The role of the research library in a special collections archive often poses a problem: how do we support access to our collections when we are open limited days, and when, in order to protect and preserve our often fragile materials, collections cannot leave our reading room?
Here at the California Historical Society, we know that to succeed in our mission of making our State’s history part of the lives of contemporary Californians, we needed to make our collections accessible in ways that went beyond the traditional reference library. By including our unique materials in exhibitions and public programs, in publications and on social media, we are able to provide people far greater, and more varied, opportunities to interact with the wonderful photographs, manuscripts, maps, and rare books that make up our collections.
Here is a glimpse into some of the projects staff are working on currently:
Curator, Erin Garcia:
The North Baker Research Library literally sits on top of the California Historical Society’s treasured collections. I am always amazed that I can pop in unannounced and ask to see something, and within a few minutes either Reference Librarian Frances Kaplan or Library Reproduction & Reference Associate Debra Kaufman has retrieved that item from downstairs. For the past year I have had the pleasure of organizing an exhibition of CHS’s early photographs of San Francisco and Los Angeles. We have a vast photography collection that includes works by some of my favorite artists—like Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge—as well as countless gems by little known or anonymous photographers. As I leaf through folders of snapshots, cabinet cards, and 8x10s, something always catches my eye that makes me feel like I have just hit the jackpot.
Managing Curator of Exhibitions
California Historical Society
|Image 1: Erin Garcia, Curator, California Historical Society, researching in the North Baker Research Library for the upcoming exhibit, California Boomtowns: Photographs of San Francisco and Los Angeles|
|Image 2: J. B. Cook, The refugee camp after the fire of April 18/06. From Geary to Lake & from Funston to 14th Ave., 1906, gelatin silver print, California Historical Society.|
|Image 3: Photographer unknown, Hollywoodland, 1924, gelatin silver print, California Historical Society.|
Reference & Outreach Librarian, Frances Kaplan:
The discovery of gold near Coloma, California in 1848 triggered a massive wave of emigration from the East Coast and around the globe, including Germany, France, Australia, Chile, Mexico, Ireland, Turkey, and China. Every week, people visit the North Baker Research Library seeking information on family members who lived in, or passed through, California during this period of unprecedented population growth. For those willing to dig a little deeper into the archives, genealogical information can often be found tucked away in letters, diaries, journals, registers, scrapbooks, ship’s logs, and in the records of numerous civic organizations and businesses that grew to support a booming San Francisco.
On March 7th, CHS celebrated the 120th anniversary of the California Genealogical Society by opening the library up after hours and inviting those interested in researching their family history to come and view selections from our archives. On Saturday May 26th the California Historical Society is pleased to be a part of Chinese Ancestry Day—presented by the California Genealogical Society and the Oakland Asian Cultural Center—a day of learning about genealogy particularly as it relates to Chinese family history.
Project Manager, Teaching California, Kerri Young:
|Tom Sin Wah and son, 1915, Chinese and Japanese in California miscellany, MS 3129. California Historical Society.|
|Photograph album of Chinese men and women in Sierra County_Vault_184_001. California Historical Society|
|Drying squid, Monterey, California. CHS2010.228 California Historical Society.|
Project Manager, Teaching California, Kerri Young:
The California Historical Society is working with the California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP) at UC Davis to implement Teaching California, an innovative, free, online resource of instructional materials to support the State’s new History-Social Science Framework. The objective of the program is to ensure California’s large historical and archival resources, starting with those held at CHS, are readily accessible to all K-12 students to foster better understanding of the state’s history, improve student literacy, and promote civic learning and engagement.
The Library and Collections staff at CHS is leading the effort to ensure that the curriculum connects kids to a variety of rich and rarely-seen items from its own collections, as well as those from other California libraries and archives. This process will also support the increased digitization of CHS's collections, enabling staff (and students from across the state) to far more easily access and engage with primary source materials for years to come.
Some of the images for consideration in Teaching California:
|Mastick School in Alameda, 1911. California Counties photograph collection. California Historical Society.|
|Northern California Native American women and young girls, ca. 1908. CHS2011.612. California Historical Society.|
|Students and teachers in front of the first school in Long Beach, ca. 1882-1884. CHS-6508. California Historical Society collection at USC.|
|Valley Fruit Company, Brocade of Sacramento Valley, 1911, Nichi Bei Times. Vault 13061. California Historical Society.|
Be sure to visit CHS’s gallery, open 6 days a week, to see photographs from our collections in the exhibit, California Boomtowns: Photographs of San Francisco and Los Angeles – on display October 2018 through February 2019.
Don’t miss Archives Crawl in October this year – a day where Bay Area librarians and archivists select some of their favorite photographs, posters, manuscripts, artifacts, and ephemera, and invite the public to learn about, and enjoy, these rare materials.
Check our website for updates on the progress of Teaching California, https://www.californiahistoricalsociety.org/