We are exceptionally lucky to have the San Francisco Public Library system, which serves the community in countless immeasurable ways. Registering for a library card is one of the best things you can do to expand your resources because it gives you free access to more than just books — think online classes, job and career services, museum passes, printing and scanning, and even vinyl record rental, to name a few. Long story short, if you don’t have a library card, you are doing it wrong!
Getting a card is as simple as filling out an application and presenting a valid ID. Cardholders need only be a resident of California to apply, but you’ll need to go to an SFPL branch in person to get your card. Non-California residents can pay $10 for a Visitor card that lasts 3 months.
Read on to discover some of the best services available to library cardholders — in addition to, you know, the books.
1. Seasonal exhibits
Whether you’re a seasoned library-goer or you’re new to the whole shebang, you’ll want to take a good look at SFPL’s exhibits You can filter it by topic, location, and audience to help hone in on the things that interest you most.
2. Free passes to local museums and more
SFPL has a selection of free passes through Discover & Go for local museums, gardens, galleries, and even swimming pools. Library cardholders can reserve in advance and snag free admission to Bay Area hotspots including the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, Coit Tower, the Ruth Bancroft Garden, and countless others. Be advised that new passes are released 3 months in advance on the first of the month, and are often booked out quickly. Some venues have different requirements for group passes, how many times you can reserve through Discover & Go, and more.
To browse and reserve passes through Discover & Go, you’ll need to log in with your library account number and PIN at sfpl.discoverandgo.net. Learn more at the Discover & Go FAQ and Discover & Go participating attractions.
3. Free vehicle passes to CA state parks
Did you know that you can check out free vehicle day-use passes for over 200 California state parks at the library? The pass grants you one free vehicle day-use entry for a passenger vehicle with nine seats or less. It’s valid at state parks that are not operated by federal or local government agencies.
Here’s an interactive map of participating state parks and library branches where you can get the pass. Some nearby parks include Mount Tamalpais, Tomales Bay, Gray Whale Cove, and Half Moon Bay.
4. Job and career resources
If you’re browsing the job market, SFPL is an absolute must for resume and cover letter writing, interview tips, researching your employers, job search engines, community job centers, support groups, and countless other perks.
The Jobs & Careers Center on the fourth floor of the Main Library is stocked with practical resources and books on job hunting. The accompanying Business, Science and Technology Center is worth exploring for essentials like exam prep and start-up resources.
The library’s Work It program offers free live virtual classes on topics like interview essentials, website auditing, and one-on-ones with a Smart Money Coach. You can also watch recordings of past Work It sessions on their YouTube playlist.
Finally, you can access free online job coaching through Brainfuse JobNow, which is available daily from 1-10pm.
5. eLearning resources
Gale Courses has an enormous amount of free virtual classes including accounting, business, finance, personal development, teaching, healthcare, writing, and countless others.
If you’re hoping to pick up a language, Gale also offers advanced ESL courses and conversational French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese. An additional 30 languages are available on Rosetta Stone and 70 on Mango Languages, all free through SFPL.
6. Resources for kids and teens
If you’re a student seeking assistance on a project, or if your child could use one-on-one tutoring help, SFPL has several free options.
For elementary school levels, you can take advantage of the online games, classes, databases and more. Starting October 5, 2022, the Excelsior Branch does drop-in tutoring from 4-6pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays for elementary school-age reading and writing.
The Mix is a resource designed by teens for teens that fits with middle and high school curriculums. They also have rotating workshops on everything from boundaries and consent, to college prep, to financial literacy, to stress relief. Some resources at The Mix headquarters in the Main Library include sewing machines, a 3D printer, and a recording studio.
7. Movies, TV shows, music, audiobooks, and more
Libraries aren’t just about physical books anymore! Let’s get into it with SFPL’s extensive digital resources:
- Kanopy: SFPL’s free streaming service with over 30,000 feature movies, documentaries, indie films, and more.
- Hoopla: Access eBooks, audiobooks, music, movies, and TV shows.
- Libby (Overdrive) and Axis 360: Borrow and reserve audiobooks and eBooks in a variety of languages.
- Alexander Street Press: A collection of video and music materials for dance, classical music, and opera.
8. Vinyl, DVDs, and CDs
For music lovers with a record player, SFPL has vinyl records available for checkout at the Main, Eureka Valley, Mission Bay, Marina and Park branches. They recently increased their vinyl collection by 50% and stock on a rotating basis, so you’ll always find both new album releases and old classics.
The Main Library’s audiovisual center has a large collection of other media available in addition to vinyl, including Blu-Ray, DVDs, audiobooks, language learning CDs, music CDs, and more. You can check out the staff picks to help you decide what to rent.
9. Lucky Day collection
SFPL’s Lucky Day collection is for those of us hankering after the library’s most popular books. These include new releases and highly-coveted classics that are hard to track down otherwise, and are available for three-week rentals. They cannot be put on hold and can only be checked out in person, so if you find a book on the Lucky Day shelf, it’s yours to check out immediately! Every SFPL branch has a Lucky Day collection.
10. Family and genealogy research
With the rise of genealogy research platforms in this day and age, SFPL has essential genealogy resources to help people do some digging. They include books on family crests and heraldry, how-to guides for the amateur genealogist, a list of people who perished in San Francisco’s earthquake and fire of 1906, and much more.
Be sure to search databases with access to thousands of records including Ancestry Library (library computers only), Fold3, HeritageQuest, and a newspaper archive dating back to the 17th century. Physical resources include phone books, city directories, newspapers, and obituaries.
11. Free movie screenings
The 235-seat Koret Auditorium at the Main Library hosts weekly movie screenings on Thursdays for both feature and indie films. Multiple other branches host film screenings too, including the Presidio, Potrero, and Richmond branches. See a schedule of upcoming movie screenings here.
Movie options range from animated kids’ movies to horror classics, and indie screenings sometimes include panel discussions.
12. Seed lending library
Did you know that the Potrero Branch has a seed lending library? The grassroots library loans out seeds for the season, and patrons can return with seeds from their healthiest crop. Over time the collection will be curated to each microclimate in order to foster a truly Bay Area-focused selection. The library also stocks a robust set of gardening books and how-to guides about seed gardens.
13. San Francisco History Center
The Main Library’s 6th floor is dedicated to the SF History Center, where you’ll find everything you ever wanted to know about the history of San Francisco. Flipping through the historic photograph collection is a must, but there are some absolute gems to keep an eye out for including the following:
- A collection of historic typewriters used by famous writers including Dashiell Hammett and Herb Caen (not for patron use)
- Harvey Milk’s original speeches and letters
- San Francisco Police Department mug shot books and wanted posters