The Romantic Possibilities of a Public Library

Posted by: Florica

The Presidio Branch Library is now OPEN to the public. Dating from 1921 the Italian-Renaissance building was renovated with the help of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and the Branch Library Improvement Program.

It is the 6th branch of the San Francisco Public Library System and resides on a grassy slope off Sacramento Street. It is also the inspiration and setting for Richard Brautigan’s novel The Abortion.

There are high arched windows here in the library above the bookshelves and there are two green trees towering into the windows and they spread their branches like paste against the glass. (Richard Brautigan, The Abortion: An Historical Romance)

While the library’s description certainly matches the Presidio site – and Brautigan even mentions the library’s exact location at 3150 Sacramento – the rest is a fictional departure; in the novel the lush and American library is very unusual, it is a Library of Unpublished Works which accepts books in any form and from anyone who wishes to drop one off.

Housing titles such as Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms, written by an 80 year old woman from the Kit Carlson Hotel or Pancake Pretty, which is a book about a pancake written by a 7 year old girl, the library is a repository for unpublished manuscripts that eschews the Dewey Decimal System, allowing the author the liberty to place his book wherever he or she sees fit. It is also open 24/7, whereby the librarian is often woken out of bed to collect submissions just finished in the dead of night.

In an homage to Richard Brautigan, the fantastic concept of a round-the-clock-ultra-public library was put into practice by many admirers across the world – in the UK someone has even taken things a step further by opening a mobile Library of Unwritten Works, which just contains story ideas for books yet to be written. And here in the states, Brautigan fan Todd Lockwood housed hundreds of thin unpublished volumes on the 2nd floor of the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont since the early 1990’s. On the opening of the Presidio Branch Library rumors were flying that Lockwood had arranged for his Brautigan Library to be shipped out West to find their proper home. (Though there was no sign of this on the opening day.)

But thanks to the legacy of Brautigan’s imaginary library, work at the Presidio branch is particularly interesting, and librarians regularly receive handmade manuscripts in the mail – so that the talk of setting out a display case for all these works will probably gain enough momentum to materialize soon. So keep checking back.

Just not at 2am.

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