Approximately 41,000 images owned by San Francisco Public Library are available to view and download from the Library’s Web site. These photos represent the most popular subjects from the San Francisco History Subject Collection. The subjects include streets, buildings, people, earthquakes, fairs, neighborhoods, bridges, parks and more. See a complete list of digitized subjects. Images from our collection are continually being added to the Web site. Check the “What’s New” Page to see what we’ve digitized recently.
While the San Francisco History Subject Collection is the primary focus of the digitizing effort, some materials from our other photo collections have also been scanned and are available online. Images from the Shades of San Francisco neighborhood photo project, the James A. Scott Collection, and the Willard E. Worden Glass Plate Negative Collection, are featured in special online gallery pages. New collections are added to this section as they are scanned.
The Library has focused on putting popular images of San Francisco scenes and personalities in its photo database. We have not started digitizing our California photos that feature images from counties outside San Francisco.
In addition, the Library owns the photo morgue of the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin, a daily newspaper that covered the time period from the 1920’s to 1965. Much of the San Francisco History Collection comes from the News-Call Bulletin morgue. However, the morgue also includes national and international subjects that have not been digitized or cataloged. Also, other photographic collections, including significant ones from city departments, such as the Department of Public Works and the San Francisco Assessor’s Office, are not available online. See the List of Photo Collections page for more information about these collections.
Finally, the Library also owns many other forms of visual material including postcards, lantern slides, glass plate negatives, panoramic photographs, cabinet cards, and stereoviews. These formats, as a general rule, have not been scanned.
Any of the visual materials that are not available online can be requested during the Photo Collection open hours.
Anyone can browse the online photo database from a computer with Internet access. Start your search on the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection Search page. There are both browsing and keyword options for searching on this page.
If your computer or computer network is behind a firewall (security software), then it may be blocking access to the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.
Please ask your network administrator to allow access to 82 (San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection).
The staff at the Photo Desk of the San Francisco History Center, located on the sixth floor at the Main Library, is available for assistance with the photograph collection. The Photo Desk hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. to noon, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Yes. You are welcome to print or download the jpeg images in the online database for personal, educational, or scholarly use for free.
There are a number of options available to make reproductions of the images in the collection. For more information, see the Order Images page. However, photocopying the photos is not possible. Check with the Photo Desk staff about using a camera while at the Library.
Requests for prints are sent to a local photo lab which is able to make large copies. These orders can be made during Photo Desk hours. Contact the Photo Desk for prices.
Prints can also be made from scans ordered from the Library. You can enlarge the scans to the desired size and print them yourself or have it done professionally.
The library cannot predict the quality outcome when the lab prints the negative. Historical photographs vary in quality but because they are historic, enlarging them rarely takes away their charm and interest. Please note that some original images are very small so extreme enlargement may create a grainy effect.
This means that the name of a potential copyright holder has been stamped on the back of the photograph. In addition, many of the photos have been donated to the library with no known copyright information. The Library makes every effort to provide copyright information for the photographs that it owns, including contact information for any individual, business or organization that may own rights to the images. For more information, see Permissions page.
Rush orders are available at an additional charge; generally a rush order will double the regular charge. We can deliver images using the Library's Hightail account. Orders can be sent by FedEx to you overnight, if you have a FedEx account. Image files are too large to send by email.
Payment is made by a check, money order, cash or wired funds.
A credit card payment option is not available at this time.
No. Payment must accompany the order.
Most of the photos and other forms of visual materials have been donated to the Library by individuals, companies or government agencies.
Visit the Photo Desk on the sixth floor of the Main Library located at 100 Larkin Street, Tuesday and Thursday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to noon, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., call the San Francisco History Center, 415-557-4567, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.