About the San Francisco History Center

While visiting the San Francisco History Center, please observe the Guidelines for using the collection.

History and Mission

Formed in 1964 as the Californiana Collection, the current San Francisco History Center holds a comprehensive, non-circulating research collection covering all aspects of San Francisco history (and, to a lesser extent, California and Western history) from the time of the area's earliest habitation to the present day. The material sheds light on many aspects of the City's history: its geography and architecture; its politics and government; the lives of citizens, both prominent and ordinary; and, the contributions of ethnic, cultural and social groups in creating the City's vibrant character.

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 6th 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. Because of the Center's archival function, it also administers the collections of the Hormel LGBTQIA Center.


The San Francisco History Center contains a wealth of primary and secondary source materials in print, manuscript, audio-visual, and digital formats. These include books, periodicals, pamphlets, ephemera; newspapers and news clippings; maps; photographs and slides; microfilm and fiche, videos, DVDs, and recordings; posters and broadsides; archives and manuscripts, scrapbooks, oral histories; realia.

The book collection comprises more than 20,000 volumes, ranging from biography to county history to social history, and covering such varied subjects as: art and architecture; transportation; earthquakes; labor unions; music and theatre; travel; public health; religion; government; education. In addition, a collection of novels set in San Francisco numbers in the hundreds.

Besides holding 900 distinct periodical titles, some dating back to the 1850s, the Center maintains 19 active periodical subscriptions relating to San Francisco and California history.

Locating Material

Books, audio-visual materials, some archival collections, and most periodical titles are represented in the SFPL online catalog. Other materials are not fully represented in the catalog, so patrons are encouraged to ask a librarian if they have questions about holdings. Library users are also directed to department card indexes, folder lists and descriptive guides. Information about specific print, manuscript, or photograph collections is available by selecting links on the Center's home page.