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Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Bancroft Library?
What are primary sources? What are secondary sources?
What is the difference between a manuscript and a book?
How do I find out what's in The Bancroft Library?
How do I locate primary source materials?
Should I come to The Bancroft Library?
Why is this publication in The Bancroft Library?
Are undergraduates welcome at The Bancroft Library?
How does The Bancroft Library work?
What should I expect when using the Heller Reading Room?

What is The Bancroft Library?

The Bancroft Library is a major center for research at the University of California, consisting of a non-circulating collection of books, manuscripts, pictures, maps, and other materials. The Bancroft Library is housed on the east side of Doe Library, just west of the Campanile.

The manuscripts of The Bancroft Library number over 44,000,000 and range from 4,000-year-old papyri to current papers. Centering on diverse aspects of California and Mexico, they also include writings of persons prominent in literature, politics, journalism, law, science, business, and other activities of many regions. Original manuscripts are supplemented by many microfilms.

The Bancroft Collection, the Library's largest resource, documents the history of western North America, particularly from the western plains states to the Pacific Coast and from Panama to Alaska, with greatest emphasis on California and Mexico.

The History of Science and Technology Collection holds manuscripts and rare books emphasizing twentieth-century American science and science-based technology and the physical sciences before 1800. It also contains oral history interviews.

The Mark Twain Papers and Project houses the author's notebooks, correspondence, autobiography and other manuscripts, first editions, and further special materials. Through the University of California Press, the Project is publishing a 70-volume edition of previously unpublished writings.

The Pictorial Collection of paintings, drawings, photographs, and other documentary depictions from the earliest recorded images to the present day complement the Library's printed and manuscript collections on California, the far western United States, Mexico, and Central America.

The Rare Books Collection preserves about four hundred incunabula; rare European, English, U.S., and South American imprints; fine printing of all periods and places, with emphasis on modern English and American typography; collections of certain major English, American, and European authors; modern poetry archives; and the publications of African American authors. The Collection also includes fine binding, medieval manuscripts and documents, and papyri.

The Oral History Center records the recollections of persons who have contributed to the development of California. These memoirs include series on politics, agriculture, water resources, winemaking, fine printing, land use, and University of California history.

The University Archives document the history of the statewide University of California, as well as of the Berkeley campus. Administrative records, student publications, faculty writings, handbills and ephemera, memorabilia, and indexed photographs are listed in a separate card catalog.

The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life includes art, objects, texts, music and archival materials about the cultures of the Jews in the Global Diaspora and the American West. As one of the most respected Jewish collections in the world, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life enhances the research collections and Jewish Studies scholarship at the University of California, Berkeley.

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are the evidence left behind by participants or observers. The following are generally considered primary sources:

Diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memos, manuscripts and other papers in which individuals describe events in which they were participants or observers.

Records of organizations and agencies of government, including the minutes, reports, correspondence, etc. of an organization or agency serve as an ongoing record of the activity and thinking of that organization or agency. Many kinds of records (births, deaths, marriages; permits and licences issued; census data; etc.) document conditions in the society.

Published materials (books, magazine and journal articles, newspaper articles) written at the time about a particular event are sometimes accounts by participants, in most cases they are written by journalists or other observers. The important thing is to distinguish between material written at the time of an event as a kind of report, and material written much later, as historical analysis. Memoirs and autobiographies are often examples of this form of documentation. These publications are generally less reliable since they are often written long after events occurred and may be distorted by bias, dimming memory, or the revised perspective that may come with hindsight. On the other hand, they are sometimes the only source for certain information.

Photographs, audio recordings and moving pictures or video recordings, documenting what happened.

Artifacts of all kinds: physical objects, buildings, furniture, tools, appliances and household items, clothing, and toys.

Research reports in the sciences and social sciences. Especially for recent social history, the best evidence of broad developments in society is often in the form of social science surveys or research studies. This research is generally reported in book form, government reports or most commonly in articles published in scholarly journals. If you are attempting to find evidence documenting the mentality or psychology of a time, or of a group (evidence of a world view, a set of attitudes, or the popular understanding of an event or condition), the most obvious source is public opinion polls taken at the time. Since these are generally very limited in availability and in what they reveal, however, it is also possible to make use of ideas and images conveyed in the mass media, and even in literature, film, popular fiction, self-help literature, textbooks, etc. Again, the point is to use these sources, written or produced at the time, as evidence of how people were thinking.

What are secondary sources?

A secondary source is a work that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon. It is generally at least one step removed from the event. A recent article that evaluates and analyzes the relationship between the feminist movement and the labor movement in turn-of-the-century England is an example of a secondary source; if you were to look at the bibliography of this article you would see that the author's research was based on both primary sources such as labor union documents, speeches and personal letters as well as other secondary sources. Textbooks and encyclopedias are also examples of secondary sources. To find secondary sources, look in the library catalogs (for books and other monographs) or periodical indexes such as Historical Abstracts or America: History & Life .

What is the difference between a manuscript and a book?

The word "manuscript" is used to refer to handwritten or typewritten materials, as opposed to mechanically printed works. Manuscripts are unique items. What an item looks like is not important: Some manuscripts are handsomely bound, and some books are not bound at all. Most of the Library's manuscripts are organized into collections named for the individual or group directly responsible for creating or collecting the materials. These may be large organizations, such as the Sierra Club or the Crown Zellerbach Corporation, or the personal papers of individuals like labor leader C.L. Dellums or California governor Hiram Johnson. Some collections may consist of a single item or small portfolio, while others encompass hundreds of cartons.

Among The Bancroft Library's manuscripts are over 1500 oral histories. These are tape-recorded interviews with individuals, conducted by the Oral History Center since 1954, transcribed, edited, indexed, and bound. As with other manuscripts, copies can usually be obtained.

The printed works housed at The Bancroft Library range from the earliest examples of printing, "incunabula," to small press volumes of modern California poetry. The library also houses first editions of literary works, examples of "fine press" printing, and artifacts of the printing process itself. The Bancroft Library also collects recent and historical works in the area of western and Latin Americana. The existence of modern books and periodicals in Bancroft's "non-circulating" collection is a source of some confusion, since these works are not "rare," and may in fact be duplicated in other branches of the UCB Library system. But they are a necessary and permanent part of the "reference library" that continues Hubert Howe Bancroft's original project into the future.

How do I find out what's in The Bancroft Library?

OskiCat, the UCB online catalog, is the main source of information concerning all Bancroft Library materials and collections. Much of the same information can also be found on MELVYL, the UC system-wide online catalog. OskiCat and MELVYL are supplemented by card catalogs, finding aids for manuscript and pictorial collections, and a small reference collection housed in the library's Reading Room.

An important goal of The Bancroft is to widen access to our collections through new digital and online technologies. We have made great strides forward in providing that access through the Berkeley Finding Aids Project which provides access to UC Berkeley Finding Aids.

How do I locate primary source materials in UC Berkeley Library catalogs and on the World Wide Web?

Two useful guides are available through the Teaching Library:

Library Research Using Primary Sources

This online guide provides basic information on research with primary source materials, including the wealth of resources found within The Bancroft Library. In addition to information on strategies for searching the Berkeley online catalog and selected databases, the site provides links and information on campus libraries that collect and provide access to primary source materials.

Primary Sources on the Web

This online guide provides basic information on primary research resources available through the World Wide Web. The site includes links to several important digital collections and databases of historical documents, images, and publications.

You may also contact The Bancroft Library with any questions or concerns regarding the use or availability of collections housed at The Bancroft Library.

Should I come to The Bancroft Library?

An important goal of The Bancroft Library is to preserve the physical integrity of its collections for future generations. This requires certain restrictions on availability and use. All Bancroft's items, books or manuscripts, must be viewed on the premises. While the library encourages the utilization of its unique materials, some of the printed items in its collections are also available at other libraries which offer stack access, circulating privileges, and self-service photocopying - reader services which a special collections library cannot, by its nature, provide. By using OskiCat and MELVYL thoroughly, researchers can usually determine if another copy or edition of the item they seek is available elsewhere in the UC Library system. If Bancroft's copy is the only one available, it can usually be paged and read in the Reading Room. (The exception is extremely rare or fragile imprints - many of which, however, may be available on microfilm.)

Why is this publication in The Bancroft Library?

The Bancroft Library contains extensive collections relating to the history of California and the American West, and other selected topics. The Bancroft Library also has many contemporary publications in its collection. A popular novel printed in 2001 or a general history work easily found in a commercial bookstore doesn't seem to belong among Bancroft's most prized possessions. Why are they here?

Bancroft actively collects current books, journals, periodicals, and other publications to build comprehensive collections for future generations of scholars and students. As academic publishers produce fewer copies of printed publications, it becomes essential to acquire a copy at the earliest possible moment. This ensures that The Bancroft Library obtains a copy in excellent physical condition at the most affordable price. By acquiring a printed work today, The Bancroft Library ensures both its preservation and availability for years to come. A copy or copies acquired for the Doe Library, Moffitt Library, or another library on campus may be damaged and eventually withdrawn from circulation, or not replaced if stolen or lost.

Access to and use of the material in The Bancroft Library is more restrictive than materials in the general collection. However, Bancroft's commitment to preserving both historical and contemporary materials ensures their availability, both for your research and for the research of future scholars.

Are undergraduates welcome at The Bancroft Library?

Yes! The book and manuscript collections of The Bancroft Library are a valuable resource for undergraduates whose research topics require the use of primary source materials, which means that it is more likely to be the last stop on the research trail than the first. Undergraduates are urged to work with their professors or teaching assistants, and the reference staff at the Moffitt Undergraduate Library, to develop thesis topics that make full use of the resources of the entire UCB library system. Secondary materials are more easily consulted in other branches of the library, and the thorough use of such resources can optimize the time spent among the Bancroft's vast holdings concerning the history of California, the American West, Mexico, Central America, and the University of California itself.

How does The Bancroft Library work?

The entrance to The Bancroft Library is on the east side of the Main Library, facing the Sather Tower (Campanile). Before entering the Reading Room, you must stow your belongings in the lockers provided on the ground floor, located on the right-hand side of the east entrance. Pass the security guard station and proceed up one level by stairs or elevator to the Reading Room and Seminar Rooms (3rd floor). The Registration Desk is located on the left-hand side of the entrance to the Reference Center. You must stop here and register to use the library. Bancroft Library readers must be at least 18, or have graduated from high school. Current UCB photo identification is adequate for registration. Others must present two forms of identification (at least one containing a photograph). In the process of registering, you agree to abide by Bancroft regulations, as outlined in the "Reading Room Conditions of Use" leaflet available at the Registration Desk. Among these conditions are prohibitions against containers (backpacks, purses, envelopes, etc.) and pens in the Reading Room. Registration usually remains valid for two years.

Paging can be time-consuming, and scholars are advised to allow enough time for material to be retrieved and examined. Material shelved off-campus at the Northern Regional Library Facility (NRLF) must be paged in advance, and will not be available for reading room use until 10 AM three business days from the date requested. To determine what Bancroft materials are stored at NRLF, please consult OskiCat, the UCB Library catalog. The items' location will be designated as Bancroft (NRLF). Also be aware that all photocopying is done by our staff, and will usually require at least a day or two (or more, if it is a large order, or if the volume of requests is high) to be completed.

What should I expect when using the Reading Room?

Personal belongings
No containers of any type are allowed in the Reading Room. One may take in one notebook (no loose sheets or pockets) or one binder (no loose sheets or pockets) or one pad of paper (no loose sheets) or up to three sheets of loose paper. Property passes for materials carried into the Reading Room are available at the Security Desk. Coats and umbrellas must be stored in the locker room. Coin-operated lockers are available for a quarter, which is refunded. All permissible items brought into the Reading Room must be submitted for inspection at the Registration Desk when you leave the Reading Room.

Desk Services
Library staff at the Reference Desk can help design research strategies, solve bibliographic problems, answer factual reference questions, field photoduplication requests, and assist with library procedures. Staff at the Circulation Desk accept and review paging requests.

The library catalog is online. Computers are available to registered Bancroft users. The Reference Desk staff will explain the use of other reference materials in the Reading Room.

As a special collections library dealing with rare and fragile materials, The Bancroft Library prohibits the use of ink, ball point pens, indelible pencils, and correction fluid. Only pencils may be used; they are available at both the registration and service desks along with pencil sharpeners.

Using materials
Please exercise all possible care to prevent damage to library materials. No marks should be made on library materials; annotations found in items should not be removed. Notify staff of anything needing preservation attention.

When using manuscript or pictorial material, maintain the exact order of folders in a container and items within a folder. Remove only one folder at a time from a container, and do not remove materials from a folder. If you suspect a mistake in arrangement, call it to the attention of staff rather than rearranging it yourself.

You are responsible for the items provided for your use until they have been checked back in by a staff member. Materials must be returned to the Circulation Desk whenever you leave the Reading Room. Materials charged to one person may not be transferred to or used by another.

The use of certain materials is restricted by statute, by the office of origin, or by the donor. For the protection of its collections, The Bancroft also reserves the right to restrict access to materials which are not arranged, are being processed, or are exceptionally valuable or fragile. In certain cases, we may require the use of microfilm, photocopies, transcripts, or printed copies of manuscripts when such copies are available.

Off-campus storage
Like other branches, The Bancroft Library has limited space and must store much of its collection off-campus at NRLF. To determine what Bancroft materials are stored at NRLF, please consult OskiCat, the UCB Library catalog. The items' location will be designated as Bancroft (NRLF). These materials, when not otherwise restricted, can be paged and will be available for reading room use by 11:00 am three business days from the date requested. Materials stored at NRLF may be requested via the Online Bancroft Material Request Form, or via telephone by calling the Reference Desk during normal library hours at (510) 642-6481.

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