The end of the library (as we know it?)

Ralph Lewin, executive director of the Mechanics' Institute, photo courtesy of the Sacramento Bee.

Ralph Lewin at the Mechanics’ Institute, photo courtesy of the Sacramento Bee.

A few months ago, San Francisco’s venerable Mechanics’ Institute hosted a discussion titled “The End of the Library (As We Know It)?”

As the oldest library in the city of San Francisco, the Mechanics’ Institute founded in 1854 and opened a year later with a grand total of four books, a chess room, and a mission to offer vocational education to out-of-work gold miners. (The San Francisco Public Library was founded more than two decades later, in 1879.) As one of the oldest libraries in the state, the Mechanics’ was a fitting place for this discussion.

Devotees of the Bancroft Library: “We’re archive rats!”

This past Saturday, I jumped in my car and headed to Berkeley to attend the annual meeting of the Friends of the Bancroft Library. I love this University of California campus and especially U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, which houses some of the most precious and rare manuscripts of the American West. That day, I met other people — historians, authors, and avid readers – who are also devoted to preserving and supporting the library’s treasures. It was a gathering of fellow “archive rats.”