Report on San Francisco Main Library Tour

SF History Center
Nine Institute members received an exclusive tour of the main San Francisco Public Library on January 31, 2015. Our guide, Susan Goldstein, has served as City Archivist since 1995. In her position, she works with all the city departments to preserve and make accessible their historical records. She also manages a robust program and exhibition schedule and is currently engaged in a number of digitization projects. At the moment, she is busy preparing for the 100
th anniversary celebration of the San Francisco City Hall, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the American Library Association Conference this coming June.

The library, designed by James Ingo Freed of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (New York) and Cathy Simon of Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris (San Francisco), opened its doors in 1996. Our tour included all six floors. It is immediately apparent that the “new library” has become a vital part of the city’s fabric—dynamic and responsive to the community’s needs.  Under construction is a state-of-the-art digital media center for teens. Already in place is a computer training center and an extensive adult literacy program. It was noted that the library also hosts a laudable outreach program for the homeless. A wide array of rotating exhibits ensures that a visit to the library is always fresh and interesting.

In addition to the general and dedicated collections, there are special centers on African-American and Gay and Lesbian social studies. Appropriately, a large room has been set aside just for Book Arts. All three centers are beautifully appointed contemplative spaces in which to study in quiet comfort. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find the library holds an improbable number of unique special collections. To cite just a sampling: calligraphy, wit and humor, and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The library also holds the photo morgue of the News-Call and over 40,000 digitized photos as part of the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

The Art and Music Center on the 4th floor boasts an extensive clippings file that includes arts and entertainment programs and an etchings and engravings collection, both of which date back to the 19th century. You can check out music scores from their vast collection.

Some may be surprised to find that the library has been a federal depository since 1889. The library’s Government Information Center is your one-stop-shop for almost anything related to city, state and federal government. Particularly impressive are city police records dating back to the 1860s and mayoral records to the Mexican period.

The periodicals and newspapers collection (the Magazines and Newspapers Center) rivals or surpasses that of any Bay Area university.

Our tour culminated with a visit to the San Francisco History Center and the Book Arts Room on the 6th floor. Whether you are working on city or county history, architecture, labor, landmarks education or vital statistics, you’re bound to find something of value in the 30,000 plus volumes or audio collection held by the center. The center still makes good use of its subject and biography card catalog and ephemera guides. All materials must be used in-place and cannot be checked out. You can learn a great deal about other available resources just from a visit to the History Center. For example, if you are into maps, there is the David Rumsey Map Collection.

From a historian’s perspective, there are two points worth emphasizing. (1) A conversation with the library staff is worth its weight in gold. There is a treasure trove of primary materials tucked away in the stacks, some of it uncatalogued within layers of larger collections, that the library staff know intimately well. (2) The library is growing its digital holdings in leaps and bounds and much of it is accessible from home. On the library website, by selecting the “eLibrary” tab at the top of the page you can search access “Articles and Databases” from home, IF you hold a library card. (Any California resident with identification can get a library card for free at the Main Library or any branch.) Through the “Articles and Databases” search, for example, you can search or browse Proquest’s historical copies of the Francisco Chronicle from 1869 through 1922. The library plans to add access to the remaining years (1923 to the present) later this year.

Goldstein would love to grow the library’s collections, but storage is a practical limitation. Even if items are digitized the originals are generally retained. There is a downside to items that are “born digitized,” says Goldstein, because author notes, which are key to a full understanding of the developmental process, are generally absent. Migrating to new formats is no less challenging.

After an informative and inspiring morning at the library, the participants gathered at the Café Asia in the Asian Art Museum for an opportunity to share their thoughts and get reacquainted.

— Neil Dukas


California and the West Events

Fall 2020: Revealing San Francisco’s Hidden 19th-Century Black History: A Tour of California Historical Society Artifacts, lecture by Susan D. Anderson, SF History Days (video here)

Summer 2020: Harlem of the West: The Fillmore Jazz Era and Redevelopment, online lecture by Elizabeth Pepin Silva

Fall 2019: An event-filled two-day excursion to Sacramento

Fall 2019:  Tour of Marin Civic Center and presentation by member Bonnie Portnoy on The Man Beneath the Paint: Tilden Daken

Summer 2019: Reading of Judith Offer's play, Scenes from the Life of Julia Morgan

Fall 2018: Public Program, "South Asians in the South Bay: The Privileged Immigrants"

Spring 2018: Excursion to Niles area of Fremont with historic train ride and silent film museum

Spring 2018: The California and the West study group initiated the two public programs on "The Future of the Past in the Digital Age" and Benjamin Madley's talk on An American GenocideThe United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873.

Fall 2017: Martinez Adobe Fandango; Public Program: “Siberia and California: Connections During the Russian Revolution and Civil War”

Fall 2016: Amador County

Summer 2016: San Francisco Presidio

Winter 2016: Berkeley History Center

Spring 2015: Sonoma Plaza

Winter 2015: San Francisco Public Library

Summer 2014:  Red Oak Victory and World War II Homefront National Historic Park, Richmond

Spring 2014:  Los Gatos History Museum, "American Bohemia: The Cats Estate in Los Gatos”

Winter 2014:  Tour of California Historical Society exhibition on Juana Briones, January 25

Summer 2013:  Green Gulch Farm Zen Center visit, August 15

Spring 2013: Visits to Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum and the McCune Collection at the Vallejo Public Library, April 13

Play Readers Upcoming Meeting

In the abundance of caution recommended by heath authorities, the group has decided to take a break from regular meetings.

The group welcomes new members.  If you wish to be placed on our email list and receive announcements, contact Joanne Lafler.

Writers Group Upcoming Meetings

Sunday, November 13, 1:30 pm, via Zoom. new member Esther Shallan will present.

 

Public Programs

Saturday, September 26, 1:00 pm, Public Program  via Zoom - pre-registration required Revealing San Francisco’s Hidden 19th-Century Black History: A Tour of California Historical Society Artifacts Part of San Francisco History Days, this event is co-sponsored by the California Historical Society and the California African American Museum. Join Susan D. Anderson, history curator of the California African American Museum, for a talk and tour of artifacts that reveal the hidden history of San Francisco’s 19th-century African American past. Anderson’s talk begins with the Gold Rush and weaves the state’s raucous beginnings into the national narrative. The photographs, manuscripts, and publications in this presentation allow viewers to experience the urgency of early campaigns for civil rights and the fervent hopes of the African American community. Learn about the beloved ship’s captain who has a street named for him in West Oakland. Hear a Civil War poem by a distinguished Black poet and friend of John Brown proclaimed in public in 1864 San Francisco. See court documents of the lawsuit brought to challenge discrimination on streetcars 90 years before Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This presentation proves that California history is more challenging, complicated, and fascinating than we’ve been taught. Hosted and co-sponsored by the Institute for Historical Study, co-sponosred by the California Historical Society and the California African American Museum. This event is free but pre-registration is required.  
Public programs have included panel discussions, individual presentations, and film series. Programs are co-sponsored with other institutions, including public libraries, universities, museums, and archives. Read More...

Next Monthly Program

Sunday, December 20, 2:00 pm, Monthly Program  via Zoom.
Oliver Pollak: The Arc of Our Own History, 1980-2020
B.Y.O. Holiday/anniversary party snacks & beverages
Amid 2020's procession of enormous events,the Institute commemorates and celebrates the 40th anniversary of our founding. Our own Oliver Pollak surfaces from immersion in the organization's newsletter archive, mountains of board minutes, and members’ reminiscences. His presentation illuminates our development from a small circle of young women scholars confronted by a desolate academic employment market, into the enduring forum, research and writing resource, and social hub that we know now. It’s a story of belonging, camaraderie, utility, and collaboration. Please join us in taking advantage of this opportunity to glance back and appreciate those who started the organization, why and how they did it, and how it has evolved along with its world.     Oliver B. Pollak was born to German and Austrian refugees in England in 1943. The family emigrated to the U.S. in 1952. He earned a B.A. from California State University, Los Angeles; a Ph.D.in history at UCLA; and a law degree from Creighton University, in Omaha, Neb. Oliver taught at the University of Zimbabwe in the early 1970s, was a history professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha from 1974 to 2012, and practiced law until 2016. He has written 11 books and hundreds of articles.He co-founded the Nebraska Jewish Historical Society and belongs to the Institute for Historical Study. His interests include print culture, higher education, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, and legal, food and Jewish history. Oliver and his wife, Karen, retired to Richmond in 2016. 

About Us

The Institute for Historical Study is a community of researchers, writers, and artists. Our common bond is a devotion to history in its many forms. Through wide-ranging programs, we share research, ideas, and practical advice and provide a public forum for the discussion of history. 

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We Promote:

  •  the study and discussion of history outside the traditional classroom setting
  •  research, writing, performances, exhibitions, and other expressions of historical study
  •  non-traditional and interdisciplinary areas of study as well as traditional approaches to history

 

 

Member News

Welcome to our newest members, members, both currently residing in London, England. Laure Latham describes herself as “a blogger, storyteller and lawyer,” holding a B.A. in religious anthropology from Paris Jussieu University and a B.A. in law from La Sorbonne. She has practiced law at the Paris Bar and has taught international tax at La Sorbonne. Her writings include articles on the environment as well as children and the outdoors. Laure coauthored George-Daniel de Monfreid: Ami et confident de Gauguin and is currently working on a fictional account of Russian America and Ohlone people taking place in 1839 California.

Esther Shallan is a philosopher (PhD in Philosophy from Oxford Brookes University and Mphil in the philosophy of psychology from Kings College London) with interests and research on the problem of evil, the nature of suffering, and personality traits. She is also a psychotherapist working in North London who specializes in bereavement, depression, and anxiety disorders. Esther is currently working on a book entitled “God, Good and Evil: The Problem of Moral Evil Re-evaluated.”

Members' Recent Activities:

This summer saw publication of John Graham’s Looking For Elves At Wood Creek: Hunting And Other Stories (TheBookPatch), which “follows my relationship with a ranch property that I visit in San Benito County. It covers some history of San Juan Bautista, Paicines, Tres Pinos, Highway 25 and local flora and fauna.”

Oliver Pollak’s “Downsizing Generations of Family photos,” republished from San Diego Jewish World can be found here.

Peter Stansky has just published Twenty Years On: Views and Reviews of Modern Britain (Pinehill Humanities Press). It is a selection of the pieces he has published over the last 20 years on aspects of British history and culture, notably on William Morris, the Bloomsbury Group, and George Orwell as well as other topics, introduced by an essay on how and why he became a historian of Britain. It is available as a paperback or an e-book from Amazon and other sites.

Elizabeth Thacker-Estrada completed a biographical sketch of Alice Charlotte Williams (1877-1945) for the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States. Williams served as the corresponding secretary of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association from 1905 to 1909. She was also a librarian. Liz appreciates the perceptive comments she received about the sketch from Institute members Joanne Lafler, Rose Marie Cleese, and Bonda Lewis.

Leslie Friedman’s play, “The Panel,” was the September offering of Play by Play, the organization presenting performance readings of new plays founded by Institute member Judith Offer. “The Panel” was originally accepted for March, but the pandemic cancelled the live event. Leslie was delighted to have The Panel read online and to receive many positive responses to it from audience members. After the reading Judith led a discussion about funding for the arts and diversity. On October 24 Leslie also presented her book The Dancer’s Garden at Stanford’s Company of Authors, an event founded and directed by Institute member and Stanford professor emeritus Peter Stansky. This program was originally slated for live presentation on May 2, but rescheduled for the Zoom format.

Bonda Lewis reports: “I’m doing my first show by Zoom on 28th October, for a Rotary meeting in Los Gatos. Is that sort of off-the-wall? I think so—but it’s an interesting challenge to perform for one camera—and that fixed—and no real audience. (Even when doing television, there are crew members and production types as sounding board.)

Ernie Hook notes that “I just finished an article on aspects of the history of therapeutic bloodletting, far I suspect from the general interests of almost all members.”

Kevin Knaus writes that he has recently started writing the biography of Amos P. Catlin, who came to California in 1849 and was active in mining, business, politics, and eventually was elected as a Sacramento County Superior Court Judge. “Catlin was a very honorable and ethical man. The drama and interest of his life comes not from personal failings, but the politics and law suits he was involved with.”

Congratulations to Our 2020 Mini-Grant Recipients:

Steven Levi for expenses of a visual presentation of his poem, “The Contract," about women's suffrage.
Pam Peirce for editing of her biography of Katherine Gibson Wicks.

Members:  Please submit news of your history-related publications, lectures, awards, research finds, etc. to webmaster@instituteforhistoricalstudy.org.

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We welcome all men and women who have a commitment to historical study, which may be demonstrated in one or more of the following ways...

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Institute for Historical Study
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Berkeley, CA 94708
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