Bancroft Library tour

Toward the end of last semester, I took a trip out to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, where my teacher, David de Lorenzo, Assoc. Director and Head of Technical Services, was giving a tour of the library and its inner workings to his students.  According to the Bancroft website, it is one of the largest special collections libraries in the United States and has over 60 million manuscript items, 8 million photos/pictorial materials and over 600,000 books, as well as tens of thousands of maps and microforms.

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If I remember correctly (please correct me if I’m wrong; it’s been a couple of months…), the Bancroft began with the collections of Hubert Howe Bancroft, and the resultant Western Americana collections remain the largest at the Bancroft.  There is also a Latin Americana collection that was started from the acquisition of Hubert Howe Bancroft’s collections.  The Bancroft has grown substantially to include collections such as the Mark Twain papers, the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art & Life, and the University Archives.

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De Lorenzo was funny and chatty and it was a nice behind the scenes tour of the library that was geared toward the archival profession, rather than collection highlights.  We got to see the beautiful reference room and go into the stacks, where he gave an overview of the archival storage materials and how the stacks were set up.  We also got to see the processing areas, and he told us about how manuscript collections are processed and how long it takes.  I was astonished by the volume of their acquisitions and processing.  We also went by the Mark Twain Collections and Tebtunis Papyri, both housed in their own respective areas in the Library, and he gave us a brief history about both collections.

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The most fascinating (and freezing) area to me was the negatives storage room.  I don’t know much about preservation methods, but I do love photography, and it was really interesting to learn about the needs of photographs and pictorial materials like negatives.  We were also introduced to staff in the Pictorial Collections, who showed us modern prints, daguerreotypes, glass negatives, and other materials.  The Pictorial Collection focuses on the American West and has materials on Yosemite, mining, portraits, Native Americans, California Missions, the Japanese American relocation, and California’s Chinese Americans.  It also has the first ever pictures made of San Francisco, Monterey and other Pacific Coast areas!  We didn’t get to see any of these, but I would love to one day.  I’d also love to see the materials related to the Japanese American internment and the California Mission.  The Bancroft also holds the San Francisco Examiner Photograph Archive, which comprises over half of the 8 million pictorial materials of the Collection.

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One other fun area was the printing press room, which is right next to the reference room.  The room holds antique cast iron presses – an Albion from about 1856 and a Reliance from around 1913.  A course titled the Hand-Printed Book in Its Historical Context is held in the room, and students choose an unpublished manuscript to handset.  We saw some examples and they were gorgeous.  The finished products are then added to the library’s Rare Book Collection.

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It was a very interesting day.  I have been going back and forth between focusing on special libraries or archives.  The overall tour made me both interested and disinterested in pursuing the archival field.  I have to admit, I geeked out a little bit while we were walking through the stacks because it was my first time in an archives stacks and it was exciting in a nerdy way to see all the materials; the paintings hanging from giant stacks, the rare books; the negatives storage….  Sometimes I have felt discouraged from the archival path, for many different reasons, but then I have experiences like the Bancroft tour that make me intrigued by it all over again.  However, de Lorenzo did warn that he believes that we’ll see paper-based collections go away in our lifetimes, and everything will be digital.  This made me a little sad and questioning whether I wanted to go into archives.  I would like to learn more about preservation work and managing digital collections and I think that will help me to decide.  I definitely want to do an internship in any area of archival work, as well as talk to other archivists to get their input on the field.

I’d love to hear from anyone that was/is also interested in both special libraries and archives and how they chose what courses to take and jobs to pursue.  At SJSU, there are recommended courses based on career interests, but everyone gets the same MLIS degree, so there is a bit less pressure to decide quickly.  But, it would help me to choose classes if I had a better idea.

I wasn’t able to take pictures during the tour, but I did have the chance to wander around the beautiful campus before and after the tour.  It had been years since I visited the campus and it was nice to walk around again.

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On my way home, I wandered by the San Francisco Public Library’s Mission Branch, which I had somehow never noticed before.  It is such a pretty building.  It was the SFPL’s first branch, originally opened in 1888, a couple of blocks from the current site, which opened in 1915.  It was about to close when I went by, but I will definitely go back to check it out again and see what it looks like inside.

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Now reading: The Rising by Kelley Armstrong

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