Millions fewer books were borrowed from San Francisco’s public libraries due to the pandemic. According to annual circulation data from the San Francisco Public Library, total circulation fell by 23% during the 2021 fiscal year — a time period spanning July 2020 to June 2021. Much of this decline was in physical materials, which were unavailable during pandemic lockdowns.
In March 2020, all library branches closed their doors to the public. They remained closed until August 2020, when they started offering a front-door pickup service where members could collect physical materials requested in advance. It wasn’t until May 2021 that the libraries started allowing visitors into buildings — a celebratory moment for both members and staff. Still, members were encouraged to keep visits short. The library even removed furniture so people wouldn’t sit down to read.