North Baker Research Library

The North Baker Research Library is currently closed for staff to focus on long-overdue collections management maintenance.  We are no longer taking appointments at this time. Please check back again for updates. For general San Francisco and/or California history inquiries we recommend contacting the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library, or the California History Room at the California State Library.

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.


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.

We are a special collections library and are happy to answer questions about our collections. If you have general California history questions, we recommend contacting your local public library.

Can I view any of CHS’s materials online?

Yes! To learn more, please read How to Access California Historical Society Materials Online.

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.

Can I research my family history at CHS?

For information about researching people, please read the following post, Researching Your Family History at CHS

Can I donate to the collection?

The California Historical Society is not currently accepting donations to our collections. Please check this page for more information and updates.

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.

Can I get photocopies without visiting the Library?

All requests for copies are required in writing by e-mail, we are unable to accept requests made by telephone. Please note that photocopy orders are dependent on the amount requested, the fragility of the materials, and the availability of library staff. While staff try their best to provide access to CHS materials, not all requests may be possible to fulfill. A $10 minimum fee applies to all orders sent by post.

Can you identify a photograph or object, or tell me how much an item is worth?

Library staff cannot identify items, authenticate items, provide appraisals, or assign values. We recommend that you contact the American Society of Appraisers to locate an appraiser in your area.

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.

Appointment Information

Appointments are required to visit the library during regular hours. Please note that due to Covid-19 restrictions, the library cannot accommodate patrons on a drop-in basis. For an appointment please email reference@calhist.org.

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.

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 may be limited 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 order microfilm reproductions from the Library?

The Library does not provide reproductions of microfilm and microfilm cannot be viewed in the Library.

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.