Libraries Kick Ass

I’m a little bit ashamed to admit this, but I hadn’t actually applied for a library card until yesterday. I’m not sure why, since the San Francisco Public Library is right downtown, and I walk past it constantly. It’s a pretty neat building, from the outside, and every time I go by, I think “damn. I need to get a library card.” Given how much I read, it is rather silly more than anything else.

Yesterday, Puff and I finally went. The process takes about two minutes, for anyone who has been dilly dallying, and it gives you access to a pretty amazingly awesome library. Membership is free for all California citizens, and out of staters can get visiting library cards for $10, so there’s really no good reason not to go. They also have extensive collections, although the library is a little rumpled around the edges right now because they are doing a major remodel. Oh, and they have a permanent Friends of the Library sale right by the door with some wicked cheap books.

Now, I’ve been in some big libraries in my time, primarily academic ones, like the giant library at Stanford with the underground cages and the Bancroft. But the San Francisco Public Library…it’s really big. I know this isn’t true, but it feels like the largest library I have ever been in, somehow. Maybe it’s because I associate big libraries with college, and “Public Libraries” with former morgues turned into libraries, like in Fort Bragg. Ever wondered why the windows in the Fort Bragg Library are all little and narrow? Well, now you know why.

I dipped into a few sections and came away with major book lust. It was difficult to control myself. Floors and floors filled with fascinating books in a building which is really fun and well designed. I stared at the Art Deco elevators for about 10 minutes, feeling a country bumpkin. There’s a huge gay and lesbian studies room which looks neat, and a whole Asian department…now, if only it was open 24 hours. Puff kept losing me as I cried “oooh” and vanished into the stacks, only to emerge, dazed, 10 minutes later. She finally sighed and sat down to read while I romped like an eager puppy and cruised a really cute hipster boy in the M’s of Fiction.

On the bus back, nose into a new book, I found myself suddenly surrounded by noxious perfume, and looked up to realize that a crew of slummers had gotten on the 108. It was pretty hilarious…all of these well dressed yuppie types, the women clutching their floral purses with panicked expressions and the men looking awkward and uncomfortable. The 108 wasn’t even particularly…well…108-ish, as it could have been. It was highly amusing, especially when we were trundling down California Avenue and one of the ladies said, sort of into the air in general, not directing the question at anyone in particular:

“Why didn’t the bus stop?”

Seeing that no one else heard, or cared, I pulled a headphone out so that I could hear more clearly.


“I wanted the bus to stop! Back there,” she said. “Why didn’t the bus stop?”

At this point, several of us were looking at each other, jaws agape.

“Well, er,” I said, “you kind of need to, uhm. You need to pull the cord. When you want the bus to stop. Otherwise they don’t, you know? Unless they see people waiting to get on.”

“The cord?”

“Er…” I gestured upwards at the cord.

“Why would I do that?”

“Well, ah, that’s…it’s just what you do. Uhm, where were you trying to go, exactly?”

So she told me, and we got things sorted out. But it was an entertaining interaction, because I clearly went from “threatening scary YOUTH” to “nice helpful lower class white girl, poor thing” in about 2.4 seconds. It’s just so funny to see how blatant people’s perceptions of you can be…and how often they are wrong.

[San Francisco Public Library]
[Treasure Island]