Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Community & Society
Published on March 24, 2020
Library's online collections help San Franciscans weather self-isolationThe San Francisco Public Library's main branch in Civic Center. | Photo: Blackhorsemedia/Wikimedia Commons

The San Francisco Public Library's physical locations are closed under the shelter-in-place orders issued by the city and state. But for those looking for information and entertainment while staying home, there’s no better time to explore the library's wealth of online resources.

The library offers 24/7 free access to ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, movies, and online classes, and is allowing those without a card to apply online for a temporary card until the library reopens. Cards that have expired since January 2019, or are set to expire after June 2020, have been extended through September 1.

Daniel Jackoway is a San Francisco resident who’d already been renting the library’s ebooks before the shelter-in-place orders.

“It’s great, especially in this environment, when I’m working through all the physical books I have,” Jackoway said.

He says that while there’s sometimes a wait for popular ebooks, one pro-tip is to request the online version, rather than the Kindle version — they typically have a shorter wait time.

The library’s services can also be a boon for parents who have children at home during the shutdown. Andrew Bader says the library’s digital services have been keeping his four-year-old son busy while his wife works from home — as well as keeping Bader informed and entertained in the wake of a recent layoff.

Bader’s son is a big fan of read-aloud Thomas the Tank Engine content, while Bader enjoys the comics, audiobook, and ebook services. The library also has a page devoted specifically to resume-building and job-search resources.

“[The library’s digital services] have made a homebound experience much more manageable,” Bader said. “The fact that they’re free is invaluable.”

Free newspaper and magazine subscriptions can help San Franciscans stay up to date on news during the crisis; Bader said he's used the free newspaper service to access COVID-19 news in the New York Times.

One lesser-known library service is a free movie collection. Rather than paying for an Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Hulu subscription, library card holders can access recent Oscar nominees like "Lady Bird" and "Moonlight" through the Kanopy app. Many classic films from the Criterion Collection are available in the app as well. 

As for those with physical materials they borrowed from the library before the shelter-in-place order, they're encouraged to hang on to them — there's been an extension on returns until June 1. (Late items won't incur a penalty, as the library went fine-free last September.)

San Franciscans interested in exploring the library’s online services further can check out its website, or follow the library on Twitter for suggestions of new things to read, watch or do at home during the shutdown.