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Archives and Archival Research

Guide to Bay Area archives and performing archival research.

Books and Scholars' Possessions [ten-panel folding screen, Korea], early 20th century, ink and color on silk, 19" x 180", Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 


Archives are organizations dedicated to preserving the documentary heritage of a particular subject of interest by collecting the permanently valuable records—such as letters, reports, accounts, minute books, draft and final manuscripts, personal papers, and photographs—of people, businesses, and government. These materials are the documentary evidence of past events.

This guide includes a list of archives in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as links to digital archives, a glossary of terms, and information on the CCA/C Archives.

Archives vs. Libraries

It's valuable to understand the distinction between libraries and archives. Libraries typically collect published print and online materials in the form of books, journals, and other media. Most items collected in archives are unique, unpublished content. However, many archives are contained inside libraries (the SF History Center is part of the San Francisco Public Library), include the word library in their name (UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library is the largest archive in California), or are jointly operated as a library (SFMOMA's Library & Archives).

Portions of the above text have been adapted from the Society of American Archivist's webpage "What Are Archives?".

Getting Started

Starting Archival Research Online

Most archival collections comprise of print documents that need to be viewed in person. However, it is possible to start your archival research online. There are an increasing number of digitized archival collections, as well as many different search tools designed to help you discover print collections and finding aids, documents that describe the contents of archival collections. By examining finding aids in advance, you can decide if a particular archive is worth your visit.

The Online Archive of California and Calisphere

The OAC and Calisphere are sibling websites. The Online Archive of California collects finding aids and other materials to help you discover archival collections around the state. Calisphere is a digital archive that combines content from dozens of California institutions. Both are initiatives managed by the California Digital Library in the Office of the Chancellor of the University of California.

ArchiveGrid and the Digital Public Library of America

ArchiveGrid and the DPLA are national initiatives to aid researchers in discovering archival and special collections.

The CCA/C Archives are in Meyer Library on the Oakland Campus.  The CCA/C Archives are open by appointment for scholarly research relating to the history of the college. A limited number of historic photographs from the CCA/C Archives have been digitized and are available to the public online. Additional archival collections held by the CCA Libraries include the Capp Street Project Archive, the Robert Sommer Mudflats Collection, and the Joseph C. Sinel Collection.

Bay Area Archives

Bay Area Archives and Archival Collections

The following is a partial list of archival institutions located in the San Francisco Bay Area.