow! I love this. Wonderful illustrations, and the whole thing really captures the essence of libraries. I love how you’ve captured the expressions of people thinking deeply:)Beautifully done; thank you!
Thank you for this! Your beautiful, evocative sketches are deceiving: they appear simple, but here I am with tears of recognition in my eyes over my morning coffee. I recognize some of my neighbors. Thank you, thank you.
I’m so glad to see there is someone out there who loves her local library as much as I love mine and that someone can express that love with mind-blowingly-awesome-good artistic talent. Way to go, pal, this is a piece to be beyond proud of!
Celia Says: Wendy McNaughton and SFPL staff captured why I worked as a public librarian for 41 years! It’s all about the people and offering a community space for lifelong learning. Bravo SFPL and Wendy!
This is really beautiful! I am the director of a small public library in Michigan, and I am really struck by the similarities in our little library with the SF library. Libraries truly do serve ALL walks of life. I wish that we could afford to hire a social worker, but we all act in that capacity. We recently began partnering with a church to provide free meals in the library every day to anyone who needs it, no questions asked. This has proven to be more popular than we could have anticipated. We are proud to be the hub of our community and welcoming to all.
I love this library and have spent many happy hours here. Lived just down the street for 10 months and the place is a refuge. Beautiful places to sit and read and a terrific collection. What a fine tribute. MacNaughton has done a wonderful job capturing the essence of the place. I still miss the cafe!!!
This is extra delightful to me as I have actually VISITED this library in a touristy kind of way to see the catalog card wallpaper. OK, I’m a librarian. This is the kind of dorky thing we do while traveling.
This made me cry. I love that you have a homeless outreach program and a dedicated social worker. SO necessary and appropriate. Congrats to the SFPL for all the good work! And to you, for such beautiful illustrations and bringing the library to life.
Wow this is so beautiful. You hit on so many reasons why libraries are one of my favorite places (polling places are up there too – such a mix of people, they are also quiet and respectful, and it is free to vote!) . I love the simplicity of your work, drawing details that we take for granted but that remind us that life so beautiful.
It touched me that you mentioned loneliness is one of the reasons folks come to the library. I think that is very true.
Thanks, Wendy, for your great work. Your work is better than anything in the New Yorker.
Fine, fine work, Wendy.
The pictures ARE so very evocative.
Of course I loved the “San Francisco volumes” – well done.
While it is all heart-warming, it IS true that a lot of “library work” is negatively affected by the “refuge” tasks demanded of the staff.
Nonetheless, you captured a vibrant part of life in the City.
Absolutely evocative drawing, alive portraiture and reportage of the most personal kind!
In the Library
by Charles Simic
There’s a book called
“A Dictionary of Angels.”
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered
The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.
Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.
She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.
Wendy, Thanks for this great view of life here at the Main Library! We do try to serve everyone, and it is about more than books. It feels good when we know we’ve made a difference in someone’s life, in whatever way we can. We do have our regular homeless patrons who come in every day to read for hours at a time – because they love to read, and because this is a safe space for them. This is a safe and welcoming space no matter who you are — so stop by for a visit, folks!
As a childhood denizen of the Brooklyn Public Library and a frequenter of the New York Public Library branches I wanted to say that I love this… and I marvel how I got here (explanation belongs elsewhere). If I get to San Francisco I will definitely visit the Main Library and I will be thinking of this wonderful work.
Thanks so much, Wendy. In addition to your beautiful art, you have perfectly conveyed the spirit of the public library. I used to work at the big library in downtown Phoenix, and it is just like that. It is one of the most wonderful institutions in society.
6th Floor quiet? Ha! its the place where the fiercest battles for preservation of real places begins. Those intellectual babies are born screaming silently out of the sixth floor. In fact, I bet besides the business desk, that’s where the most capital comes into weigh in all of SFPL.
I’m a public librarian, and I’d still trade three of our librarians for just one in-house social worker! Gee, what a concept (Duh). Too bad SFPL is probably a few lightyears ahead of any other libraries adding such a totally logical feature to the rest of the nation’s libraries. Artwork was fabulous; please publish widely, and go in peace. Thanks, and heartfelt hugs – SMS
Yeah, I go here about twice a week (my local branch about the same), and this looks nice and all and I appreciate the sentiment, but I can’t help but smell the stench of feces and BO the building has about it, or see some of the awful stuff I’ve seen in here, even as I just read this. That our main library has turned into a flophouse for 50-60% of its “patrons” is not to be celebrated.
I cannot tell you how happy it made me to see these this fine Saturday morning while I sit here at the ref desk. There are so many ways you could have represented our library, but you have done a wonderful job and service to us and our patrons. Thanks You!
Friday the 13th was the opening of Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power’
Does any one you know if the exhibit will properly appreciate the women who pioneered LGBT popular music? Laura Nyro “Emmie” “Timer” “Roadnotes” and “Désiree”- Patti Smith “Gloria”- Rindy Ross “Valerie”- Cris Williamson “Sweet Woman”- Cathy Young “Maggie May”- ISIS “She Loves Me”- Joan Jett “Crimson n Clover”- Carole Pope “High School Confidential”- Blondie “Sunday Girl”- Jill Sobule “I Kissed A Girl”- Lucille Bogan “B.D. Woman’s Blues” aka Bull Dyke. Thnx Rabdrake
Well. I have told many people that being a Children’s librarian at SFPL was the best job I ever had. Now, I am that much more proud to be part of this organization. Thank you, Wendy. I’m all teary-eyed now…
I totally love this, along with everyone else. I’m a writer, so without libraries, I’d never get read by all those who can’t afford to buy books, which is the majority of us (me included!). Also, back to the article, the idea–much less the reality–of a social worker on staff, is so SF, so in tune with the times.
I am a public librarian and just so happened to be on vacation to San Francisco last week. When I couldn’t print boarding passes at my hotel, I made a beeline for the main branch of the library. The staff was so helpful in getting me on a computer and sending me on my way.
The above illustrations really do capture the vibe of the SF Public Library. I noticed that a lot of homeless people use the building as a safe haven. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a library for the people. During my stay in San Francisco, I unknowingly walked through a rather rough area (that’s just a few blocks away from the library) and it was not a pretty sight – drugs, alcohol, prostitution, etc. I’m so grateful that the library is there to provide a positive place, not to mention social services.
Wonderful! I’m a former librarian (retired very early to raise kids), and your pictures and words capture the very best of what a public library is supposed to be about. Love the sketches especially. Thanks!
According to the RnRHoF, the exhibit will not feature the women who pioneered LGBT popular music? The term LGBT will not even be mentioned. Laura Nyro will be given no recognition for “Emmie” as pop’s first lesbian love song.
Simple, honest and brilliant! What a lovely show of art and humanity–and a great promo for our beloved libraries. Love the new “graphic journo” genre. Read about this in SF Chronicle 5/13/11 Arts & Entertainment. They should have published more work!
this is so great. i love the direct representation and documentation of everyone. I love this place. i find the library to be a refuge in this city. and i’m happy a fellow artist gets so much enjoyment and inspiration for it. Thankyou for sharing these illustrations!!
the local public library was a good friend to me when i immigrated to the US 9 years ago. this piece further inspires me to chronicle everyday life in drawings (though i wish i had wendy’s skills!) which i’m trying to do. i’ve always wished my ancestors wrote/drew/filmed something like this. a record of any facet of a day in their life was many many years ago.
I am very impressed with your art work and your ability to portray a major part of the SFPL. As City Librarian from 1987 to 1997 I was hired by the Commission and Mayor Feinstein to produce a new main library and start the renovation program for all the branches. I spent 9 years of my career, and life, on that commitment. While planning the library with the two principal architects,Kathy Simon and James Ingo Freed, the three of us committed to not only building a good library building, but to building a library with a soul. Your artwork comes as close as I have seen in showing the soul of the SFPL main. Over 1 million people went through that building in the first few months, and I see that millions still use it.
How serendipitous; I was just at the main branch today. These drawings capture the spirit of the library very well; the Friends’ book store and sales (there was one today on the steps) are also a boon for those of us who occasionally like to purchase a book, but have limited means.
Fortunately, the library has triumphed over the poor design of the main branch building and implemented many service improvements since 1997. The branch renovation program is still going strong and has brought wonderful changes to the neighborhood libraries.
Thank you Wendy. What lovely and evocative images. I am so proud to live in San Francisco where libraries and access to information are valued. The wonderful staff do incredible work throughout the system. Thank you from a grateful SFPL patron.
You captured the library with such verve and tenderness, this was amazing. Thank you!
As a frequent visitor to the 6th floor History Center, I must write that the librarians on that floor are remarkable. But I have yet to meet an SFPL librarian who isn’t top-notch. It’s a treasure, and they’re a godsend.
This is amazing, artistically and socially. The SF Public Library is a model for the rest of the country, from the Deaf & Visually-Impaired services to the in-house social worker for assisting folks who are homeless. Thanks for sharing this.
I love the beautiful artwork, and you really capture the essence of a public library. But, we need to stop saying that public services like these are free. They are taxpayer supported. People need to remember that we cannot have great social institutions like public libraries, public schools and public universities without funds.
Fabulous storyboard. I hope you make sure that you are making the SF city administrators (and consequently the citizens) aware of all the “social services” activities. The public needs to know that these services are not “free” and that the library is filling a much-needed gap. Does the library get extra money for providing these amazingly progressive services? Don’t stop, but make sure that SF citizens know that the library is taking on something that should be addressed elsewhere (“laundry” and “bathing” facilities). This is certainly a feel-good pat ‘em on the back piece, but is not a template for all libraries.
This made me cry with happiness. You’ve expressed so much of what I love about public libraries – plus it’s a beautiful piece of writing and drawing. If it were a book I would take it out of the library, and then I’d probably buy a copy to keep.
San Francisco Public Library is especially awesome with its “open door policy” and with a social worker helping the homeless! Thank you for being an example to me and others who will look at this article!
The interesting thing is that the words and drawings pretty much sum-up the public library I work at in New Zealand, even though my library is much smaller, is on one level and has no security guards. I find that comforting somehow.
Thank you for this wonderful & amazing & accurate description of your library. I work on the other side of the bay, in a little branch, and I will share this link with my family & friends so they might understand my job a little better.
I used to make sketches of the children & families that come to our story time, but when I’m at work, I don’t have time to really do it. I’m so glad you chose to focus on ALL the people that come in, but if you have an inkling, an added few pictures of children at story time would be very very sweet, too.
Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us! I think your work is really wonderful.
Beautiful and well done! The only issue I have is that our public services and resources are not free. As a society, WE choose to support them with OUR tax dollars. Which, of course, means collecting taxes for such essential resources as the public library!
I’m conflicted everyone talks of how amazing this depiction is and there is no doubt Wendy’s illustrations are beautiful. I LOVE them.
But this series feels a little too… through rose colored glasses for me. As someone who has to work at the library on occasion for often a week or more at a time for research. I can usually handle the first few days and then I get a little sketched out. Constantly worrying about my lugging my huge piles of books and my bags everywhere I go. The smells, the mentally ill talking to themselves or screaming at someone next to them, then having (mostly good but often trying)conversations with those that are mostly well but a little off b/c of their situation, (i.e. transexuals that have been living on the streets for years, my heart bleeds for them) Getting hit on by homeless pimps several times, scared to ride in the elevators, scared to use the restrooms… I could go on but the situation at the public library in SF is abysmal and I don’t see it being fixed anytime soon.
The fact that the SF Library has a social worker on staff makes me wonder what budget that person’s salary is coming out of : books and materials? librarians’ salaries? It is not very often that a public library gets more money just because they need it.
The fact that there are many children in many towns using the libraries after school is sometimes indicative of the lack of other activities for them and the end result is that the librarians are often expected to not only provide literacy and homework and informational services but also all kinds of recreational activities without benefit of extra staff being hired.
If this social worker is hired with additional funds, be it from the City or from a grant, it is fine and well, but only too often are library staffers expected to take on additional roles while doing their other duties as well.
This was sent out through the list serve at the University of TN School of Information Sciences and boy am I glad! This was not only informative and inspiring but really beautiful and wonderful in its presentation and delievery! I so want to visit the SFPL!! Thank you so much for sharing such a special place with the rest of the country! SFPL is truly an example for all libraries to follow!
The work with the homeless is an excellent example we should all learn from!! Brilliant idea!!
This is a fantastic idea! Nyack recently had a sketch mob creating pictures of the town but this would be a wonderful community connection project for the library. Thanks for sharing. Will let you know if anything develops here at the Nyack Library.
Toronto is exactly the same! Where would these people go, what would they do, without us???
The pictures say it all – thanks!!
You can be sure this is going to be “circulating” widely in Toronto Public Library!