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

Coming Up Fall 2019: 

  • Sept. 27-28: An event-filled two-day excursion to Sacramento  See details
  • Oct. 4:  tour of San Rafael Civic Center & Bonnie Portnoy presentation  See details

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

Tuesday, September 17, 1 pm, at the home of Monica Clyde in Pleasanton.  We will finish The Madness of George III by Alan Bennett.

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, October 13,  1:30 pm, at the home of Joanne Lafler in Oakland. Marilyn Geary will present.

Public Programs

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 World History Meeting:

Please contact Lyn Reese for information.  

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: Elise Ackerman, Kevin Knauss, Pam Peirce, and Anne Schnoebelen. Learn about them under Member Profiles.

Members' Recent Activities:

Taryn Edwards has an article in the latest Argonaut (Journal of the San Francisco Historical Society) on “Before the Midwinter Fair: The Mechanics’ Institute’s ‘Pacific Rim’ Industrial Exhibitions of 1869 and 1871."

In October Peter Stansky and his co-author Fred Leventhal are publishing with the Oxford University Press Leonard Woolf: Bloomsbury Socialist. In April, Peter published an “Afterword” to Elisabeth de Waal’s Milton Place (Persephone Books), a novel written shortly after the war but hitherto unpublished. “It came to light through a meeting I had with her grandson, Edmund de Waal, author of the highly regarded memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes.”

Christopher L. Webber has just published Christian Psalms for Worship and Prayer. “The
traditional psalms written between two and three thousand years ago are an irreplaceable treasure,” Christopher writes, “but they can create problems for modern users. They come from an age unimaginably different from ours and take for granted patterns of life unfamiliar to most of us. To supplement, not replace, these psalms, I have taken passages from the writings of some of the greatest Christian teachers of every era, for example, St. Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, and restructured them in the poetic style of the Biblical psalms which rhyme ideas, rather than sounds, to provide texts that can be used either in formal worship or in private meditation.”

In May, as part of the series of talks for the Supporters of the Museum of Russian Culture, Maria Sakovich presented “Russian Choral Music in San Francisco in the 1920s and 1930s: Cultural Riches and Cultural Sharing.” She was very pleased to have Rob Robbins in the audience. In the June 22 issue of Russian Life her talk from last year in the same series was published with photos: “Last Steps of a Long Journey – First Steps of a New Life” (part of a panel presentation about the USAT Merritt’s 1923 Russian refugee-emigrant passengers). Anatol Smelov kindly translated the article from English to Russian.

Ann Harlow wrote an article about the history of Berkeley’s City Hall for the Berkeley Historical Society newsletter and is working with a group on a self-guided history walking tour of Solano Avenue. She recently attended the Conference of California Historical Societies in Placerville, as did Peter Meyerhof.

Jody/Judith Offer writes that she is “enjoying readings and some sales of her new
‘soon-to-become-history’ chapbook, The Grating of America, about the disastrous consequences of our current administration and some of the people fighting it. Copies are available at several bookstores in Oakland and Berkeley and online. If you have any ideas for bookstores, clubs, or churches/synagogues that might schedule a reading, please contact me."

Congratulations to Our 2018 Mini-Grant Recipients:

Jim Gasperini, for editing and other expenses in preparation of a book manuscript with the working title Fire in the Mind: How We Imagined the Non-Living Relative that Gave Us Control of the World.
Richard Hurley, to revise and reprint panels of a traveling exhibit, California in the Civil War.
Joe Miller, for research, editing and illustrations for an article, “Wild Women Suffragists and the Sex Scandals that Almost Sank the Movement.”

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
P.O. Box 5743
Berkeley, CA 94705
info@instituteforhistoricalstudy.org

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