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Friday Slide Show: The Big Book Sale Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

9 November 2018

For 54 years the San Francisco Public Library has held an enormous book sale of donated books and media. In recent years, the event has been sponsored by the Friends of the SFPL in one of the pavilions at Fort Mason. And we try to get there every year.

It used to be like hunting for us. We'd snoop around the 69 tables full of otherwise unavailable books in our favorite subjects and snag a trophy now and then.


But lately it's resembled something more like fishing where we just hang out for a few hours without catching anything. But we really don't mind that very much. It's still a pleasant experience.

And this year we brought along a Micro Four Thirds camera to have something to do on the last day of the sale when the $4 hardbacks, $3 paperbacks, $2 media and $2 children's books are all on sale for $1.

The pavilion is a cavernous space, lit both by artificial overhead lighting and huge glass windows facing either east or west for some dramatic views. The tables had small red signs indicating the subject and larger white ones with messages from various city celebrities.

A Map. You need a map to navigate the 69 subject tables.

Many of the shoppers take a color-coordinated gray shopping cart up and down the aisles. And most of them are full of books, especially on $1 day. The checkout line wound up and down the length of the pavilion, perhaps a quarter mile, with traffic cops on the aisle crossing the pavilion.

Tables generally had two rows of books facing each side, four deep in all, sometimes five. And under the tables were boxes of more books ready to be displayed.

It's not just books, either.

There are also DVDs for movies, CDs (for various things) and LPs for music.

And, of course, there are photo books. A big table full of antique Photoshop manuals, a Matthew Brady biography, collections by Magnum photographers, you name it, technical or artistic.

We loved the lighting in the place so much we were almost randomly snapping discreetly away.

We may not have come home with a new book but we didn't the sale leave empty handed.


This year the San Francisco Public Library was chosen as the 2018 Gale/Library Journal Library of the Year. Established in 1992, each year the Library of the Year Award celebrates the library that "most profoundly demonstrates service to the community, creativity and innovation in developing specific community programs or have seen dramatic increase in library use and leadership in creating programs emulated by other libraries."

The library has 27 neighborhood branches in addition to the Main Library in Civic Center. And while we do visit our local branch now and then (with its small collections but convenient restroom), we find it an indispensable online resource.

We routinely borrow ebooks by new authors we'd be reluctant to purchase. And we cast movies from several sources that permit access thanks to our library card. We've even done research on difficult topics using no-longer-accessible newspaper clippings. All online.

And when we have to make a phone call (to renew our library card, for example), service is polite, knowledgeable and prompt.

We sometimes suspect that people who grouse about government being too big have never visited their local library. The bigger libraries are, the better they are.

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