Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture

The first special library I chose to visit as part of my hope of visiting San Francisco’s many different libraries is the San Francisco Botanical Garden’s Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture.  The Botanical Garden covers 55 acres of Golden Gate Park and contains 25 gardens featuring over 8,000 plants from around the world.  I’ve been visiting since I was a little kid and have always loved wandering around.  However, it wasn’t until more recently that I knew that there was a library at the Garden as well.

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A view of most of the Library

The library was built in 1972 and is northern California’s largest horticultural library.  It’s located just before the entrance to the Garden and is free and open to the public, although the Garden charges a fee to all non-San Francisco residents.

The Children's Collection

The Children’s Collection

The library has a courtyard at the entrance and consists of a reading room and a small mezzanine for bound periodicals.


The reference section

Four computers are available to patrons for searching the online catalog and Plant Finder database, and are also used to answer reference questions.  The Plant Finder database is based on the Garden’s accession records and contains 49,000 records, searchable by common and scientific names, location, and flowering time.  Another computer is used for viewing media.

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Common reference questions relate to how to identify and care for plants.



The stacks are in the back of the room and there are a couple of study carrels in addition to a large communal table.

Asian art is spread throughout the Library

Asian art is spread throughout the Library

New books are along the wall.

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New books

New Books

New Books

View of courtyard

View of courtyard

The library hosts art exhibitions, which change quarterly and a portion of sales benefit the library.  Right now, there is a lovely photography exhibit called Trees Love Light by Stephen Kane.

Art for sale

Art for sale

  • Number of staff – One full-time head librarian and one-part time assistant librarian
  • Number of visitors last year – 8,168
  • Number of books – 27,000 (1,600 children’s titles)
  • Number of periodicals – 350
  • Number of databases – 1
  • Number of computers for patron use – 5
  • Reference methods – in person, by phone, and by email
  • Number of reference questions last year – 1,604
  • Specialty items – nursery catalogs, slides of plants and botanical art, Botanical Garden plant collection lists
  • Target users – Students, biologists, historians, conservationists, librarians, bibliographers, and the general public interested in horticulture
  • Circulation – Non-circulating (children’s collection is circulating to Botanical Garden members and SFUSD teachers)
  • Special collections – Small rare books collection
  • Public Wi-Fi – Yes, just recently
  • Other services – art exhibits, children’s story time, annotated bibliographies on horticultural topics

While I was there, I also had the opportunity to see the magnolias in bloom in the Botanical Garden.  Beautiful!


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I strongly encourage a visit to both the library and the lovely gardens!


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