A Place to Connect
“Libraries are places where communities connect—to things like broadband, computers, programs and classes, books, movies, video games, and more. More importantly, libraries connect us to each other.”
—Molly Shannon, National Library Week Honorary Chair
The California Historical Society (CHS) helps people connect with California’s past and richly diverse stories. The CHS Collection represents the environmental, economic, social, political, and cultural heritage of the entire state of California, including materials from outside California that contribute to a greater understanding of the state and its people.
At the North Baker Research Library, people can access CHS’s extensive collection of manuscripts, photographs, maps, ephemera, books, and much more. The entire collection is searchable through our online catalog. While many items can be seen online through our digital library, visiting our library in person is a chance to connect with our collections and discover many interesting stories of California and Californians.
Either by coming in person or by contacting reference library staff, patrons can see our unique materials, and frequently make them part of a newly shared history though an article, a book, a thesis, a documentary, or simply a personal discovery. In honor National Library Week, we asked staff to share some of their favorite discoveries:
Connecting to Home
I am glad that this year’s National Library Week Theme is “Connect with Your Library.” I decided: What better way to show my connection with our library than to showcase a photo of my hometown of Sylmar before it was developed? Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, I always wondered what the area looked like before mass human settlement. I heard of large swaths of olive trees. According to the penciled inscription on the back of this picture, “This olive grove is the largest in the world under one management.” Very few trees from the grove were still there by the time I grew up and left Sylmar. Of course the olive is not native to California, let alone this continent. It would be truly amazing to visualize the area before the introduction of olive trees.
—Erik Zuniga, Education and Field Services Coordinator/Development Associate
Connecting with a Legend
This broadside advertises the story of Amelia Sherwood’s eventful journey to San Francisco. There are so many interesting points to share about this announcement! As summarized in the broadside, the story is a barrage of thrilling and intense events, including a “terrific encounter with pirates on the Pacific” and “robbery and murder at the gold mines.” What truly astonished me was that the narrative surrounded the life of a woman, who was even described as the “heroine of the story.” I was intrigued by such a remarkable tale and loved that it had a female protagonist, which feels seemingly ahead of its time. In the sketch provided, Amelia has the air of a classic champion. She wears a ragged cape and what might be a dagger at her hip. Whether fact or fiction, I felt connected and inspired by the life and legend of Amelia Sherwood.
—Maddie Benelli, Visitor Services Representative
Connecting to a Moment in Time
CHS holds countless striking photographs taken in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fires. Grim and terrifying—though often aesthetically compelling—many are seared into my memory. This one in particular sticks with me. The boy turns away from the spectacle to look directly into the camera, his face distinct against the mass of men in dark coats. It is as if he reaches across time, connecting me to that moment, one hundred and sixteen years ago.
—Erin Garcia, Director of Exhibitions & Programs
Connecting to Humanity
This photograph stands in contrast to the other photographs in our current exhibition Chinese Pioneers: Power and Politics in Chinese Exclusion Era Photography. Most of the pictures in the show are either very formal and serious, or taken at some distance from the subject, sometimes without their consent. Here, however, we see three young men in a hybrid of American and Chinese dress choosing to be photographed in a flashy Zust automobile. In contrast to almost all of the other Chinese immigrants represented in the show, these people look relaxed and happy in their situation. They are not merely surviving in a hostile environment, but managing to enjoy themselves, even to thrive.
—Lisa Braider, Visitor Services Representative
Connecting the Past to the Present
Recently I witnessed a serendipitous connection between an item in our collection and an extended Bay Area family. In 2021–22, CHS exhibited a number of photographs by Minor White from CHS’s permanent collection. White’s photography captured a changing San Francisco, one of neighborhoods both expanding and in transition. One of the pictures on display, “Butcher and butchered pigs in front of meat market, Fillmore Street, San Francisco,” caught the attention of Wayne Chan, who wrote in and told me that the butcher was his father-in-law, Albert Quan. Quan was born and raised in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He was one of eleven children of a Chinese immigrant and merchant. When his father passed away suddenly in 1935, Albert and his two brothers, Jack and Harry, needed to support their mother and siblings, the youngest of whom was only five years old at the time. The store, Daily Meat Market, located at 1522 Fillmore Street (at O’Farrell), was established in the Fillmore District of San Francisco and remained a thriving and successful business until the brothers retired in 1983. For me, knowing the story of the person in the photograph makes this image even more fascinating. A huge thank you to Wayne Chan and the rest of Albert Quan’s family for allowing me to repeat this story here.
—Frances Kaplan, Director of Library & Collections
North Baker Research Library is open Thursdays and Fridays from 1 to 5 p.m. by appointment only. Please contact the reference desk to make an appointment firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also search our collections online.