Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sutro Library with CGS

Last Wednesday, January 23, 2013, I went on a field trip with the California Genealogical Society and Library to visit the Sutro Library in San Francisco. CGS has posted some pictures here.  Our day started at 10:30 a.m. and didn’t end until 5:00 p.m. There were some tricks I learned about getting to and using the Sutro Library that I thought I’d share.

I decided to take BART to Sutro. This meant leaving extra early to find parking at the Pleasanton/Dublin BART station and leaving extra time in case there wasn’t parking to drive to the West Pleasanton/Dublin BART station. I lucked out and actually found parking spot, even though it was about a mile from the station! The Sutro Library is closest to the Daly City BART station. In fact, on school days there’s a free shuttle that takes you from the station to San Francisco State University where the Sutro Library is now housed.

The Sutro Library hasn’t really had a nice home from the day it began.  Adolph Sutro died in 1898 and it is his collection that the library is built on.  It sat in warehousing in will-disputing hell during the 1906 earthquake where 60% of it burned.  The heirs then donated it to the California State Library in 1913, but stipulated that it had to remain in San Francisco.  This has caused some angst through the following century, trying to find a nice home for a great collection without much budget at all in a VERY expensive city.  For its first ten years, it was stored in the basement for the Stanford Lane Medical Library.  It then moved to a basement at the San Francisco Public Library.  In 1960, it was moved to the University of San Francisco.  In 1983,it moved to its own structure on leased land from San Francisco State University.  When the University needed that space, it then moved to the 5th and 6th floors of the new J. Paul Leonard Library.

While on BART, I got in some good reading and napping time. The costs for BART was $12.10 round-trip and $1 for parking. Since this wasn’t a school day, once in Daly City, I had to take a MUNI bus.  The bus was door-to-door and cost two dollars each way. It must be exact change.

Once I got off the bus, I had to figure out where the library was. It was not in the same place that it was in when I attended San Francisco State University many hundreds of years ago. I walked the main path and it was glowing in front of me—very easy to find.

I got there about 9:30 a.m.  and the library doesn’t open until 10:00 a.m. I grabbed a cup of coffee, did some work for my real job, and checked my emails. I saw some of my fellow field trip companions arrive and I introduced myself to those I didn’t already know. We traveled up the elevator together to the fifth floor. I should note that until Sutro opens the fifth floor button does not work on the elevator. I found this out when I stepped in the elevator, pushed the button, and stood there. For many minutes.(This was before grabbing the cup of coffee).

We then put our belongings in lockers. The only bags allowed inside are clear bags, so my bags went into a locker and I carried around a pile of notebooks. And a pencil—no pens allowed.  I didn’t bring a lunch, but next time I will and it will stay in the locker with my other items.  To use the locker you need a quarter which you get back at the end of the day. You also have to carry around the key so make sure you have a pocket. I did not.

You then sign in on the sign-up sheet and visit the librarian to get a map, the wireless password, and if you don’t already have one, a library card. And then it’s time to start.

Since this was a field trip, we got special treatment. Gary Kurutz, Director of the Special Collections Branch of the California State Library,  gave a short presentation of the history of both Adolph Sutro and the Sutro Library. It was fascinating to learn about Adolph Sutro, who had so much impact on San Francisco. Robert “Larry” Wynne was also present.  He is a genealogist and volunteer at the library, as well as an officer with the Sons of the American Revolution.

Once the presentation was over, we were taught how to use the computers, catalogs, and given a short tour.

I would suggest that you go through the catalog from home, picking out what books you like to look at. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and easy to spend too much time there looking through the catalog. I didn’t have an agenda for the day that was okay that I randomly ran around the library grabbing different things from here and there, but if you have a purpose you definitely want to do this.

The shelves are set up much with the states lined up in bookshelves.  The end caps were not labeled, which made this a bit difficult to navigate without a map, but I ended up getting a lay of the land relatively quickly and found myself directing people to the states they were meandering around for. They had a lot of information, but my personal favorite were all the county histories that I’d only be foreseen on Google Books.  Touching these was much more meaningful than scrolling them…

They also had standing files, housing the indexes made in the 1980s or 1990s by library staff.  They went through and indexed surnames of every volume in the library.  These old-fashioned library catalog cards feature this surname index.  They also have a good selection of microfilmed newspapers and other items.

I spent much of my day camped out at a table with my notepad, iPad, and many many books.

       5 one dollar bills
       One quarter
       Computer or iPad (if necessary)


  1. Noticed you kept backing out of my camera's range! It was great to see you again. Thanks for a great recap of the day.

  2. Debbie,

    Thanks for sharing your day at Sutro. Love your list of items to remember.