Prelinger Library – San Francisco, California - Atlas Obscura

Prelinger Library

Appropriation-friendly collection of books, periodicals, and more. 


A privately-funded public library in San Francisco, the Prelinger was founded in 2004 and is operated by Rick Prelinger and his wife, Megan Shaw Prelinger. Together, they’ve collected more than 50,000 books, periodicals, and other pieces of printed material. Working to bridge the divide between analog and digital, the Prelingers also offer about 4,000 e-books.

Inspired in part by London’s Warburg Institute Library, Megan Prelinger built a custom system for organizing the library’s collection. Intended to facilitate and emphasize browsing, Megan’s system keeps Suburbia next to Domestic Environments and Architecture, which moves into a Graphic Design section. Graphic Design then moves into the library’s Typography, Fine Arts, and Advertising sections. There are no card catalogs and printed materials aren’t arranged using the Dewey Decimal system like traditional libraries.

Because of the unique cataloging system, the Prelinger Library has been described as serendipitous. It emphasizes the experience of discovering new things. Breaking the mold in another way, the Prelinger couple describe their library as “appropriation-friendly:” Users are encouraged to reuse images and text from the collection in their own projects.

The collection includes materials on the North American landscape; city planning; infrastructure; natural history; the history of industry, manufacturing, and extraction of raw materials; media and technology; advertising, consumerism, and marketing; school textbooks from 1880-1970; regional, urban, social, and cultural history; radical and labor history; the history of ephemeral and nontheatrical film; periodicals titled “Social Hygiene,” “Candy Manufacturers and Confectioners Journal,” “Uranium;” and much more.

Know Before You Go

In San Francisco's SOMA district, it's easy to find right at the corner of 8th and Folsom. Open every Wednesday from 1pm - 8pm. Additional supplemental days & hours listed on their website.

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