Loving the Main
I could list lots of reasons for loving the Main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, such as the amazing new self-service machines for returning and checking out books, the newly renovated atrium, or the splendid reserve system. But the main thing I've come to love about The Main is simply that it accommodates everyone—and I do mean everyone. Of course, not everyone agrees with me.
"Oh, I never go there anymore," said a woman I met at a party the other night. "All the homeless people! It's so awful, isn't it!"
Well, no, I don't think so, I thought to myself.
True, there are lots of homeless and mentally ill people who find refuge at The Main, especially on rainy or cold days. But if you go, as I do at least once a week, you will see that most often these folks are quietly reading and using the library, not bothering anyone. Sure, they may be whiling away the day (since they don't necessarily have homes of their own to while in), but I am always moved by how often they are putting their time to good use—browsing, reading, watching DVDs or listening to music with headphones, using the internet, and so on.
While doing research for The Anatomist, I used to spend long days in the microfilm reading room up on the fifth floor. Over time, I got to know the tics and quirks of each microfilm projector as well as those of the microfilm-reading regulars, many of whom appeared to be homeless patrons. Sometimes I'd help someone with an especially finicky machine; sometimes, he or she would return the favor. What characters! I'll never forget the guy going through box after box of microfilms of The Times of London from the early 20th century. Who knows why? Maybe he was English, maybe he was pursuing his own private obsession. Whatever the reason, I say God bless him.
And bless the librarians and security guards, too! They have tough jobs some days, having to handle those occasional drug-addled or unwell patrons who cannot be shushed with a polite finger to the lips. For instance, last week I was back on the fifth floor getting some help from a librarian when a disheveled older gent walked up and started talking loudly and incoherently about who-knows-what.
"John! John?! Now, you listen here," the librarian said, addressing the man forcefully (but, respectfully, you'll notice, using his name, as he was clearly a regular). "John, you need to lower your voice and wait your turn, okay?"
"Okay," he whispered.
And after she'd finished helping me, she smiled and said, "Okay John, what can I do for you today, dear?"