With library buildings closed, book talks moved online and millions of fewer items checked out, the pandemic transformed San Francisco’s public libraries.
Two and a half years later, all library branches are now open and operating at pre-COVID hours and circulation has nearly bounced back from its pandemic low.
But despite these recoveries, some pandemic changes remain: Visitor numbers are still low, there are fewer in-person programs and borrowing habits, which shifted more digitally during the pandemic, have yet to shift back.
Chances are that you have because you live in the Bay Area, where books continue to beckon readers, despite the insistent siren calls of digital media. Independent bookstores have found new life, even in the growing shadow of Amazon; festivals, readings and book clubs continue to proliferate; and authors are still managing to make the Bay Area a literary haven even as soaring costs of living force a creative exodus. […] City Lights — the North Beach bookstore and publisher founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti — is also enjoying a string of record sales years, according to head book buyer Paul Yamazaki. “Book publishing in the Bay Area is alive and thriving,” said Steve Wasserman, a native son who recently returned to run Berkeley’s Heyday Books, after stints in the East Coast publishing world and as editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. There’s something in the barometric pressure of the Bay Area that attracts writers and artists seeking transcendence and ecstasy, and it makes the Bay Area the envy of the world. The tsunami of the digital revolution is battering much of our cultural heritage into what might be called oblivion. A major theme of this year’s festival is resistance, and among some 200 featured authors will be Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, Bernie Sanders presidential campaign strategist Becky Bond, Occupy Wall Street co-creator Micah White, and feminist Roxane Gay. […] she has proved to be a tireless fundraiser and networker as the festival’s only full-time, year-round employee, bringing in sponsors like The Chronicle, the Economist and the city of Berkeley and philanthropists like Will Hearst, chairman of the board of Hearst Corp., which owns The Chronicle. The tech industry — the holy grail of fundraising for countless Bay Area arts projects and community groups — has proved to be a disappointment, Parsons said. Friends offered him box seats, but he preferred the rowdy, windswept bleachers. Since he lost sight in one eye, it’s been harder for Ferlinghetti, a longtime visual artist, to continue painting.