San Francisco adventures and visiting Gleeson Library

by Gemma Price

I visited San Francisco in August 2015. This post is about that trip and exploring the city. I’ll also talk about a visit to University of San Francisco’s Gleeson Library.

There were many highlights to my time in San Francisco.
The locals had lots of friendly open conversations with us.
It was good to walk around the neighbourhoods, wandering and exploring. It led to finding interesting buildings and independent cafes and shops.
The city felt modern but with many nods to the past, such as the traditional architecture. There were also plenty of tourist areas and modern shops.
A vivid memory of the trip was the intense heat- often most intense whilst walking up the steep streets. Luckily Brighton is steep in most directions so it wasn’t too much of a shock! Being there felt (despite the heat) like a breath of fresh air.

We stayed in a hotel near Chinatown. It was a fantastic location, as Chinatown was seconds away from the hotel entrance. Entering through the ‘Dragon’s Gate’ entrance, we walked straight into a throng of people outside shops and stalls. Surrounding us was the aroma of a variety of foods freshly cooking. It was fun to zigzag through the crowds of people outside the market stalls that were stacked high with dried foods, jewellery and souvenirs.

When visiting Fisherman’s Wharf I expected the area to be a tourist trap. While tourism was definitely a central focus, visiting there was a highlight of the trip. It was lovely to walk along the long stretch of Pier 39 and take in the views and the breeze. We enjoyed walking through the thrum of people, browsing the market stalls and stopping for food.

We took a trip from San Jose to Monterey. The extreme heat had sadly caused forest fires. Driving along we saw billowing clouds of smoke, the dark plumes accompanying us on our journey. Monterey was quiet that day, we saw seals and watched people surfing. It was great to think, whilst walking around, of Jimi Hendrix performing there in the 60’s.

Another day we visited the North Beach area, also called ‘Little Italy’. This area of the city is a central part of the history of the Beat Generation in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. The Beat Generation were a literary movement, a group of counterculture authors and poets. I visited City Lights, an independent bookstore and publisher that was founded in the 1950’s. It was full of people browsing books. In the North Beach area you could imagine writers such as Kerouac and Ginsberg writing and discussing how to bring about change.

Haight-Ashbury had been recommended to me, described as like a psychedelic North Laine area. The best part of walking through there was looking in the windows of the shops and cafes. The displays were clever and quirky, using display items like graphic novel pages, toys and colourful clothes.

Before the trip I decided it would be interesting to visit an academic library. So I researched where I could go and contacted the Gleeson Library, which is part of University of San Francisco.

Janet Carmona, who worked in Access Services, kindly replied and we arranged my visit. Haight-Ashbury was on the way to the Gleeson Library so it was ideal to walk from there to the Gleeson Library campus.

I wanted to experience and explore an academic library in a completely new city and country. The Library was set on a campus that had large lawns of flowers and trees. I sat on a bench on the edge of campus and took in the surroundings, looking down upon the steep incline of the street. I noticed immediately how calm, quiet and spacious the area was.

It was vacation time though- so just like the University of Sussex campus it was likely the calm before the beginning of a new term!

The building itself was large and the tall glass windows allowed for a lot of natural sunlight to come through. I remember near the Library entrance a large atrium with a lot of light coming through. There was a quiet study area with lots of open space and a domed roof.

Atrium at night‘Atrium at night’

Janet greeted me at the entrance and gave me a day pass and we walked through the electronic gates into the main building. I met many staff members as we walked around. It was like being introduced to the staff in the University of Sussex Library- friendly faces from various departments.

The shelves were vast and there were plenty of study tables and group study rooms to book. At one point on the tour we stopped and I remember looking down from the third floor and watching staff across all three floors placing books back on the shelves.

I met a member of staff working in the Rare Books room, where they keep the Special Collections. He explained and showed me some of what they hold, including literary first editions, manuscripts and religious works.

Similar to our Library, they have silent quiet and conversation areas, as they describe further on their webpage.

Below are the images they use for their three types of study area.
I think the study space definitions, with descriptions of how to use them, are striking and useful.

Silent study area poster

Quiet study area poster

Conversation study area poster

There were similarities to the University of Sussex Library in the services they provide. There is online and phone support for student queries.
There is a repository of scholarly and research output and they provide one-to-one research support.

There are electronic resource, database and physical item search functions. Here are the links to their Library catalogue.

Generally there is 30 days borrowing time per item, but items can be requested by other students at any time. There are also charges if items become overdue or are recalled and then returned late.

Understandably, since I visited there three years ago there have been some changes to the building and services.
Anders Lyon, who works in the Library, kindly told me about some of these changes and directed me to their Library blog posts.
Their periodicals are now mostly stored offsite and are requested by borrowers through their document delivery service. Also all reference materials are being integrated into the main collections on the shelves.

The whole of the second floor has also been renovated and has become a flexible learning and study space area, with bookable group study rooms and a reading room.

It wasn’t all strictly academic items there though. There were elements of the Library service designed to help students relax, which seemed great from a customer service perspective.

They had a jigsaw puzzle out on a table, so people could complete a few pieces then go back to their work. It reminded me of the public libraries in the Brighton area, where some of the community libraries do the same.

Solving puzzles at the library‘Solving puzzles at the library 2’

As well as the academic resources, they also have novels, graphic novels, board games and video games that can be borrowed!

I also remember liking that they had a seed library.
Seeds were brought in and left to be borrowed by others. This was to encourage the exchange of local seeds to share and grow, so that plants and flowers could be circulated and cultivated.

USF Seed Library, February 2015‘USF seed library, february 2015’

It was really positive to have a tour of Gleeson Library and gain an insight into the services they provide. It was during such a great trip round San Francisco too-  if you get the chance to visit there I would recommend it!

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