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

Summer 2020: Harlem of the West: The Fillmore Jazz Era and Redevelopment, an online lecture by Elizabeth Pepin Silva, a documentary filmmaker, photographer, writer, and former day manager of the historic Fillmore Auditorium, August 16.

Fall 2019: An event-filled two-day excursion to Sacramento, a 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 13, 1:30 pm,  via Zoom. Katya Miller and Rose Marie Cleese will present.

 

Public Programs

Sunday, August 16, 2:00 pm, Public Program: Elizabeth Pepin Silva will discuss the glory and destruction of San Francisco's Fillmore District of the mid-20th century, Harlem of the West: The Fillmore Jazz Era and Redevelopment Ms. Silva is a documentary filmmaker, photographer, writer, and former day manager of the historic Fillmore Auditorium. She grew up all around the Bay Area and earned a bachelor's degree in journalism at San Francisco State University. Elizabeth was a staff producer at KQED-TV, where most recently she was series producer of "Truly CA," featuring documentaries about the Golden State. She wrote the book Harlem of the West -- the San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era. A winner of film-festival awards and five Emmys, she lives in Ventura County. Please register soon via the event ticking site Eventbrite. Registration is free. The capacity of the Zoom meeting is limited, and 1,400 people who signed up for a San Francisco Public Library presentation by Ms. Silva had to be turned away.
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, September 20, 2:00 pm, Black History in Marin County: From the Spaniards to the Great Migration IHS member Marilyn Geary will present unique stories of Black individuals who made their marks amid the biases of a predominantly white society. Please join us via Zoom:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85868409468  Marilyn L. Geary is an oral historian, writer, and filmmaker. She is the author of Marin City Memories, based on the oral histories of African-Americans who migrated from the South to work in the Sausalito shipyards during World War II. Marilyn's community oral-history projects include  The Faces of Marin City; the film Marin Mind/Scapes: Stories of Art, Nature and Healing; and The Madonna del Lume/Blessing of the San Francisco Fishing Fleet, a Local Legacy project of the Library of Congress.  Her writings have appeared in Turning Memories into MemoirsThe Oral History Review, the West Marin Review, and elsewhere. Marilyn is writing a nonfiction account of the lives of three Swiss-Italian brothers who immigrated to California and Australia in the mid-19th century.  

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 David Goldberg and Stephen Barton. Learn about them under Member Profiles. Welcome back to Paula Gillett, a founding member and first president of our board of directors. She is now professor emerita in the Humanities Department of the College of Humanities and the Arts at San Jose State.

Members' Recent Activities:

Laudatory reviews of Karen Offen’s latest volumes on The Woman Question in France have appeared in the Journal of Modern History (Vol. 92, No. 1, March 2020) and in the American Historical Review (Vol. 125, No.2, April 2020).

Tim Welsh has kept busy with updates to his website sfinfilm.com, detailing life in San Francisco during the shutdown as compared to earlier or “vintage” years.

Jody Offer's Pullman porters play (“Compared to What”) is contracted for an August 2021 run at the Masquers Theatre in Point Richmond. She continues her series of poems about “Drumpf and his cohort.” Her interview by Nina Serrano, a regular reviewer of poetry books, was broadcast on KPFA on April 14th. Under discussion was Jody’s collection of poems, The Grating of America.

Katya Miller was the featured speaker at the Cal Alumni Club in Sonoma County in February. She presented her work on the Statue of Freedom, erected on the Capital dome in 1863 in middle of the Civil War.

Joe Miller gave his talk, “Wild Women Suffragists and Their Reputation as Sex Radicals” to the Sonoma Valley Historical Society in February. “The audience laughed in the right places, and the feedback from them was encouraging.”

Maria Sakovich contributed another vignette to the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation cache of stories at the Immigrant Voices website, “The Contrasting Cases of Two Russian Choral Directors” 

Congratulations to Our 2019 Mini-Grant Recipients:

Joe Miller, for his article on “Wild Women Suffragists” 

Anne Evers Hitz, for her book, Lost Department Stores of San Francisco.

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
1399 Queens Road
Berkeley, CA 94708
info@instituteforhistoricalstudy.org

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