San Francisco Public Library

Photo Collection FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What images are available online from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection?

Approximately 45,000 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. New collections are added to this section as they are scanned.

What images are NOT online from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection?

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 partially 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.

How do I browse the online Photo Collection?

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.

I’m having problems accessing the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection. What's wrong?

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 database is currently not available using the Safari browser. Please use Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox browsers to access the image database.

How can I view photos that are not online?

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.

Can I print or download images from the online database?

Yes. You are welcome to print or download the jpeg images in the online database for personal, educational, or scholarly use for free.

Can I get copies of the photos that are not online or any photo in the Library?

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.

What if I need commercial quality images?

Higher resolution scans are available for purchase as TIFF files, as are photographic reproductions. For more information, see the Order Images page.

Are there any other costs?

If you plan to publish or exhibit photographic images obtained from the Library, there is a commercial use fee of $15 per image per use. For more information, see the Permissions page.

I want to hang large photographs on the wall of my business. How would I go about ordering prints of photos from 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.

Commercial fees will apply.

Will the photos be high quality resolution at this size? How can I be sure they won’t be grainy when the lab enlarges them?

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.

Higher resolutions scans are available at additional cost.

What does it mean when a photo database record says "restricted?"

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.

I have a tight deadline. What’s the quickest way to get reproductions sent to me?

Rush orders are available at an additional charge; generally a rush order will double the regular charge. We deliver images using the Library's Hightail account. Print orders can be sent by FedEx to you overnight, if you have a FedEx account.

How do I pay for my purchase?

Payment is made by a check, money order, cash, wired funds or credit card. At this time the credit card payment option is in-person only at the Main Library.

Can I order online?

No. Payment must accompany the order.

Where does the Library get its photos?

Most of the photos and other forms of visual materials have been donated to the Library by individuals, companies or government agencies.

My question has not been answered here. I would like to talk to someone on the Library staff.

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