The Oakland History Room (or Oakland History Center), located on the third floor of the Oakland Public Library Main Branch, houses archives relating to the history of Oakland and the East Bay. It’s a great place to go to research Oakland history. Many of its resources are available for check-out at the Main Library (or other branches). They have both many books about Oakland, and significant primary documents relating to Oakland history.
The East Bay Express named the Oakland History Room the “Best Place to Brush Up On Local History” in 2013. OWers may think this is kind of “duh” but it’s good recognition!
NOTE: Whenever you digitize any document from the library and post it on this site, please include the label “Courtesy Oakland History Center, Oakland Public Library”!
Guide to the History Room’s Archives
Books about Oakland and California in shelves around the room, arranged in standard Dewey Decimal order.
- Two closed-off rooms in the southern part of the room house the Room’s rare books and books specifically pertaining to local history. Although secured in these rooms, they’re still available for your use! You need only ask a librarian, and they’ll retrieve the specific materials you require.
- Photo archive: Behind the reference desk is a room with thousands of original photos. To access these, ask the librarian for photos on a particular topic (ex: West Oakland in the 1980s) and they’ll bring you the relevant photos.
- Clipping Files: The Room has folders filled with primary documents and clippings organized by subject (ex: theaters of Oakland, specific neighborhoods, and more). These are mostly to the left of the reference desk and are a great place to delve into historic materials on a particular subject. Although alphabetized by subject, the subjects aren’t always obvious (ex: “Glenview” may be in the section for “Neighborhoods: Glenview”, not in a section called “Glenview”), so it’s best to speak with a librarian about the subject you’re researching.
- Oral histories: The Room has a collection of local oral histories. You can read the transcripts or listen to the original audio.
- Oakland ephemera: The Room has a large collection of Oakland-related ephemera including AC transit scenic bus tour brochures, annual reports from Oakland-based companies, brochures and flyers promoting every county in California, restaurant menus, and more.
- Map Room: Down the hall from the Oakland History Room is the Map room. Although you need a librarian to give you access to the room, once inside you’ll find a wealth of primary materials including Sanborn Maps from 1882–1951, records of Oakland property assessments and property taxes from 1859–1925, and posters on topics including sports, music, fairs, circuses, parades, and more.
- Local History Index: This is a card catalog that includes an index to some local history materials.
- School materials: The room includes materials on many Oakland Schools including photos of original school buildings (many of which burned or were demolished), class photos, and more (including a unique history of a high school which was closed in 2012).
- City Directories: The Room holds original versions of Oakland City Directories (precursors to the yellow pages) that’re clearly pre-internet era (1870–1904) because they include names, home addresses, place of employment, and employer address!
- City Directories include birth and death certificates from 1870–1904. The birth certificates include parents, name of child, cause of death, doctor, and place of burial.
Cool picture of Dorothy Lazard, OHR librarian with some pictures here.
125 - 14th Street, Oakland, CA 94612
- Monday, Tuesday: 10:00 AM–5:30 PM
- Wednesday, Thursday: 12:00 PM–8:00 PM
- Friday: 12:00 PM–5:30 PM
- Saturday: 10:00 AM–5:30 PM
- Sunday: 1:00 PM–5:00 PM
In 1921, librarian Mabel Thomas began assembling the California Collection. This became the California Room in the new main library in 1951, which eventually grew into the Oakland History Center,
Links and References
- Oakland History Center website