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Best Private Library 

Mechanics' Institute Library

Recently the $100 million new Main Library released a report admitting that, yes, a floor is missing -- and also that it's frustratingly hard to locate books in this white elephant monument to socialite Charlotte Swig Shultz. (Of course, the city paid $250,000 to learn what most library-users already knew.) But the good news is that, ever since the 19th century, the Mechanics' Institute Library has been far superior anyway. A simple computer database makes finding books a breeze. The periodical collection is impressive. And being able to actually browse the open stacks is a real pleasure. Not only does the pretty library smell like books (the New Main smells like silicon), but the staff is incredibly friendly and helpful. Annual membership is $60 -- and well worth it in library-starved S.F.


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