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Sally Brunn's Legacy in Books
By Cameron Alston
A small group has collected outside the Jersey Street library in the late-morning drizzle. Some clutch umbrellas and books. Others entertain their restless toddlers. Glancing at their watches, a few people study the hours of operation posted in the window. They peer at the plaque with the words "S. Brunn" at the top. Then they go back to waiting for the doors to open. They probably don't realize that if it hadn't been for that "S. Brunn," the library doors might stay shut forever..
Sally Brunn moved to Hoffman Ave-nue in the 1960s. She was active in the neighborhood from the moment she unpacked her boxes. As a member of many community groups, including Friends of Noe Valley, she championed the causes of schools, neighborhoods, and especially branch libraries.
Brunn spearheaded the fights to keep the Noe Valley Library from closing in 1980 and 1988, sparing the branch a fate as a storehouse. She also raised money to fix up the library's community room, and lobbied tirelessly to keep the city from slashing the book budget.
Sally Brunn died of cancer in 1991. The following year, with a swiftness rarely seen in politics, the city renamed the branch at 451 Jersey Street in honor of the woman who worked so hard to protect it. As a further tribute, the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library established a book fund in Brunn's honor.
The fund's endowment has now reached $17,000 -- through individual donations and a gift of $1,000 from Friends of Noe Valley. And the money is being used to buy books for the Sally Brunn Collection, a special collection celebrating the spirit of her activism.
Though it will be spread out in libraries across the city, the Sally Brunn Book Collection was officially unveiled at the Noe Valley Sally Brunn Branch on Jan. 28. The reception featured speakers from the library community and a personal tribute from Sally's daughter, Nancy Brunn.
More than 200 books from the collection were on display. Books about local politics and grassroots organizing, with titles such as You CAN Beat City Hall, Dirty Politics, and The Life and Death of Che Guevara, form the backbone of the collection. Other topics include school activism, women's issues, and of course, libraries. (Readers should note that right now only two books from the Brunn collection -- the Che Guevara book and a biography of Cesar Chavez -- are on the shelves at the Noe Valley Library. But more are on the way, the librarians say. In the meantime, borrowers can ask for books to be sent from another branch.)
Each book in the collection is marked by a special bookplate designed by Noe Valley artist Ruth Asawa. Asawa was both a friend and neighbor to Sally Brunn. The design features an oak tree, which symbolizes Brunn's strength of character as well as the many trees she helped plant around James Lick Middle School.
John Brunn, who still lives on Hoffman, jokes that in Noe Valley he has always been "known simply as Sally's husband." On a serious note, he says, "Sally was always soft-spoken in her activism, but very effective. She managed to be active in politics without making enemies, which is difficult to do." Even when she was opposed to someone, she never made it personal, he said.
Fighting for a just cause is laudable in its own right, but to do so with kindness and grace was one of Brunn's most remarkable feats. Through the Sally Brunn Collection, she will continue to inspire people to fight for their communities.