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Furlough to Hero: SFPL Pivots to Disaster Relief

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Furlough to Hero: SFPL Pivots to Disaster Relief

San Francisco Public Library, Calif.

Library Operations & Management | 2020

Innovation Synopsis

When COVID-19 reached the U.S., San Francisco mobilized library workers to support the emergency response on a scale unlike any other city in the country. Staff and buildings have fulfilled critical functions: food and shelter, COVID testing, contact tracing and weather relief centers as respite from extreme heat and wildfire smoke.


San Francisco’s success in flattening the COVID-19 curve has been made possible because of the heroic contributions of library workers. Over 400 SFPL staff have been activated as disaster service workers, accounting for half of all the city’s disaster service workers. Library staff have been adaptable and responsive in meeting the most pressing needs of residents, so that the city can meet critical progress indicators to reopen the economy. Library staff have proven indispensable to the resiliency and recovery of SF.

Key Elements of Innovation

  • 100+ staff are contact tracers, including bilingual staff supporting efforts to stem the virus in the Latinx community.
  • 60 staff and the City Librarian have been deployed to hotels to provide safe shelter for homelesss.
  • Key partners include Dept. of Public Health, Dept. of Emergency Management, SF Marin Food Bank and University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

“No other department stepped up like you did, going outside of your area of training to be useful and helpful to the City,” — Supervisor Hillary Ronen

Achieved Outcomes

“SFPL has been a tremendous partner in the COVID response. From contact tracing to community outreach to monitoring test sites and hotels, library staff have made important contributions throughout the pandemic and we are grateful for their service,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, SF Dept of Public Health. The work is having an impact as noted in the city’s low COVID transmission rate. While taking on DSW work, SFPL still managed to launch a front-door library service, now offered at nine libraries and three bookmobiles.