Guidelines for Using the Collection

**Important information about access to archival collections

We are undergoing a major collection move to offsite storage through 2024. Access to materials may be limited. Most of the archival collections will be delayed when retrieving from April 2024 to November 2024. If you are planning a research visit, please contact San Francisco History Center to determine availability and options.


San Francisco History/Book Arts and Special Collections

Due to the rare and fragile nature of many of the materials in our collections, we request that patrons observe the following rules:


Please sign the visitor’s register with your name and address as you enter the department. Be sure to have your library card or a photo ID with you as you will need it to use most of the materials in our collections.


Briefcases, knapsacks, laptop cases, purses and other bags must be checked in at the reference desk. Only pencils or electronic devices are allowed for note-taking. No pens or markers, please! Personal photographs of our materials are allowed, but please complete a reproduction request form. Eating and drinking are prohibited. No talking on cell phones and please turn to vibrate.

Handling of materials

NO MATERIALS MAY BE REMOVED FROM THE DEPARTMENT. An exception is made for microfilms, which may be taken to the Magazine & Newspaper Center for viewing/printing. All materials must be treated with special care. Many items are of a rare nature and are costly or irreplaceable. Do not turn opened books face down or fold down page corners. Do not mark in books or trace over pictures or diagrams. Do not lean or write on top of materials. Please help us preserve our special collections for the future!

Requesting materials

Most of our materials are located in closed areas. Call slips, available at the reference desk, must be filled out to request materials. One piece of picture identification or San Francisco Public Library card will be held at the reference desk while the materials requested are in use. Some materials that are in special storage require prior arrangement for use or are available by appointment only.


Photocopies and scans of departmental materials are made by the staff once a day at 4 pm. Please note: orders over 50 pages may take several days to complete. Request forms for copy work are available at the reference desk. Special restrictions may apply to many of our materials, including newspapers, manuscripts, photographs, rare books, fragile items, and oversize volumes. Reproduction from any of our materials is at the discretion of the librarian. Using a telephone or camera to photograph items may be allowed. Onsite scanning by patrons is not permitted.

Reproduction pricing:

  • Black and white copies are 10¢ per page; oversize (11x17) is 40¢; color copies are 40¢; PDF scans are 40¢. There is a $1 charge for mailing copies. Payment by cash or check must be received before copies will be made.


The Photograph Collection has limited hours: Tuesday/Thursday (1-5 pm) and Saturday (10 am-12 pm) and (1-5 pm). Special guidelines for use of the collection are available at the reference desk. For more information call 415-557-4567 or go to

Audiovisual materials

All reference A/V materials in the collection should be used on library equipment only, not on patron devices. Only department materials can be played in our A/V room.