San Francisco Public Library


The mission of the San Francisco History Center is to illuminate the founding, growth and development of the City by providing primary and secondary resources. Located on the sixth floor of the Main Library, the Center serves all library users and levels of interest, from the merely curious to those engaging in scholarly research. It contains a research collection of books, newspapers and magazines, photographs, maps, posters, archives and manuscript collections, and ephemera, documenting all aspects of San Francisco life and history. The Center is the archives for the City and County of San Francisco. It also administers the collections of the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center.


(Left) Washington High School class visit to the reading room. 

Featured Fun

The San Francisco Public Library has developed a wide range of programs and partnerships. Learn more about projects related to their impressive historic collections below.

Collection highlights: Police Commissioner’s Record, left, and Alcalde Records, right, George Dowing to James Lick, 9/14/1848, T.M. Leavenworth.

Programming at the Library

Take a tour through past library programs on Youtube, including San Francisco history events.

Digitizing Projects and Collaboration Highlights

Since 2017, 35 archival collections have been combined — and digitized — in a special project of the San Francisco Public Library, UCSF Library and the GLBT History Society. Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, there are now over160,000 historic items related to the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the San Francisco Bay Area in one convenient digital format. The process has created easy access for scholars, history buffs and activists from around the world.

Check it out now:

Another partnership involved digitizing the performance work of Kularts, a local organization that has produced contemporary and tribal Pilipino arts in the United States since 1985. Kularts’ work makes the contributions of Filipino Americans visible and creates room for cultural continuity and knowledge. Kularts donated their archives to the San Francisco History Center in 2014. One highlight of the collection was its trove of audiovisual recordings documenting their performances. In 2019, SFPL received a grant from California Revealed to digitize these older recordings in a variety of formats to preserve them and make them accessible to the public. Find Kularts videos on California Revealed.

Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era presented by the San Francisco Public Library

Co-sponsored by the Museum of African Diaspora (MOAD) and Heyday Books

Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts present an illuminating slide show and talk about the new edition of Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era.

Through dozens of archival photographs and oral accounts from the neighborhood residents and musicians who experienced it at its height, the Harlem of the West SF Project celebrates this unique and rediscovered chapter in jazz history and the African-American experience on the West Coast. The Project is a platform for the Fillmore’s musicians, nightclub owners and residents of the 1940s and 1950s to tell the neighborhood’s history in their own words, as well as feature rarely seen photographs and memorabilia. The new edition of Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era book has been recently republished by Heyday Books. The edition features newly discovered photographs and memorabilia, as well as additional interviews with those who lived and played in the Fillmore at the height of its glory.

You may purchase your very own copy of Harlem of the West through the Museum of African Diaspora store.

This free event was presented as part of San Francisco History Days 2020 on Friday, September 25, 2020 at 12:00pm. You can find more programs on the Library’s YouTube Channel.