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San Francisco Couple Opens Little Free Library Writ Large

525847180_818d9e8487_bMany people have opened little free libraries to share their love of books with the world, but according to a local ABC News team in San Francisco Megan and Rick Prelinger have taken the idea to the next level.

The Prelingers have opened their personal library to the public:

Rick and Megan Prelinger have spent decades collecting old maps, advertising magazines, and technical handbooks. They call it historical ephemera. "We’re not good on sports, we’re not good on nursing, we have relatively little on fashion," said Rick. "We collect what we like."

They started in collecting in 1982. When the collection outgrew their home, they moved to San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. Some of the books were purchased, others were donations or came from old libraries. It is all carefully curated to meet the Prelinger’s hope of preserving the past.

"We were both very interested in what kind of material wasn’t in a every library, what falls between the cracks, what can you find in odd places and what kind of picture of history would you get if you put all that together," said Megan.

The Prelinger Library is full of things that most libraries would have tossed out. It includes 30,000 bound objects, 60,000 loose sheets of paper, and 10,000 magazines. Showing off one of their prized books, Megan beamed, "To show a food futurist the volume of the Candy Industry Journal can formatively blow their mind."

The library is open to the public and free. It’s funded by donations. Because many of the copyrights have expired, visitors are welcome to copy anything in the collection.

"You know we love evidence, and if you look at an old magazine, or an old pamphlet, and even an old government document it’s filled with ideas that might not hold up today, but historically they are incredibly valuable," said Rick.

That’s an interesting story, but quite a lot of interesting detail was left out.

For example, the OP makes it sound like a couple kookie San Francisco dilettantes decided one day to open their eclectic collection to the public, but if we go read Wikipedia or the library’s website we will find that the library was founded in 2004.

And it’s not just books collected by a couple of kooks; the Prelinger Library is a research library:

The Prelinger Library is an independent research library located in San Francisco’s South-of-Market neighborhood. It is open to anyone for research, reading, inspiration, and reuse.

The library is primarily a collection of 19th and 20th century historical ephemera, periodicals, maps, and books, most published in the United States. Much of the collection is image-rich, and in the public domain. The library specializes in material that is not commonly found in other public libraries.

I can’t comment on the collection (I’m not a subject matter expert), but private research libraries are not a new phenomenon. I have to have encountered a couple dozen such libraries or private art collections over the years; they’re frequently focused on specific topics, and can often times be found attached to universities.

The idea is at least a century old, and it has even adapted with the times. You can now find private research libraries which focus solely on preserving digital media.

In fact, if you follow this blog then you know of at least one such library, only you probably don’t think of it that way.

I am referring to the Internet Archive, of course. The IA is a private organization dedicated to preserving media so it can be used by future generations, and its collection cal be browsed by anyone – including those who are researching a topic.

That sounds like a research library to me.

image by gruntzooki

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Brad F. September 12, 2016 um 9:46 am

I believe the Prelingers also collect old home movies, corporate training films and the like. There is a whole section of the Internet Archive devoted to their material. A lot of interesting and cool stuff.

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