In 1905, the University of California decided to purchase the personal library of publisher and historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, a San Francisco bookseller who later established a business that grew to become the largest book and stationery business west of Chicago. His library — a "massive accumulation of books and manuscripts," as its caretakers describe it today — was a vast collection of Western and Latin Americana books and papers, which to this day are the library’s core collections. The acquisition of the 60,000-volume Bancroft Library signaled the beginning of the University as a research institution.
At the time of the purchase, the library was housed on Valencia Street in San Francisco. The collection was not moved to Berkeley until early May 1906 – just weeks following the earthquake and fire of April 18, 1906. Fortunately for the university, Bancroft’s library was the only library of any note that did not burn to the ground during the disaster.
Today, the library houses more than 60 million objects, including the Rare Books Collection of the campus, University Archives, the Mark Twain Project, the History of Science and Technology Collection, the Pictorial Collection, the Regional Oral History Office and the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri.
Celebrating the survival of its core collections as well as its evolution as the busiest and most-accessible special-collections library in the country, the library is marking its centennial with an exhibit of 353 seldom-exhibited objects at the Berkeley Art Museum, which will run through Dec. 10.
"Visitors will see some of the most important documents of the past and current history of California and the West, as well as other rarities," said Jack von Euw, exhibit curator and The Bancroft Library’s pictorial curator. "Some ofthese are spectacular, and some appear to be more ordinary, but all of them are compelling and historically significant."
In addition, the Bancroft Library is also in the midst of a centennial campaign to raise funds for completing seismic retrofit to its facilities as well as several renovations, including upgrading computer networking, elevators, storage, plumbing and air conditioning, security, storage, research and teaching areas, and access and preservation capabilities.
To accommodate the renovations, the library recently moved from its permanent home in the Doe Library annex to a downtown Berkeley building.
In April, the archives of the San Francisco Examiner were donated to the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library — the single largest gift ever to The Bancroft Library. Just weeks ago, the archive was transferred to the Berkeley campus, where archivists have begun sorting through the archive, which contains more than five million items.
"We just moved them out of the Examiner building in the last week of June," said Charles Faulhaber, Director of Bancroft Library and a professor of Medieval Spanish Literature. "We are going to start working immediately on the nitrate negatives to get into cold storage as soon as possible."
The photographic morgue of the Examiner, a newspaper that was at one point the flagship of the Hearst publishing empire, constitutes the bulk of the gift. Full processing and cataloging of the collection will take years and is contingent on the availability of funding.
"We are in the process of National Endowment for the Humanities funding for the processing of the collection," Faulhaber added. "We need ... to see how much staff time it would take to do this project."
The archives date from circa 1919 to the late 1990s, and the collection will more than double the size of the Bancroft’s photographic print collection.
The San Francisco Examiner has been published continuously since 1865. Under William Randolph Hearst, the paper’s popularity soared with the help of writers as Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain and Jack London.
The collection was a gift of the Examiner’s owner, the Anschutz Corporation and its subsidiary, the SF Newspaper Company.