San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

(Originally posted on Feb. 4, 2012 for IST 677 – Creating, Managing, and Preserving Digital Assets at Syracuse University.)

I currently live in San Francisco, and I’m lucky and grateful to have such an extensive public library system at my disposal. For a city and county that is roughly 47 square miles, the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) consists of about 28 separate neighborhood branches. The largest and main branch houses a number of unique collections, including the San Francisco History Center that contains the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

The SF Historical Photograph Collection contains photographs and works on paper of SF and California views from 1850 to the present, including views of SF street scenes, buildings, and neighborhoods, and famous SF personalities. The majority of the collection comes from the photo morgue of the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin, a daily newspaper that existed from the 1920s to 1965. Other materials and formats in the collection include albums, slides, postcards, cabinet cards, stereoviews, and lantern slides.

At present, 40,000 images have been digitized and are available via SFPL’s online database. It seems the digitization effort has been influenced by popular subjects, or what library patrons have been specifically requesting (Click for a complete list of digitized subjects). Library patrons may also visit the “What’s New Online” page to see what has been recently digitized.

As part of the SF History Center, the photograph collection seeks to “illuminate the founding, growth and development of the City by providing primary and secondary resources” and “serves all library users and levels of interest, from the merely curious to those engaging in scholarly research.”

While I couldn’t discover exactly how the collection’s digitization efforts are funded, I did learn that the SF History Center has partnered with the Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that receives in-kind and financial donations from Alexa Internet, the Kahle/Austin Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and private individuals.

As far as ease of use, the online database is easily browse-able via keyword, subject and neighborhood. For those who aren’t familiar with SF, the city is divided by distinct neighborhoods, including Chinatown, North Beach, the Mission and the Castro.


More San Francisco History Center Microfilm Digitized by Internet Archive. (2011, September 6). What’s on the 6th floor? Retrieved February 4, 2012, from

San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection – 6th Floor?. San Francisco Public Library. Retrieved February 4, 2012, from


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