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, September 11, 1:30 pm, via Zoom. Jim Gasperini will present.

Public Programs

Sunday, August 21, 2:00 pm, Public Program via Zoom.
Writing and Revising Narrative History
A Presentation by Megan Kate Nelson
Join the Mechanics' Institute and the Institute for Historical Study for this exciting talk about writing with historian Megan Kate Nelson who left academia in 2014 to become a full-time writer. During this Zoom event, she will offer advice for writers who want to publish trade history books and other pieces for general readers. Dr. Nelson will talk about how to make the transition from academic to narrative history writing, how to revise manuscripts for trade publication, and how to pitch articles and Op-eds to newspapers and magazines.
Megan Kate Nelson is a historian and writer, with a BA from Harvard and a PhD in American Studies from the University of Iowa. She is the author of four books: Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America (Scribner 2022); The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West (Scribner 2020; a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History); Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (Georgia, 2012); and Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, 2005). She writes about the Civil War, the U.S. West, and American culture for The New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine, and TIME. Before leaving academia to write full-time in 2014, she taught U.S. history and American Studies at Texas Tech University, Cal State Fullerton, Harvard, and Brown. She grew up in Colorado but now lives in Boston with her husband and two cats.

Next Monthly Program

Sunday, September 18, 2:00 pm, Monthly Program via Zoom.
How to Create Your Own Legacy Book
A Presentation by Margaretta Mitchell
Margaretta is both photographer and writer, who always brings research and history into her books. Since 2015, she has been producing a legacy series of books that serve as catalogues of bodies of work. She is currently working on a book about a year living in Spain in 1959-60. In her talk, Margaretta will use her publications to help those of you who want to create your own legacy book, including how to self-publish your work.
“My legacy series began with Iconographies in 2015 when I had an exhibition of 20x24 Polacolor prints at Photo Gallery in Oakland, California. The meaning of a work of art can penetrate many layers. For me, pursuing meaning in this 20x24 series involved research, a kind of playful exploration of themes from the past that matched my thinking at that time. Influenced by the writing of Panofsky, I believe that the study of the humanities, especially art, is profoundly useful because the past is a reality that shapes us even if we do not realize it. Thus, we can say that the past is part of everything we do or think—or even reject.”
Margaretta K. Mitchell is a well-established artist, photographer, writer and educator. Besides photographic commissions and portraiture, she exhibits her fine art photography nationally. She is the author of five books, including Recollections: Ten Women of Photography, Ruth Bernhard: Between Art and Life, and The Face of Poetry. Since 2015 she has been publishing a series of legacy books that focuses on her 50 years of work in photography. She is a contributor of both text and images to many more books and publications. Her latest book, Dreamscapes and Destinations, grew out of the period of pandemic lockdown. Margaretta has taught at UC Berkeley and UC and UCSC Extension. Her website is margarettamitchell.com.
The presentation will be recorded, and the question-and-answer part will be posted on YouTube for IHS members only. If you don’t want to be on the recording, just make sure your video is off. And please remember to mute your microphone!

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:

Sometime in Africa by Neil Dukas was published in May. “Convinced his college education was incomplete,” the nicely printed announcement reads, “Neil set out on an illconsidered 14,000 mile journey on the cheap across the length of Africa determined to address the shortcomings in his schooling and to experience, first-hand, some fragment of the developing world. The year was 1983, when Africa hovered between post-war decolonization and the advent of the internet. The author, dogged by a variety of ailments, stumbles from one self-inflicted near-death experience to the next. Yet surviving by the grace of the people he chances upon he filled three journals of priceless memories.” Neil’s third book can be ordered through Amazon.
Bonfire Saloon is Steve Levi’s latest publication. “I collected authentic names, events, cases, and incidents of the Alaska Gold Rush and condensed them into a single night, 3 December 1903, in a saloon in Nome. The book, which is history disguised as literature, in this case narrative poetry, gives a street level snap shot, an in-the-weeds look at the grit, grime and actual events in the middle of winter during the gold rush. (Winter lasts from mid-September to the first of June.) Historic photos illustrate this colorful period in Alaska’s history. For a glimpse of the contents see my short YouTube videos Connie the Wiggler and Marshal Jew Bob.” Bonfire Saloon is available for purchase at www.authormasterminds.com/steve-levi. Steve adds that a spoken-word overview of the Alaska Gold Rush, which he wrote and was funded by the Alaska Humanities Forum, can be found on YouTube .

 

After a seven-year sojourn researching and writing about a canyon in the wilds of Mendocino County,” Dot Brovarney reports, “I am now working with a Ukiah designer to produce a visually beautiful book. Mendocino Refuge: Lake Leonard & Reeves Canyon is a cultural and natural history of an upper Russian
River watershed—home to hardy folk, ancient redwoods, a variety of wildlife, and the county’s largest lake, which Pomo peoples likely held as sacred space. The discovery of a trunk filled with family memorabilia led me down a number of fascinating and winding paths, including Native medicine traditions, two centuries of logging practices, and current conservation efforts in two watersheds. The 186-page book, with 200 images and maps, will be published through my business, Landcestry, in December of this year.

Welcome to our newest members.

Vince Emery created Vince Emery Productions http://www.emerybooks.com/
where he combines his skills as writer, literary detective, editor, and publisher, producing books and videos by and about established writers. “Our goal,” he writes, “is to give readers a deeper, closer connection with their favorite authors.” Dashiell Hammett, Harvey Milk, Jack London, and George Sterling are among the featured authors. Vince is currently working on “George Sterling's Greatest Hits,” “The Harvey Milk Letters,” and soon, “Writers of Carmel: An Anthology.”

Nathan Alexander Foxton is an artist living in San Francisco. Before moving here last year he had been working in Indianapolis, Indiana at the Harrison Center for the Arts (curator), at Ivy Tech Community College, University of Indianapolis, and Herron School of Art + Design (adjunct instructor). He’s a figurative painter, constructing space from a two-dimensional perspective. Nathan is interested in telling stories through his art about the soul of place and has a background teaching art history among other subjects. He has exhibited his work in group and solo shows.

John Hyde Barnard is a musician, writer, historian, and a retired Los Angeles City Librarian. He recently signed a publishing contract for “The Creole Incident: The Beginning of the End of Slavery,” a runner-up in the San Francisco Writers Conference Adult Non-Fiction Category (2021). “This historical narrative,” he writes, “details how the Union and the Constitution were saved, twenty years before the Civil War, by the actions of a few select members of the House of Representatives, led by the venerable John Quincy Adams, along with a handful of radical abolitionists and 19 enslaved individuals. The book is slated for release in late 2022.” John is still active as a musical arranger, director, publisher and performer and divides his time between Sausalito, Los Angeles and New York.

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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Institute for Historical Study
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