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From the Stacks 

August 23, 2010

Darwin’s Finches

Robert I. Bowman was an ornithologist whose research focus was the Galapagos Islands including the evolution of song in Darwin’s Finches. He was a Biology Professor at San Francisco State and had a close association with the Academy since 1948. He was a Research Associate, Associate Editor of Pacific Discovery, a Fellow, and Board Member. He was also a founding member of the Executive Committee of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Isles.

Tool using finch.

Cactospiza pallida: Tool using finch in studio. Robert I. Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

I recently accessioned a portion of the Robert I. Bowman papers which includes his field notes, correspondence, reprints, Galapagos photographs and slides, and Galapagos aerial photographs from 1946 and 1964. We also received his son Carl A. Bowman’s Galapagos slides and his wife Margret’s scientific illustrations.   I am still working with the Bowman family to prepare a second accession of additional materials including film.

We are still arranging and describing the materials that we have accessioned and plan to publish a finding aid to the collection once it is all accessioned and processed. However, as soon as word spread about our new collection we started to get requests to view and use the material before it was even processed. We have digitized Margret’s beautiful illustrations of Galapagos finch skulls  and several of Dr. Bowman’s finch slides have been digitized and will be used in videos for the revised Galapagos Finch exhibit on the public floor.

Certhidea skull. 1961.

Certhidea skull, 1961. Margret Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

Margret’s finch skulls from “Morphological Differentiation and Adaptation in the Galapagos Finches” will be used to update our Islands of Evolution exhibit.

Cactospiza skull. 1961.

Cactospiza skull, 1961. Margret Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

Note the different shapes of the beaks.

G maqnirostris skull. 1961.

G maqnirostris skull, 1961. Margret Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

Galapagos finch on cactus.

Galapagos finch on cactus. Robert I. Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

Recording environmental sounds in the Galapagos.

Recording environmental sounds in the Galapagos. Robert I. Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

- Danielle Castronovo

Archives & Digital Collections Librarian

Filed under: Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 10:59 am

July 12, 2010

Charles Webber’s hand tinted Sierra Club images

Charles Webber was a member of the California Academy of Sciences and the Sierra Club. He was an amateur botanist and photographer who took pictures of California flora from the 1930s to the 1960s. Over 5,000 of his images have been uploaded to the Library’s Manzanita Image Project which is a subset of Calphotos.

Some of my favorite Webber images are featured below. They are hand tinted photographs from Sierra Club outings in the 1930s.

Parson's Lodge. Yosemite.

Yosemite National Park, Parson's Lodge. Sierra Club hand tinted photograph, 1931. ID: 9187 3302 4013 0113

Two hikers atop Mt. Whitney in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, CA. 1932.

Two hikers atop Mt. Whitney in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, CA.1932. ID: 8076 3101 4736 0041

Packers enjoying the view from the top of Mt. Whitney, 1932. Hand tinted photograph.

Packers enjoying the view from the top of Mt. Whitney, 1932. Hand tinted photograph. ID: 9187 3302 4013 0105

We are experimenting with adding images to Flickr to advertise our photographs to new audiences. On Friday, I added a set of fifteen Webber photos to Flickr and in only a few hours had an email from someone who wanted to re-post a Webber image on his Yosemite blog. So far, so good. Here is the set of Webber photos on Flickr.

- Danielle Castronovo

Archives & Digital Collections Librarian

Filed under: Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 9:51 am

June 11, 2010

Arnold Liebes and the justice ship “The Bear”

The archives staff is working on a large digital image migration project. One of the collections that I worked on is the Arnold Liebes papers. Liebes was a San Francisco furrier who had a trading outpost at Point Barrow, Alaska. Liebes made several trips to Alaska during the 1910s-1920s and took hundreds of photographs documenting his work as well as the lives of the indigenous people he encountered.

Liebes fur trading post.

H. Liebes & Co.’s trading station at Pt. Barrow, Alaska.

Examining pelts at traders.

Examining pelts at traders.

We digitized five hundred and ninety six Liebes images, and I just finished uniting the metadata with the digital images in our new digital asset management system. While assigning subjects like “hunting”, “sealing”, “churches”, and “ships” to the images, I decided I wanted to learn some more about the named sailing vessels that appear in the photographs. At least three  different ships are featured in the photographs including the whaling vessel The Herman, The Arctic, and a ship called The Bear.

Landing on the ice from The Herman.

Landing on the ice from The Herman.

The Arctic at Wainwright, Alaska. A.L. Liebes on the right.

The Arctic at Wainwright, Alaska. A.L. Liebes on the left.

I was intrigued by the subject matter of the photos on The Bear. There are photographs of men in military uniforms as well as a “native wedding” and photographs of “a murdered and two witnesses”.

Captain Ballinger and officers of Bear.

Captain Ballinger and officers of Bear. 1912.

"Native wedding" aboard The Bear.

“Native wedding” on board The Bear at Pt. Hope.

This New York Times article, Cutter Gripped by Ice, from September 22, 1913 explained that The Bear was a U.S coast guard ship that made a yearly trip from Nome, Alaska to Point Barrow, Alaska.  The Bear had a judge, doctor, and carpenter to dispense justice and medicine to the Inupiak people of Point Barrow. Captain Ballinger, pictured in the ship’s crew portrait above, recounts the harrowing tale of the ice bound Bear which was only freed from the ice when the winds changed.

Besides donating his wonderful manuscript and photograph collection to the Academy, Arnold Liebes donated approximately 1,000 objects to our Anthropology department. The collection can be searched through our Anthropology database and includes records and images for carvings, beads & leather work, tools & implements, raw materials, and weaponry. Select “Liebes” in the “collections” field. Liebes also donated items to the Smithsonian including this cormorant parka from St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.

- Danielle Castronovo

Archives & Digital Collections Librarian

Filed under: Archives,Archives finds,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 5:10 pm

April 26, 2010

Five Weeks of Science Librarianship

My name is Renee Salters, and I first developed a love for the natural science and history field in my childhood. It was the habit of my old elementary alma mater to take inquisitive young minds on field trips to the Denver Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature and Science), in an attempt to show us that science was not only educational, but fun. From the moment our classes waltzed, screaming as children do, into the main doors of the Museum and came face to face with the towering skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, I believe we were all in awe. Some of us remained in awe, returning to the museum whenever possible, despite entering and surviving the troubled years that generally begin at the end of elementary school and do not end until the day one graduates high school and is a fish entering yet another pond in the world, albeit a somewhat larger and more intimidating pond.


Mendocino National Forest (California) from the Manzanita Image Project
Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

So imagine my glee when, as part of a course on Issues in Special Libraries for my Masters in Library and Information Science Program, I was asked to conduct fieldwork in a special library and was able to complete this work at the California Academy of Sciences Library. The assignment called for only thirty hours of fieldwork, leaving me precious little time to learn everything I could about the workings, procedures, and daily life of the institution. I found cataloging records, assisted in ongoing projects, and helped in the tail-end processing of some new acquisitions. I both shelved and retrieved books, all the while encountering the familiar and pleasant smell of volumes of old tomes gathered stoically together in scientific solidarity. I went through boxes of not inconsiderable and exceedingly interesting book donations and then made my allergies crazy with a few fantastically dusty and overflowing boxes of donated scientific papers. As part of the Manzanita project, I helped upload photographs to an online database, and was able to view some interesting and curious slides of the deserts, mountains, valleys, and snow-covered trees in various parts of California. I saw more antiquated, colorful, and international scientific journals and books in my thirty hours of field work than I had in the rest of my life combined. And perhaps most importantly, I met the people who do this every day and saw the continued enthusiasm with which they carried out their work, meeting each morning with a happy sigh of “let’s get this day started!” rather than the doleful sigh of “why?” I have encountered in other settings. They find all the excitement they need helping researchers and being active participants in an institution that focuses on the exploration of and education about the world around us. As I write this, I am looking out of the window at the trees of Golden Gate Park; as they sway in the wind I feel as though the research being conducted here is just an extension of the nature outside.


Sonoma (California) from the Manzanita Image Project
Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

Filed under: Library News,Photography — Intern @ 1:21 pm

March 31, 2010

Dean Kinter Photographs of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges

With the construction of the new East Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge ongoing, it seemed a fitting time to look back on the 1930s era construction of San Francisco’s two signature bridges. Dean W. Kinter was a mechanical engineer and enjoyed the unique status of being the only person involved in the steel erection of both suspension bridges. He was also a highly skilled amateur photographer and took advantage of his access to take stunning photographs of the construction in progress. Mr. Kinter documented the efforts – and dangers – endured by the men who built them.

Golden Gate Bridge Construction

In 1997 Elizabeth Kinter, Mr. Kinter’s widow, donated a collection of 274 mounted photographs from the construction of both bridges to the California Academy of Sciences Research Library. Those photographs are the subject of our newest Research Library Reading Room exhibit; six of the photos have been selected for display.

The Academy’s Research Library Reading Room is open to Academy staff and visiting researchers.

Daniel Ransom – Archives and Digital Production Assistant

Filed under: Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 4:34 pm

November 24, 2009

On “Origin” and “Evidence”

Being a librarian, I tend to think of my work life as a series of questions and answers. Answering questions is essentially what I do for a living, and answers are the product of a hard day’s work.

I was quite happy to pick up Evidence of Evolution, a new book with text by Mary Ellen Hannibal and photographs by Susan Middleton, and see that it begins with questions.

Quoth Mary Ellen: “Why do butterfly wings have so many different patterns, and if a snake is a reptile and an eel a fish, why do they look so similar? A hundred and fifty years ago, Charles Darwin addressed these questions with the publication of his seminal work, On the Origin of Species. In it, Darwin posited the theory of evolution based on natural selection as the answer.”

150 years ago today – November 24, 1859 – Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published. Evolution was not a new idea, but the concept of descent with modification, the idea that change is powered by modifications in gene frequency over time, driven by a process dubbed “natural selection” captured the scientific imagination. All the copies of Origin (only about 1,250 were printed in the first run) sold out on the first day.

It is a fitting time to celebrate the publication of Darwin’s great work alongside the release of Evidence of Evolution. This new book features spectacular photographs of specimens from the Academy’s research collections, accompanied by text that illuminates how scientists see and use these specimens as, well, evidence for evolution.

It is the sign of an important question that we’re still contributing to the answer 150 years later.

Evidence of Evolution, photography by Susan Middleton and text by Mary Ellen Hannibal is available for purchase from the Academy’s Scientific Publications.

Since a copy of a first edition of Origin just sold for $172,000 US at auction, picking up a copy of Evidence of Evolution is a more affordable way to commemorate this momentous day.

Keep asking questions!

Filed under: Photography,Research — Librarian @ 12:55 pm

November 3, 2009

Nitrate negatives

A significant aspect of scientific expeditions is visually documenting

a location, people, or specimens. Here in the archive, it is our job

to preserve these images. While these days most scientists and

photographers are using digital cameras, which present their own

preservation issues, our earlier manuscript collections contain

physical photographs and film negatives. There are three types of film

base: cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate, and polyester. Both

nitrate and acetate can break down over time and the fumes they

release can harm the collections around them. In fact, nitrate film,

first manufactured by Eastman Kodak in 1889 and continued to be made until

the early 1950s, is highly flammable. Nitrate film can be difficult to identify from

other film bases unless it is seriously deteriorated or clearly marked. The North East

Document Conservation Center has a wonderful preservation leaflet

about how to identify nitrate film and how to test if your film is


We didnt need to test this negative because it is marked Eastman - Nitrate - Kodak on the left edge.

We didn't need to test this negative because it is marked "Eastman - Nitrate - Kodak" on the left edge.

So, what can we do to capture the images on nitrate negatives and

still protect our other materials from fumes and possible fire? We are

in the process of a nitrate separation, digitization, and storage

project. As we find nitrate negatives, we digitize them by making a

high resolution Tiff image. This is our archival master image. The

negative is then placed in a paper enclosure and labeled in pencil. A

large group of negatives is put in an archival box, heat sealed in a

Marvelseal wrapper (to prevent moisture from getting in) and then

placed in a ziptop plastic bag. The bag is placed in our flammable material

storage freezer and kept at -20 degrees centigrade. This helps preserve

the image on the negative and protects our other collections from fumes

that nitrate generates as it degrades. So far, there are approximately

6,000 frozen negatives in our freezer and we have another 800

negatives to add to the freezer as part of our most recent project.

The images below are nitrate negatives that have been digitized in the

last year.

Election of Pope Benedict, 1914.

Gustav Eisen negative labeled "Election of Pope Benedict XIV 1914". Thanks to a comment from J.S. Oishi we know that election was actually of Pope Benedict XV.

Ynes Mexia negative of "Lake Mirror. Dawn." Yosemite National Park, 1921.

Danielle Castronovo – Archives and Digital Collections Librarian

Filed under: Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 3:17 pm

September 10, 2009

Back to School

Back-to-School has arrived on the calendar for the children of San Francisco and one of the men they – and I am sure their parents – can thank for that privilege was one of the seven founding fathers of the California Academy of Sciences. He was Colonel Thomas J. Nevins, the first Superintendent of Schools for San Francisco.

Thomas Nevins arrived during the Gold Rush in 1850 from New Hampshire and, as a lawyer, he drafted the first public school law for the growing city of San Francisco.
In 1851 he was hired to serve as the first Superintendent of the Free Common [public] Schools. In that year, the city had levied taxes to maintain seven school districts.

After their first meeting in April of 1853, the then California Academy of Natural Sciences members met in the office of Colonel Nevins at 622 Clay Street. Here they kept their library and their expanding ‘cabinet of specimens’. Every Monday evening by the light of tallow candles, the members read and discussed their scientific papers.

Dedicated to this infant organization, Nevins took on the role of Treasurer, the Second Vice Presidency, and the Librarian, as well as being a member of the Publication and Proceedings Committees. He was also on the committee that drafted our constitution. Later he would be made the Recording Secretary and be honored as a life member.

At the time of these first meetings of the Academy, Nevins was also actively advocating for the addition of a high school into the common school’s system. After three years, he convinced the city to establish this school. [This first high school west of the Mississippi was originally located on Powell Street and is the predecessor of today’s Lowell High School.]

While planning the new Academy after its destruction in the Earthquake of 1906, the Director, Barton W. Evermann, also actively advocated for a place for youth education in the planning for the new museum. In the revised Constitution of 1930, high school students could become active members of the Academy. [Membership at that time was an elected privilege.] The Student Section was very active in the 1940’s when teachers were hired and field trips were taken. They had their own meeting room where they could hear lectures and participate in discussions. And as scientist-in-training, they also published their own research in a newsletter.

Each Education Department program since the years of the Student Section, every Bay Area classroom field trip to our museum, and today’s Naturalist Center programs, all continue these early commitments to education by Nevins and Evermann.

Karren Elsbernd – Library Assistant for Archives and Digital Collections

Filed under: Academy History,Photography,Special Collections — Archives & Special Collections @ 3:32 pm

August 4, 2009

Blue Moon

Last week, I did a small tour for some staff members who were interested in seeing what types of photographic materials we have in our collections. I mostly chose items from the George Davidson collection because it contains several types of photographic processes.

George Davidson was an astronomer, geodesist, and coastal surveyor. In 1868, Davidson was made chief of the U.S. Coast Survey on the Pacific Coast and held that position until June 1895, during which time he oversaw the work of all western survey teams. Davidson was President of the California Academy of Sciences from 1872-1886. He was instrumental in popularizing astronomy on the West Coast and made his private observatory that is featured below, in Lafayette Park, San Francisco available to the scientific community and the public.

Cyanotypes from the Davidson Observatory

For the tour, I pulled various types of photographs including stereopticons, glass lantern slides, glass plate negatives, and cyanotypes.

The cyanotype was invented in 1842 by John Herschel but was most widely used from the 1880s to the 1920s. In this contact printing process, paper is coated with a solution of light-sensitive iron salts. A negative or object is placed on the paper and when exposed to ultraviolet light the chemicals react to form ferric ferrocyanide and ferrous ferricyanide, known as Prussian blue and Turnbull’s blue when used as pigments, and a blue image appears. Once the desired image is acquired the solution is washed away. This is the same process used in making blueprints. Because cyanotypes continue to be light-sensitive after their creation, they should be stored in the dark to prevent fading and damage.

6.4 inch Alvin Clark telescope in the Davidson Observatory

While this process was never very popular for photography, we have several cyanotypes in our manuscript collections including the Alice Eastwood and Barton Warren Evermann Collections.

- Danielle

Archives and Digital Collections Librarian

Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 1:50 pm

July 31, 2009

The Fiske Is In

A fascinating aspect of archival work is the story that unfolds when you try and unravel the mysteries of uncatalogued items from the back of the vault. While evaluating a collection of oversized archival items in the Academy’s collection, I came across a pair of large prints of Yosemite photographs — a meandering river under an impressive dome, and a bearded gentleman, in front of an impressive Sequoia. Both photographs were uncatalogued but attributed to a “John Fiske” in little notes on their reverse side. The attributing notes were written in 1919 by the California School of Arts and Crafts, the original owner of the prints. The veracity of the notes was immediately in doubt: archives assistant Christina Fidler immediately recognized that the first photo, described in the note as “South Dome”, was in fact a photo of Yosemite’s North Dome (Yosemite doesn’t even contain a “South Dome”). The notes also named the bearded figure as early Yosemite Guardian Galen Clark, which if true would improve the value and importance of the photograph.


Is it South Dome or North Dome?

As the Academy had no other archival items relating to a John Fiske, I did a little research about the photographer before entering the prints into the catalog. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any source material about a photographer named John Fiske. However, there was a prominent early Yosemite photographer named George Fiske (b. 1835, d. 1918). In fact, George Fiske was the first year-round photographer-in-residence of Yosemite Valley, whose winter photographs are rightly prized for their beauty and enduring value (intuitive readers will take note of the surname-only signature on that linked photo sourced from the Bancroft Library’s collection, and its similarity to the signature on the Sequoia photo below…if I had noticed that earlier, I would have saved myself a bit of work!).

This Fiske was a fascinating figure: long before Ansel Adams, he made a living off his photographs of the Valley and the mountains beyond. He’d use mules to take his elaborate camera gear up long arduous trails, and if it was too rough for even his mules, he pulled his gear in a handcart that he nicknamed his “Cloud-chasing Chariot”.

Sadly, George Fiske’s influence as a photographer has waned due to two tragedies: the fiery destruction of his home and laboratory in 1904 that burnt three-quarters of his negatives and prints, and the 1943 fire that burned down Yosemite Valley’s Sawmill (his remaining negatives were stored in the attic). Despite this, Ansel Adams regarded George Fiske as one of his foremost influences.

It seemed likely that George Fiske was the actual photographer behind our two prints. I set about doing a little more sleuthing: without confirmation that George Fiske took these photographs it would be hard to overrule the evidence on the back of the prints for the catalog. The breakthrough moment came from reading Fiske’s heading under Pioneer Photographers of the Far West, available online via Google Books. I discovered that he was a stalwart friend of Galen Clark and that Clark utilized Fiske’s photographs in a number of his own books. Low and behold, three of Clark’s books are in the Academy’s own library collection, including Big Trees of California — a treatise about Sequoias. I hoped that the second print, with the Sequoia and a man who was possibly Galen Clark, would be in that book. I dug our copy out of the stacks.

Bingo! The exact photo was on pg. 87, a full page print. In fact, the book gave us much more detail about the photo than we originally had; not only does it confirm that the figure is in fact Galen Clark, it also explains that the tree in the photograph is the famous “Grizzly Giant” in the Mariposa Grove. Clark calls the tree “the acknowledged patriarch of the Mariposa Grove”, that “has a unique individuality of majestic grandeur all its own, different from any known Sequoia”. Clark claims that the Grizzly Giant is at least six thousand years old, and probably the oldest living thing on Earth (his enthusiasm was slightly misplaced — modern experts name the Grizzly Giant to be “only” 2,700 years old. Still, it remains the largest tree in Yosemite, and one of the five largest on Earth).


Galen Clark and the Grizzly Giant

There’s only one catch. Clark’s book only credits the photograph to “Fiske”, no first name or initial. So can we know for certain that the photo was taken by Clark’s friend George Fiske, and not a mysterious unknown named John? The only California connection to a John Fiske, and perhaps the source of the 1919 name-mixup, is a Fiske Peak in the Sierra Nevada range named for a philosopher and historian named John Fiske. Perhaps the person who wrote the notes only knew of this John Fiske, and never heard of George?

Final confirmation was back in Pioneer Photographers of the Far West. It states that George Fiske’s photographs “graced two of Clark’s books, The Big Trees of California (1907) and The Yosemite Valley (1910)”. With the print in hand matching the print in the book, and the back-up evidence of the matching handwritten signature in the Bancroft’s George Fiske collection, we know for certain that our two photographs are definitively by George Fiske, not a John.

Archiving can lead to a fun and fascinating tour of our pioneering past. In attempting to catalog a couple unheralded items in our collection, I’ve discovered and learned about a fascinating character who played an important role in chronicling California’s geologic grandeur and helped popularize Yosemite Valley, one of our most famous natural wonders. Today, George Fiske is buried right beside Galen Clark in Yosemite’s Pioneer Cemetery, a fitting resting place for one of Clark’s closest confidants and for Ansel Adams’ spiritual predecessor.

–Daniel Ransom, Academy Library Intern

Filed under: Archives,Photography — Intern @ 4:14 pm
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