In 1922, the California Historical Society was reorganized and revived by a small group of distinguished San Franciscans, among them two of the most important California bibliophiles of their day, C. Templeton Crocker and Henry R. Wagner. To support the Society’s fledging library, Crocker deposited his superb private collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, and periodicals in rooms adjacent to CHS headquarters. Formally acquired by the Society in 1940, the Crocker Collection—with its emphasis on voyages of discovery, Western overland travel, California’s transition from a Mexican province to statehood, and the Gold Rush—remains at the heart of the CHS library collection today.
From 1923 through the 1960s, CHS consistently built on the strengths of the Crocker gift through purchases and donations from major Californian collectors and bookmen. In addition to manuscripts and printed materials, the library assiduously collected photographic works, beginning with the 1928 acquisition of forty-seven Carleton E. Watkins mammoth plate photographs of John C. Fremont’s Mariposa Estate. The CHS library would soon be home to thousands of photographic images, providing stunning visual documentation of the state and its people from the 1850s to the present.
In 1964, former Society president, printing historian, and collector George L. Harding founded the Kemble Collection on Western Printing and Publishing, named in honor of pioneer California printer and publisher Edward Cleveland Kemble. Dedicated to the history of printing and publishing in the West, this peerless collection began with three major gifts—Harding’s printing and publishing library, William E. Loy’s typographical library, and the business archives of San Francisco printing firm Taylor & Taylor—and has since grown in size and scope.
Since the 1960s, CHS has continued the collecting legacy that began with the Crocker gift. At the same time, the library has been enriched by major acquisitions that highlight the state’s historic diversity and document complex contemporary subjects. In 1996, the CHS library moved from Pacific Heights to its current home at 678 Mission Street, and was renamed for former Board of Trustees president North Baker in honor of his generous bequest. Here, students, researchers, and lovers of books and history continue to explore the library’s rich holdings of Californiana, bringing the dream of Crocker and his associates to life in the present day.
The North Baker Research Library is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 1 to 5 p.m. Paging of materials stops at 4:30 p.m.
Appointments are required to visit the library during regular hours. To make an appointment, please contact library staff in advance of your visit at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that due to Covid-19 restrictions, the library cannot accommodate patrons on a drop in basis.
What should I bring to the Library?
Only laptops, paper, and pencils may be used at library tables. No containers or folders of any type are allowed. All personal items need to be stored with reference staff. Jackets are not to be draped over chairs but checked in at the reference desk.
How can I find out what is in your collection?
We recommend you visit our Search the Collections page to access our catalogs and digital collections prior to visiting the library.
Library staff will be happy to answer questions about particular collections or our holdings on a specific subject. From time to time CHS collections are sent off-site for conservation, digitization, or exhibition. Please contact us in advance if you want to view a particular item.
Can I view any of CHS’s materials online?
An ever-growing selection of materials from our collection is available to view online in our digital library.
Can I borrow from the Library?
Materials from the collections are available in the library only and do not circulate to individual researchers or other libraries. The North Baker Research Library does not participate in inter-library loan.
Do you provide digital scans for purchase?
Yes. Please see the Rights & Reproductions page for details.
How can I get photocopies of Library materials?
Photocopy request forms are available in the library. Photocopying is limited to 50 pages and subject to approval by library staff, based upon preservation and copyright concerns. Photographs are never photocopied. Please contact reference staff for more information.
Can I get photocopies without visiting the Library?
Yes. All requests for copies are required in writing, either by letter, e-mail, or fax; we are unable to accept requests made by telephone. A $10 minimum fee applies to all orders sent remotely.
Can I order microfilm reproductions from the Library?
The Library does not provide reproductions of microfilm and microfilm cannot be viewed in the Library.
How can I access articles published in your journal, California History?
Past issues of California History (and its predecessors, California Historical Quarterly and California Historical Society Quarterly) are available in the North Baker Research Library or online through the subscription service JSTOR.org.
Can I photograph or scan Library materials myself?
The California Historical Society permits researchers to take photographs of collection materials for research and reference use. A Camera Use Agreement form, available in the library, must be read and signed before photographing materials. Collection restrictions, copyright, and preservation needs determine if an item may be photographed. The library reserves the right to deny permission to photograph collection materials at its discretion. Only hand-held cameras and cell phones may be used to take photographs. Video cameras, floor tripods, scanners, audio recorders, and lighting equipment are not allowed in the library.
Can I view paintings or other artworks from your collection?
Paintings and other artworks are accessible for viewing in the library with advanced notice. Please contact reference staff for further information. Some works might not be publicly available due to fragile conditions or because of loans to other institutions. Please visit the Bridgeman Art Library website to view and purchase select images from our fine arts collection.
Would you be able to tell me how much a book (photograph, diary, painting, etc.) is worth?
We cannot provide appraisals or assign values.