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The Bancroft Library is the primary special collections library of the University of California, Berkeley. It was acquired as a gift/purchase (November 25, 1905) from its founder, Hubert Howe Bancroft, with the proviso that it retain the name Bancroft Library in perpetuity. The collection consisted of 50,000 volumes of historical materials on the history of California and the North American West, from the Isthmus of Panama to Alaska and from the Trans-Mississippi West to Hawaii, including the great Pacific voyages of discovery of Cook, Malaspina, Vancouver, La Pérouse, and Otto von Kotzebue. At the time it was the largest such collection in the world, and remains so today.
Until the decade of the 1960s, The Bancroft Library continued to focus exclusively on the history of the American West, particularly the borderlands of northern Mexico and the southern United States, from Florida to California, an area associated with the research interests of long-time directors Herbert E. Bolton (1918–1940) and George P. Hammond (1946–1966).
In the 1950s and 1960s Bancroft added the University of California archives and the Regional Oral History Office, both significant to the history of California. In 1970, under new director James D. Hart (1970–1990), Bancroft's scope expanded dramatically when the University Library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections was merged into it. These included the Tebtunis Archive of ancient papyri, excavated by an Egyptian expedition funded by Phoebe Apperson Hearst in 1899-1900 and the largest such collection in the Western Hemisphere; the papers of Mark Twain, the object of the Mark Twain Project, which since 1965 has been editing everything written by him; a large collection of medieval manuscripts, incunabula, and rare printed books from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries; and the literary manuscripts of such California writers as Ina Coolbrith, California's first poet laureate, George Sterling, figures associated with the Beat Generation in San Francisco, such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia, Philip Whalen, and William Everson (Brother Antoninus), and contemporary authors such as John Mortimer, Sean O'Faolain, Maxine Hong Kingston and Joan Didion.
From June 2005 to October 2008, the library underwent a total renovation and seismic retrofitting. Normal operations have resumed since January 20, 2009. The library's director from 1995 through June 2011 was Charles B. Faulhaber, professor of medieval Spanish literature at Berkeley. In September 2011, Elaine Tennant, a medieval and early modern specialist in the German and Scandinavian departments at the University of California, Berkeley, became the James D. Hart Director of UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library.
Holdings and services
Bancroft is one of the largest special collections libraries in the United States. In 2009 it holds approximately 600,000 books, 55,000 linear feet of archival and manuscript collections, almost 8 million photographic prints and negatives (including the photographic morgues of the San Francisco Call-Bulletin and the San Francisco Examiner), and over 20,000 historical maps.
Although the library itself is open to anyone who wishes to use it, access to some of its more valuable materials is restricted to researchers with a demonstrated need. The library website and the Online Archive of California offer access to online catalogs as well as to numerous collections in digital form.
- Exploring the Bancroft Library, co-edited by Charles Faulhaber and Stephen Vincent, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 2006. ISBN 1-893663-18-3
- Complete Table of Contents (Full title: "Exploring the Bancroft Library: The Centennial Guide to Its Extraordinary History, Spectacular Special Collections, Research Pleasures, Its Amazing Future & How It All Works")
- Bancroft Library website
- Bancroft Library location
- Online Archive of California
- Radio interview of library director Charles Faulhaber on KPFA's Cover to Cover with Denny Smithson, March 3, 2008
- Teachinghistory.org review of Bancroft Library web resource California Heritage Collection