article picture

The Prelinger Library

by Jack Leibman

Last month while visiting the show Green Dimensions at Lower Fort Mason, Building D, I came across an exhibit in the lobby, a fascinating continuously changing video about the history and landscape changes in the Bay Area coastal regions. This display was produced by the Prelinger Library, a facility unknown to me, and to everyone else in my vicinity. I decided to investigate, and thus spent several hours one Sunday afternoon, on site.

The Prelinger Library is a unique private collection located in a faceless obscure building just off Folsom Street at 8th. It is staffed by the Prelingers, a welcoming and helpful couple, who are solely responsible for the collection, retrieval, classification, indexing and maintenance of an amazing trove of eclectic ephemera, books, journals, government documents and news articles.

The organization of this idiosyncratic assemblage of materials is complex, remarkably systematic, and very easily accessed; it is described in detail on their web page. Use of any of these materials is free, down-loadable, or replicable. The range of journal titles is astonishingly broad. A guiding principle: materials are all appropriation-friendly, with access to scanners, digital cameras and disc burners.

As impressive as this collection of printed works is the wide array of videos and old documentaries, ranging practically from A to Z. These are all listed on the web page and are immediately available on-line. These titles are remarkable to scan, and inevitably some will catch your attention. You will certainly find material relevant to San Francisco and California history as well as an endless variety of other topics. Check it out.

Send comments and questions to
Material of San Francisco City Guides. Please give credit to the author and SF City Guides if referenced or reproduced.