Alice Chan is living the life of a true bookworm surrounded by stacks and stacks of books each day.
Chan has been an employee of the San Francisco Public Library for 21 years and worked at all 28 branches.
Originally from Hong Kong, Chan immigrated to San Francisco in 1989 when she was 11 years old. She recalls that the only place in the city that made her feel at home was the local library.
In an interview with San Francisco Gate, Chan shared that each week, she would take multiple buses from their house in the Outer Sunset to travel to Chinatown so she could read books in Chinese at the library.
“I remember finding the comic book that I had read in Hong Kong,” Chan was quoted as saying. “It provided comfort for a girl who had a lot of fear. I remember thinking, ‘This is it. I’ve found my place in America.'”
Chan, now 41, has been working at the library’s main branch, where she manages the entire third-floor stacked with a half-million books, a majority of them in Chinese.
“I see libraries as more than buildings with books,” she shared. “It’s where a community is truly formed and where people come to share their difference of opinions.”
Chan describes her role as a provider of the “human touch.”
“We’re connecting people with not only books but also information, and sometimes we’re bridging the gap, helping people. Sometimes people want to come in and learn how to send an email. Sometimes it’s someone who wants to learn how to read. It’s the human touch librarians provide that makes everything magical.”
Chan does more than just shelving books and assisting visitors. She has become more involved in the library “community,” feeding hungry teenagers as well as helping children write letters to their parents in prison.
Chan has observed how library-goers interact through the years, revealing a slice of humanity from a much noisier world outside.
“In the morning, you’d have grandparents bring in their kids at story time, and then in the afternoon time, that’s when school gets out and you’d see parents bring kids in after work. They exchange recipes, talk about their lives. During after hours, community groups had meetings. The library is the anchor of the neighborhood.”
According to Chan the homeless, who visit the library for refuge is also part of her beloved library community.
“I think the library is built on equal access. The door is open truly for everyone. It’s one of those places that’s truly free. I think it’s important that we value every person who comes in,” she noted. “At the end of the day we need to remind ourselves that we’re all human.”
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