Curated book lending arrives in the Mission

Tucked away in the back of Viracocha on Valencia Street is a tiny lending library, carefully curated and impeccably kept. Founded by Kristina Kearns, Ourshelves was inspired by all the talk of the publishing industry’s impending death and Kearns’ personal desire to preserve books. “I wanted to create something between a bookshop and a library,” Kearns said. Ourshelves has been open since July, and has since gained over 90 paid members. Her philosophy is simple: good books and an active librarian to help readers find them. The space also features desks and a cozy reading nook.

Kearns now plans to open and curate 10 free sister libraries in safe houses, shelters, and student centers around San Francisco, with personalized collections based on the requests of residents. With help from a donation from the Awesome Foundation, the first will open next month in the Riley Center for victims of domestic abuse, located in the Women’s Building on 18th Street, and will feature books in several languages for adults, young adults, and children.

33 Responses to “Curated book lending arrives in the Mission”

  1. db says:

    Looks like a great space and love that Kristina is committed to preserving books, but are the titles in Ourshelves more unique than what is already accessible from the San Francisco Public Library (another institution committed to the preservation of books)?

  2. r says:

    This fits in nicely with the hip, expensive mindset of any Valencia store these days. Pay more for something that’s available for free or cheap just because you can, or because it implies some sort of cultural superiority. Good for her for being able to open free libraries with the revenues, but if she’s really committed to preserving books, she could easily focus on nearby Bay Area communities that need it more – the city proper is hardly lacking. Guaranteed most of those titles are available somewhere in the HUGE 20-branch SF Public Library. Just saying…

    • drip says:

      since when is it a crime to want to contribute to your own community? she is opening a free library in a center for victims of abuse, it’s pretty harsh to be against that.

      of course there are other places in the world that could also use reading resources. hey ‘r’, why don’t you go to an underdeveloped community in China and open up reading rooms, can you get behind that? but it’s just so much easier to continue to be a shiftless reactionary . . .

    • I’m going to hazard a wild guess that none of you fucking asshole commenters — except “drip” — bothered to read the second paragraph of this post. Just a… thought…

  3. MrEricSir says:

    So it’s like a library except you have to pay, and the selection is worse?

    Um, yeah. Something tells me she didn’t think her cunning plan all the way through.

  4. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

    How is this somehow better than the actual library which is free and has a much, much, MUCH better selection, and is ALSO curated (y’know, that whole “Librarian” thing).

    Hell, the Mission Branch of the SFPL is a stone’s throw from Viracocha, even, so it isn’t as if you’d have far to go.

  5. Dizzer says:

    “Curated book lending”= libraries. I suspect this twunt’s efforts are not nearly as organized and effective as SFPL’s.

  6. Andreas Karlsson says:

    Cool idea. Seems more warm than going to an old library. Eff these haters!

  7. prince says:

    Some people have a lot of time on their hands.

    That’s cool, and stuff. I understand why the snarky commenters may see this as extraneous to the options already overwhelming this neighborhood.

    I used to donate the massive amount of books that go through my business, for a prisoner literacy thing run by people with anarchy ideology.

    Lacking time to develop my own network of personal contacts to prisoners, I tried to get them to help me see their want list. I wanted to put in work to coordinate what I’m giving, and send it directly piece by piece, without having to spend so much effort hauling unsorted carloads to their place.

    Hoo boy the attitude I got because of asking them to put me in touch with their imprisoned clientele. I guess it might have interfered with their anarchy or whatever.

  8. scum says:

    Whar are books?

  9. vmr says:

    I hope she uses this opportunity to teach women and children at the shelter how to get a library card and use the SFPL system, along with supplying a few inhouse titles. Donations and enthusiasm run out over time.

  10. J McBride says:

    Whoa. Such feisty reactions. I wonder if folks actually ventured a quick visit to Ourshelves before starting the chorus of “ever heard of a LIBRARYYYYY?!” then perhaps some of the quiet, interesting, well-planned parts of the lovely space might make some more sense.
    Do libraries exist? Totally. You’re right about that.
    Are there savvy people like Kristina Kearns at libraries? Of course. Probably. Sometimes?

    Here’s what I know: I happened upon Ourshelves one sunny Saturday while strolling Valencia with a friend. I loved it immediately, as it was an intentional space quite obviously full of an intentionally interesting selection of books. And I spoke with Kristina and she knew her stuff.

    See, the last few times I’ve been “in” a library, it’s actually been on the internet, joining a queue of several people for a copy of a book that I’m excited to read. That’s the way things are moving—libraries are more places for picking up ordered books than for browsing spines. And that’s fine.
    But at Ourshelves, I could smell the books and look at them and touch them and know, from a quick look at the titles, something I’ve never experienced in a library: The books on those shelves that I knew, well, they told me that the books I didn’t know are probably pretty good.

    You like the library? Go for it. But do you really think that a curated book lending club is really so bad? I saw a LOT of books I’m excited about reading in Ourshelves. I’m a member, and I can’t wait to finish the one I’m reading and go back and get another.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

      Oh wow, I think that is kind of sad if you really only use the library as a book ordering service. For me it is exactly the browsing and exploration that makes the library wonderful.

      I don’t think that a lending library at Viracocha is a bad thing, I just do not, personally, see much of a point in it. On the other hand, a book lending system in places where people are NOT able to easily access a real library seems like an absolutely valuable service. Kearns deserves kudos (and alliteration, coincidentally) for setting those up in shelters, etc.

      • beau d says:

        The point is for there to be another nice place! Cafes exist, but new ones still open up. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad the Mission cafe scene didn’t start and end with Javalencia.

        • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

          That’s a fair point. I certainly do not begrudge Viracocha’s lending library. I’m not upset about it or anything, I just, personally, don’t really see the point.

          • drip says:

            there’s a lot of stuff you don’t seem to get, which is ok, dude. however when you lash out and act like a negative dick about it, you are just exposing your insecurities . . .

          • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:


  11. Ely says:

    I am work in a library and I am a frequent user of public library systems and resources, and I think this project is amazing. In my line of work, I am constantly being reminded of the “changing nature” of libraries, and the “need to get with the times” in my work. As a book lover, I spend a lot of time cringing.

    Regardless of how I feel though, there is a lot of truth to the “change” that is happening in libraries. Libraries are in danger of losing major funding at every level, every election cycle- they are consistently at the top of the chopping block for budget cuts! Institutions that have their own libraries are paring down or removing their physical collections to make better use of the “real estate” and offering instead “online collections.” I believe there is real value and real importance to the physical book, and the physical space of a library, and this sort of a project is honoring that.

    There is no doubt how lucky we are as San Franciscans to have such a rich and diverse public library (and usually in very beautiful buildings), but that does not mean Ourshelves shouldn’t exist; the two actually complement each other.

    I don’t know this woman, and I don’t know her business plan, but I find it laudable that she is also taking time to offer other free resources to people in need. Sometimes people are in safe houses because they are afraid to be seen in public by their abuser! Not everyone has $3 to take the bus/bart to the library. Not everyone has proof of residency to sign up for a library card. However, everyone should be offered the opportunity to learn how to read, and to access information and entertainment that enriches their lives.

  12. piratensnack says:

    It’s like a library but where they keep the smelly homeless people out. A service that I and my fellow Mission dwellers will find well worth paying for.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

      Sounds like the Marina might be more your speed there, snackie.

      • piratensnack says:

        Good advice, but I can’t resist all the artisanal vendors and restaurants that the Mission has. They keep the smelly people out of those, too.

  13. Sofia says:

    Wow, pay for something we already have. Why not donate that money to the local FREE public libraries that actually are accessible to everyone, including the homeless, children, etc. Ever been to the Main Library – filled with people from all walks of life. I doubt this place will have wonderful and informative librarians, either. ugh.

  14. Stu says:

    Is this a bad time to bring up the Kindle?

  15. Heather says:

    I don’t understand all the hate. Yes, people can go to the library for free, but many people go to the library in addition to buying books at stores or online already. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. This store seems like a great hybrid of the library and book store experience.

    I know I could walk down the street and get a book for free, but I usually prefer to get my books at my local used book store. I like the way the store is laid out, and I can always find a few books that appeal to me in their displays. I like that the store is small and manageable. It’s cozy.

    I have a harder time finding what I like at the library, as I never really have an idea of what kind of book I want to read. The displays at the main library rarely contain books that call to me. It’s good if I do know exactly what kind of book I want, but for browsing I prefer a smaller, edited selection.

    I can see why someone would be willing to pay for a lending library that is esthetically pleasing and has a good selection of books. Sometimes less is more.

  16. Dorque says:

    It’s like a more expensive Mechanics’ Institute Library & Chessroom minus the old people whom we detest because because they remind us of our mortality.