SACRAMENTO — As one of its earliest acts, the California Legislature created a library on Jan. 24, 1850. It started as a bookcase in the state Senate.
Today, with more than 8 million books, manuscripts, documents and other historical material, the California State Library is one of the West's leading libraries, though many Californians may not know anything about it.
The library is to the Legislature and state offices what the Library of Congress is to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
"The California State Library is a sleeping dinosaur, an incredible treasure. We hold in trust a remarkable mass of material, a real breath of California history," said Gary E. Strong, state librarian.
The library remained in the Capitol until 1929, when it moved across the street to its present home, the stately five-story granite structure called the Library and Courts Building, which it shares with the Supreme Court and 3rd District Court of Appeal.
Every day state employees on official business borrow hundreds of books and documents from it.
The library's rich resources are available to the public for research purposes, and it is a gold mine for historians, scholars and writers.
Take maps, for example.
James Marshall's original hand-drawn map of his gold discovery that triggered the Gold Rush of 1849 is here. So are maps for mines, cities and assorted places throughout the state from the earliest days.
Through the years the library also has acquired practically every book written about California. It has diaries and journals by Spanish explorers, early settlers and the Forty-Niners.
More than 100,000 photographs are in its archives, dating to the mining camps of the 1850s. There are thousands of photographs of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, Sacramento and other points of interest from the 1860s through the 1890s.
The library also is the repository of all state legislation, state Supreme Court briefs and publications from every state department.
For instance, among the documents are all 28 volumes of records and briefs before the courts and various land commissions in Mexican and Spanish land-grant confirmation cases. So are budgets and publications from all 58 counties and the cities and towns of California.
Collections include material on religious movements, political groups and unions.
The library also is the regional repository of documents issued by the U.S. government printing office, such as patents.
It operates the Talking Book Library for the blind, with 11,000 users in Northern California, and the prestigious Adolph Sutro Library in San Francisco, which houses a renowned collection of rare manuscripts and books in one of the finest genealogy resources on the West Coast.
"California has the most universal public library system in the nation," said Strong, who frequently appears before the Legislature as an advocate for all 169 library jurisdictions in California. He also is president of the 50-member State Librarians Assn.
Strong, 42, is the sixth state librarian since 1900. He was appointed by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 1980 and reappointed by Gov. George Deukmejian. Before coming to Sacramento, Strong was deputy Washington state librarian.
Among his duties is that of administrator of state and federal funding for the libraries of California. "This year's budget for the State Library is $55,385,000 and, of that, $43,498,000 is distributed to libraries all over the state," Strong said. He spends a third to half his time visiting libraries throughout California.
Strong also is editor of the monthly California State Library Newsletter, a house organ for California librarians, and editor of the quarterly California State Library Foundation Bulletin.