Thursday, November 13, 2014

Guest Blogger Christopher Lowen Agee: A Preview to His Talk This Saturday

The San Francisco History Center is pleased to present historian Christopher Lowen Agee speaking about his book, The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Liberal Politics, 1950-1972, this Saturday, November 15th at 11:00 a.m. in the Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room at the Main Library. Dr. Agee has written a guest blog post for "What's On the 6th Floor" about doing reserach for his book in the public library.

flier for SFPL program

During the 1960s, the nation turned it eyes to San Francisco as the city's police force clashed with movements for free speech, civil rights, and sexual liberation. These conflicts on the street forced Americans to reconsider the role of the police officer in a democracy. In The Streets of San Francisco, I explore the surprising and influential ways in which San Francisco liberals answered that question, ultimately turning to the police as partners, and reshaping understandings of crime, policing, and democracy.

author photo of Christopher Lowen Agee
Author photo
In my research, I faced the challenge of uncovering the internal histories of City Hall, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), and neighborhood movements from across the city.  The San Francisco Public Library – particularly the Main and Bayview branches – provided invaluable windows into these various segments of San Francisco.

For scholars interested in the history of policing and crime in San Francisco, the SFPL has digitized the SFPD's Annual Reports.  These documents chart arrest statistics and changes in departmental organization and thus show how the SFPD's understanding of its mission and of crime itself transformed over the twentieth century.

Scholars exploring the inner workings of San Francisco's City Hall can avail themselves of the SFPL's Mayoral Papers. The Joseph L. Alioto Papers included drafts of speeches and debate notes with Alioto's handwritten margin revisions. These drafts helped me understand the ways in which Alioto was directly shaping the message of his administration.  The various pieces of ephemera that the his office kept (e.g., cartoons sketched by members of the Black Panther Party and the San Francisco Police Officers' Association) helped me gauge how the administration understood the city and its divisions. 

Finally, the library's collections of neighborhood and institutional newspapers helped me understand the issues driving and dividing the city's neighborhood movements.  The library has collected past issues of The Spokesman, a War on Poverty-funded newspaper in Hunters Point, and the San Francisco History Center's San Francisco Ephemera Collection includes clippings from at least five Haight-Ashbury newspapers. The Ephemera Collection also includes News and Views, a newsletter written by community activists involved with the SFPD's Community Relations Unit.

The San Francisco Public Library allows researchers to explore the history of San Francisco's institutions, politicians, and social movements. As a result, scholars can use the library's collections to uncover a local past that is at once nuanced and wide-ranging.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Celebrating 50 Years Spotlight: Little Magazines


When City Librarian William Holman organized the Library’s special collections into one department in 1964, librarians in the Literature, Philosophy & Religion Department were doing their part by actively acquiring books and little magazines representing the Beat and San Francisco Renaissance writers. As Special Collections Librarian Jack Coll reported in January 1966, “The Library is seeking to collect this material as a record of intellectual life within the city.” In an effort to move beyond standard ordering procedures, librarians in both departments scoured  book dealers’ catalogues, visited antiquarian and independent book shops (City Lights and The Tenth Muse, amongst others), and pored over alternative press reading lists. The Special Collections Department acquired the published works of local writers and poets, while the Literature Department went a step further assembling a core collection of forty little magazines (avant-garde poetry magazines). 

The collection opened in 1967 with titles including: Wild Dog, Avalanche, Despite Everything, Magdalene Syndrome Gazette, Black Dialogue, Beatitude, Hollow Orange, Soulbook, Kayak, Change, the Movement, and the Journal for the Protection of All Beings. By the early 1980s, the collection had grown to 500 titles.

Zines (self-published, independent, mostly handmade and done for the love of it) first made their appearance in the collection in 1991, giving new energy to the Little Maga/Zine Collection. A proposal to transfer the collection to Special Collections due to its literary and historical research value was approved in 1993, with the reinvigorated collection now receiving full archival preservation. Soon the collection would be cataloged for complete public access; cataloging still continues, as does the acquisition of zines and little magazines.

The Little Maga/Zine Collection documents the underground/alternative press of the San Francisco Bay Area, and its influence on the cultural, literary, and political life of San Francisco. Little magazines representing almost every literary movement from the 1940s onward, political little mags, and self-published zines on a wide variety of topics form the core collection, which now numbers over 1,200 titles (more than 4,000 issues). A growing collection of print reference materials, electronic media, and ephemera adds critical documentation on the history and study of little magazines and zines.

The Little Maga/Zine Collection may be found in the Book Arts & Special Collections Center, open to the public without appointment. Our new hours are Monday: 10am-6pm; Tuesday-Thursday: 9am-8pm; Friday: 12 noon-6pm; Saturday: 10am-6pm; and Sunday: 12 noon-5pm. Celebrate our department’s 50th anniversary by visiting us on the Sixth Floor, where we can show you the many treasures of Special Collections.

50 years of special collections

Monday, October 13, 2014

Celebrating 50 Years: Spotlight on the Harrison Collection of Calligraphy and Lettering

Harrison Collection bookplate designed 
by James Hayes, 1982

In the world of calligraphy one public collection stands out: The Richard Harrison Collection of Calligraphy and Lettering. Located in the Book Arts & Special Collections Center, the Harrison Collection is one of the most remarkable collections of its kind, a storehouse of original calligraphic manuscripts, as well as fine prints, broadsides, roughs, drawings and sketches. While the focus is on contemporary calligraphy, a look back at the development of bookhands is represented in a selection of medieval through seventeenth century leaves.

San Francisco resident Richard Harrison (1909-1990) loved and practiced calligraphy; he corresponded with scribes whose work he commissioned and later gave to the San Francisco Public Library. Harrison’s gift coincided with the opening of the Special Collections Department, becoming a cornerstone collection that would include the Grabhorn Collection on the History of Printing and the Development of the Book, and the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit and Humor.

Thomas Ingmire, Saucy Jacks, 1993

Included in the collection are original works by English calligrapher and watercolor artist Marie Angel and San Francisco calligrapher Thomas Ingmire, both of whom are a special focus of the collection. Recent acquisitions include the work of world-renowned local calligrapher Georgia Deaver, teacher and artist Arne Wolf, as well as calligraphy by Carl Rohrs, Monica Dengo, Luca Barcellona, Massimo Pollelo, Christopher Haanes, and Judy Detrick.

"A rose is a rose is a rose" by Gertrude Stein. Calligraphy by Georgia Deaver, circa 1980s.
A key feature of the Harrison Collection is its accessibility. The collection is open to anyone with an interest in calligraphy, without appointment. Because of its visual qualities and grounding in the handwritten letter, the collection merits study by students, artists, and practitioners from around the world. We look forward to another 50 years of calligraphic pleasures in the Library’s Special Collections.

50 years of special collections

Friday, October 10, 2014

Special Guests for Special Collections for All of Us

You may have noticed from our "Celebrating 50 Years Spotlight" series of blog posts that the San Francisco History Center and Book Arts & Special Collections are turning 50 this year. Just like early Gen-Xers, really.

Our blog is only 5. Put differently, our oldest social media presence is in kindergarten (albeit a precocious kindergarten), while our collections and services have been growing for half a century. We have type specimens. Hand-drawn calligraphy. Coroner's records. Funny books in 35 languages. Mug books. Maps. Card files. Photographs. Posters. Diaries and letters. Zines. One wonders how many books, articles, documentaries, exhibits, dissertations, high school term papers, novels, urban planning reports, posts, plaints, art projects, tweets, and just plain gossip and speculation have come from people all over the world perusing our "special collections." What's special about them is that anyone can come in and use them, regardless of their rarity or uniqueness.

Kevin Starr, as City Librarian in the 1970s
Kevin Starr, as City Librarian in the 1970s
To celebrate our youth and our age (in archives and special collections, it's all about historical perspective, after all), we'll be hosting two special guests on Tuesday October 21 at 6:00 p.m. Join us in the Koret Auditorium here at the Main Library, where scholar and former City and State Librarian Kevin Starr will speak about the role of special collections in public libraries, particularly here at the San Francisco Public Library. Where have we been, and what's in store for us? We'll also honor our former City Archivist Gladys Hansen with a screening of a new short documentary, Counting the Dead: One former city librarian's 50 year-long quest to account for the names of those who died in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire by Catharine Axley.
Gladys Hansen, as City Archivist, undated

After the talk, there will be an informal walk-through of Celebrating 50 Years: 1964-2014: An Exhibition of Works from the Marjorie G. and Carl W. Stern Book Arts & Special Collections Center and the Daniel E. Koshland San Francisco History Center in the Skylight Gallery-South, on the sixth floor. All are warmly invited to attend as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this remarkable public resource.

We hope to see you there!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Celebrating 50 Years Spotlight: Hormel Center Archives

It is unlikely that there was any expectation of GLBT archives at the library in 1964 when the San Francisco History and the Book Arts & Special Collections departments were established. However, the library’s commitment to recording and celebrating the events and people of the City anticipated that additional kinds of archives would be acquired eventually.

The James C. Hormel Center was founded in 1991 to document the GLBT experience, especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Center includes books, recordings, periodicals, and archives. While the bulk of the Hormel Center’s book holdings are available on the 3rd floor of the Main Library, the GLBT archival collections call the 6th floor their home.

The first archival collection, the Peter Adair Papers, was accessioned in 1991. Since that time, the GLBT archives has grown with the addition of dozens of collections, such as the Harvey Milk Archives—Scott Smith Collection, and the Barbara Grier—Naiad Press Collection.

The newspaper clipping pictured here is from the Evander Smith—California Hall Papers (GLC 46). It documents an event that will soon mark its own 50th anniversary: police harassment at the January 1965 New Year’s dance hosted by the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. This incident served as a rallying point for San Francisco’s emerging GLBT community. It’s worth noting that this was four years before New York’s more well-known Stonewall riots.

These rich and exciting archival collections are used on a daily basis by researchers, filmmakers, authors, students, and the general public from the Bay Area and beyond. They add immeasurably to our understanding of the City’s diverse communities, and to the Library’s Special Collections.

50 years of special collections