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Meet the bibliophile who’s visited all 29 SF Public Library branches

Jennifer Norris, who typically reads about 60 books a year, is the first to complete SFPL’s Explorer Program. | Nick Otto | Source: Nick Otto for The Standard

San Francisco has 29 public libraries. Jennifer Norris has seen ’em all. 

Last fall, the San Francisco Public Library launched its Explorer Program to encourage patrons to visit the variety of branches that dot the city, from the oldest—the Haight’s Park branch built in 1909—to the newest—Bayview’s 2013 branch.

Several enthusiasts have documented their daylong journeys on social media, including bicyclists, like a group who biked to 20 branches and a mom who rode her children to four. This week, Norris marked “Library Week” by becoming the first patron to visit them all—and has the stickers to prove it.

Norris says her wife made fun of her for participating in a children’s program. But, says Norris, libraries “are for anyone.”

Growing up in the Midwest, she remembers the library as the first place she was allowed to walk alone. During the pandemic, Norris greatly missed being able to check out books at her local Bernal Heights branch—but residents gathered on the porch anyway to use the wifi and have socially-distanced happy hours.

Library lover Jen Norris looks at the latest book offerings at the Civic Center branch of the SFPL on Friday, April 8, 2022. | Nick Otto | Source: Nick Otto for The Standard

“Our library is the hub of our neighborhood,” says Norris, who typically reads about 60 books a year. “It has comfy chairs for reading, natural light, and the garden level is a teen and children’s library that opens onto the Bernal playground.” 

No question, the Bernal branch remains her favorite out of the 29 SFPL branches she visited, all on foot or via public transit (a personal addition to the SFPL Explorer Program challenge: no driving.) 

Norris displays a map with stickers attached to it, indicating that she has visited all 29 branches. | Nick Otto

Other recommended stops? The 1918 “grand, old” Golden Gate Valley branch in the Marina, the “super modern” North Beach branch, and maybe a picnic at one of the libraries with large green spaces, like the Richmond/Senator Milton Marks branch.

“I discovered not only great libraries and librarians but wonderful neighborhoods,” says Norris. 

“Recreation centers are cool. Parks are cool. Pools are cool. But libraries are curated by people,” she said. “I remember walking into the Golden Gate library and the librarian knew I was new to the branch, asking ‘Hi! How can I help you?’”