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, August 8, 1:30 pm, via Zoom. Pam Peirce will present.

 

Public Programs

Thursday, July 22 2021,  7:00 pm, Public Program, via Zoom. Member Stephen E. Barton will introduce his new book, J. Stitt Wilson: Socialist, Christian, Mayor of Berkeley.

Steven Barton

Faced with the dramatic extremes of wealth and poverty that characterized Gilded Age America, Wilson (1868-1942) gave up a promising career in the ministry to advocate for “applied Christianity”—a democratic and socialist economy based on caring and cooperation that would embody Jesus’s message of love. His varied efforts included socialist evangelism in the Midwest, California and Great Britain; building an alliance between the Socialist Party and the labor movement in his campaigns for governor, mayor and Congress, and supporting Upton Sinclair’s End Poverty in California campaign within the Democratic Party. He and his family became an integral part of “Bohemian Berkeley,” and although his sons all died young, his daughters became socialists, feminists and stars of stage and screen. This will be an online event on Zoom; the link will be sent to those who register here. The event is cosponsored by the Berkeley Historical Study.
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, August 15,  2:00 pm, Monthly Program, via Zoom.
Christopher Webber will present

George Templeton Strong, the Civil War Sanitary Commission, and the Women's Movement

A Wall Street lawyer's Civil War project to help preserve the Union inadvertently ended up empowering women and paving the way to health-care reform. When the war began, attorney George Templeton Strong worked with friends to create a "Sanitary Commission" that would provide the Union army with medical support. From small towns to big cities, women came together to knit socks, collect blankets, and put up jelly to contribute through the Commission. Through their work, they gained confidence and political savvy that would prove invaluable to the nascent movement for women's rights, and also motivation to improve health care after the war. Strong was a Columbia University graduate and trustee, and a lay leader of the historic Trinity Church, Wall Street. He told much of the Commission's story in a thoughtful diary so candid and fiery that he insisted it must remain sealed for 50 years after his death.

Christopher Webber

Institute member Christopher L. Webber is a priest of the Episcopal Church who has served parishes in Long Island, New York; Connecticut; and Tokyo, Japan. He is a graduate of the Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs and the General Theological Seminary with an honorary doctorate from the latter. He is the author of over thirty books, ranging from the first-ever sequels to Beowulf to a biography of James W.C. Pennington, an early 19th-century black escaped slave and abolitionist. Chris moved to San Francisco in 2003.

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

Members' Recent Activities:

Leslie Friedman’s play, “The Exhibitionist,” received three Zoom presentations. Play by Play, the organization founded and led by Institute member Judith Offer, presented it on a program that included Judith’s play, “Not Too Kosher,” on January 31. That reading/ performance led to two more, on February 3 and 11. “The Exhibitionist” is a satirical, one-act play with two characters re-meeting on what might be a date. Jonathan Clark (Leslie’s husband) played Danny and Leslie played Lily. Leslie has also been invited to give a talk about her recent book, The Story of Our Butterflies: Mourning Cloaks in Mountain View, for Stanford’s program, Company of Authors.

John Graham’s second book, The Reeducation Of A Turd Peddler, is available for purchase (www.thebookpatch.com). He describes it as “historic, meta-fiction, and satire” which follows Junipero Serra’s heart “stuck in a jar for two hundred years and reveals who stole it and why.”

As of March 2021, Bert Gordon is Associate Editor of the Journal of Tourism History, a peer-reviewed journal published by Taylor and Francis in England. He may be contacted with questions about the journal at: bmgordon@ mills.edu.

Susan Nuernberg reports that she is moving back to Wisconsin, where she will continue her work on Charmian Kittrege London, transcribing and annotating her handwritten diaries (1904-1916) for publication by the University of Nebraska Press. She expects to complete her project in a year.

Welcome to our newest 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.”

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 info@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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