Book Love

What It Looks Like Inside an Empty Public Library

In case you didn’t know, National Library Week is most certainly a thing: seven days (this year it’s April 9th through the 15th, to be precise) wholly dedicated to loving and using your library. If you’re a library regular, it serves as a gentle reminder that, oh yeah, libraries are the coolest. A building of any size dedicated solely to lending out books for free? I mean, it sounds surreal. Now if it’s been years since you’ve stepped into a library—if you don’t even have a library card tucked inside your wallet (insert audible gasp)—well, consider yourself a born-again library devotee and get back in there. After all, in the wise words of Arthur, “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card.”

In 2016, we reached out to our pals at San Francisco Public Library to host an Instagram meetup (also known as an Instameet) at the Main Library, before opening hours, with a group of bookish photographers. To put it in perspective how strange it is to be in this library while it’s devoid of patrons, consider this: the Main Library greets 1.8 million visitors each year, and checks out close to 2 million items. On top of that, it’s open more than 3,000 hours a year.

Check out these photos of the library while it’s empty, and then go fill it up.


Winding through the eerily empty library with only books as our witnesses, we explored each floor with an appetite for knowledge.


While a library without people is the antithesis of its existence, it really did give a chance for the architecture to stand out.

👁👆🏼◽️ #EmptySFPL

A photo posted by Irene Kim Shepherd (@irenekly) on

Craning your neck back while standing in the lobby yielded a visual treat: the Nautilus, whose shape also serves as logo of SFPL.


📕📗📘📙 #emptysfpl   A photo posted by Caitlin (@caitlinsimspaul) on

And of course, a library visit isn’t complete without dipping into some card catalogs. Analog for the win! Card Catalogs #emptySFPL

Here are some more photos from our community:

|| the calm before the storm || Kicked off #nationallibraryweek with @chroniclebooks + @sfpubliclibrary by exploring the library before it opened to the public. I really love libraries and believe they are vital to communities and fostering important skills, especially kids! I remember I used to go to my local library and borrow 20 books at a time and gobble them up eagerly. I even got in trouble during class in high school for reading the non-class reading, lol. Anyhow, after college I stopped going as much because I moved to SF and I also owed some money (oops), but am inspired again to support our local library. Also, did you know you can borrow E books? So handy! #emptysfpl #chroniclecrush #thisismybookstore Also, @bliu07 has really inspired me to move outside of photo these days.   A video posted by nanette (@nantuck3t) on

In closing, words from Wendy MacNaughton’s Meanwhile in San Francisco hold true: “The library mirrors the population we have in SF. [It’s] not just an information center. It’s always been a refuge for anyone to come to, whatever status in society. For people, intellectuals, pseudo-intellectuals, for lonely people. For every walk of life.”

Check out all the photos from this event through the hashtag #emptySFPL, and if you’re local, be sure to stop by the Main Library for National Library Week—you can find all the information on events and happenings here.

Photos by Irene Kim Shepherd

Jenna Homen

Jenna Homen

Content and Community Manager at Chronicle Books. When she's logged off, she can be found painting, cooking, camping, or petting her dog Harley. You can follow her on Twitter at @jn_na.
Jenna Homen


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