Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Magazines and Newspapers Center in 1996

When the new Main Library first opened in 1996, it was a state of the art facility wired with internet access at computer terminals throughout the building. People lined up before opening to get in and get a good spot. Users could access the library's catalog (called the Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC)), the world wide web, subscription databases, SFPL-created databases, and other troves of information through these connected terminals. The new library made news for its embrace of digital information. In September of the same year, five months after the new Main Library's grand opening, MSNBC ran a 9 minute spot featuring SFPL and a business library in NYC in a piece about "high tech libraries" and lots of footage was collected on the 5th floor! Today the computer lab next to the Magazines and Newspapers Center is still popular as ever although some things around it have changed. Watch this video and tell us if you can recognize any familiar faces and spaces! 

Friday, June 14, 2024

Sex Positive Feminist and Lesbian Magazines

It's Pride at the Queerest. Library. Ever. so Mags and News has put together this selection of out of print sex positive radical magazines for the audience of feminists and lesbians. You can browse more on the 5th floor of the Main Library in the new Bound Magazines Browsing Collection (formerly known as Tier 0) around the 306.7663 call number. Ask for help locating any of these at the Magazines and Newspapers Center reference desk on the 5th floor or email mnc@sfpl.org for help.


We start off with the early aughts publication from New York City, Velvetpark! It features pop culture queer celebs like Margaret Cho, Joan Osborne, Jill Sobule, and Eve Ensler while also indulging some sexual fantasies. With the tagline "dyke culture in bloom," it is pretty soft core compared to the publications further down this list, but is more hard core than the more mainstream Girlfriends. It features a regular column with former On Our Backs (see further down this list) editor Tristan Taormino amongst other goodies, and really delivers on that glossy high magazine feel. While Velvetpark is no longer printed, it is still an active digital publication that you can find at velvetparkmedia.com. In the Magazines and Newspapers Center, we have the first issue from 2002 through the last in 2007, minus issues 5 and 7.


This little pamphlet comes out of London and is "for women who love women." We have numbers 1-6 minus 5, but thankfully no. 5 is available in full on the Internet Archive. Dates do not appear anywhere on the zine issues so it's hard to tell exactly when it was published, although we assume it is from the 1980s and most likely no. 6 was published in 1984 (there are some pretty cool computer illustrations that today we might nostalgically call clip art in its pages). It is probably the least explicitly sexual of all the titles, but it makes up for that in English charm and wittiness.

On Our Backs

The more widely known (and dowdy) feminist magazine Off Our Backs takes a backseat to San Francisco published On Our Backs, a magazine dedicated to "adventures in lesbian sex" and that exhorts the mainstream publications to put the "sex" back into the struggle. The Fall 2005 issue has sections called Babes, Features, Cliterature, Full Frontal, Sexperts, Reviews, and In the Back and there is no lack of tantalizing sexual images. Mags and News has a full run of this magazine, from 1984-2006.

Fat Girl 

Fat Girl does not disappoint with erotic images of fat women pleasuring each other, and why would you expect anything less from a magazine with the tagline, "A zine for fat dykes and the women who want them" coming out of San Francisco. This is the OG body positivity publication for queer womxn, which engages in roundtable discussions of sex, sexuality, sexiness, gender, power, and shopping. As they say on the front cover of the first issue: "Hot photos, stories, rants, smut, hints, comics, resources, and much more!!!" In Mags and News we have issues 1-7, 1994-1997.

Venus Infers

Venus Infers is a leather dyke magazine that was published quarterly in San Francisco for a couple years, most likely 1993-1994. It features discussion of important issues in the lesbian community along with a healthy dose of erotica indulging in BD/SM, role play, kink, toys, etc. In the Mags and News department, we have the first issue (summer 1993) through to the fall 1994 issue. 

Frighten the Horses 

With the tagline "Document of the sexual revolution" and founded when its editor returned to San Francisco from living in Japan for two years, this magazine, printed on newsprint for the first couple issues, is queerest in the sense of not limiting its topics to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, gender queer, straight or cis identities. It basically says, anyone with divergent sexual habits and fantasies is already shunned from the American mainstream, why further divide and label? We especially enjoyed the pieces by Kim Addonizio that appeared in the first few issues, way before any of her books were published. In the Magazines and Newspapers Center, we have the first issue from 1990 to the May, 1994 issue. Not quite a full run--the magazine ceased in 1995 according to Ulrichs directory of periodicals--but pretty dang close.

Friday, May 31, 2024

What We're Reading: May 2024

This edition of What We're Reading is the prison writing edition. The four things mentioned below were written by individuals who have spent time behind bars, whether it's as employees or as incarcerated persons. 

The Diary of a Rikers Island Library Worker

The New Yorker, May 12, 2023

Author and illustrator Medar de la Cruz is the recipient of the 2024 Pulitzer Prize in Illustrated Reporting and Commentary for this piece published last year reflecting on his work bringing books to incarcerated people at Rikers Island. The link above goes to the public New Yorker website, which is the only place this piece was published. Side note, you can access the New Yorker several ways through SFPL--it's on Flipster, an e-magazines platform SFPL provides, and we have it in print on the 5th floor of the Main Library, to name a few options.


Surgery in Shackles

Lux, Winter 2023

Originally appearing in the print version of Lux issue 9 (Winter 2023), this article by Carla Simmons and illustrated by Huanhuan Wang is now freely available on the Lux website. Simmons describes the inhumane and inadequate treatment she received through the course of experiencing abdominal pain while incarcerated in Georgia. She is not alone. Her experience is indicative of the universal need to overhaul the prison medical system.


He carved himself with an ID card and I just felt numb. 

Sunday Times, April 28, 2024

As a teenager, author Gen Glaister had a strange career aspiration to work in a prison, and in this excerpt from her forthcoming book, The Prison Officer, she describes the wonderment and repulsion she felt as she got to know the inmates at the prison where she took a job as a young woman. While SFPL does not (yet) have Glaister's book in the collection, you can read the Sunday Times excerpt online through our database subscriptions (hyperlinked in title) or in the print newspaper available at the 5th floor page desk. We keep the print edition of the Sunday Times for three months, so you will have to come by the end of July to see it in print.



Thursday, May 30, 2024

The work of the Asian American Journalists Association

Earlier this month, the Magazines and Newspapers Center hosted a panel of journalists from the Bay Area/Nor Cal chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association as part of SFPL's Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) cultural campaign, Weaving Stories, for May. Panelists from the San Francisco Standard, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Diya TV spoke on topics of Asian representation in journalism and the media, the boon to community-specific reporting that multilingual journalists bring, the gaps in representation that still exist for the many ethnicities under the Asian umbrella, and how they attempt to remain unbiased in their specialties. The overarching theme the panelists grappled with was the limits to representation--they were only four journalists, Chinese and Indian, which leaves out so many identities in the Asian diaspora. One Asian American beat reporter at a newspaper is simply not enough, asserted panelist Ravi Kapur, CEO of Diya TV.

Asian American Journalists Association Panel in Koret Auditorium, May 8, 2024

From L to R: Harry Mok, Ko Lyn Cheang, Han Li, and Ravi Kapur
As a librarian who up until recently worked with college students on topics of information literacy, news evaluation, and credibility of sources, this panel was the moment I penetrated to the next level. I was no longer just talking about how to evaluate a newspaper for its trustworthiness. I was hosting a panel of real journalists working hard to drill into this topic and create pieces that represent the Asian American experience in San Francisco, a city that is composed of 30-35% Asian residents, with authenticity and accuracy. I wished, in that moment in the Koret auditorium, that every student to whom I had taught the Ad Fontes' Bias in Media chart and the Trust Project trust indicators could be there, listening to these journalists grapple with the representation riddle as working professionals. The students could go straight to the source. Catch a glimpse of how the sausage is made. Ask themselves the same question, When does news go from being universal to being specific to a community and ethnic experience? For these students, the tagline "representation matters" would go beyond a slogan to a philosophy directly applied for good business reasons by the publishers of the Standard and the Chronicle and by the producers at Diya TV.

As May draws to an end, we can further boost the work of the Asian American Journalists Association by offering a hearty congratulations to the recipients of their annual Journalism Excellence Awards. Read an overview of the winners and their work from Editor & Publisher. While no San Francisco Bay Area journalists are awardees, the award-winning pieces linked in the summary will expand your understanding of issues experienced by Asian Americans and how they are covered by journalists from the Asian American Journalists Association. Let us know if you encounter paywalls for any of the articles and we will do our best to help you access the full text.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Digitized San Francisco Newspapers Printed in Chinese

Chan Ching reading a Chinese newspaper. Image courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

In mid to late 19th century San Francisco, people starting up newspaper businesses weren't limited to English language text. There were a handful of papers printed in Chinese in the burgeoning city as well. Printing in Chinese with moveable metal type presented challenges of practicality due to the language's thousands of characters. In the early days, printers got around this by using lithography as a printing method, which uses grease pencils on special stones to print instead of individual pieces of type composited in the press bed. Later, foundries with Chinese characters cast in metal type were established and the type was used by local newspapers, as we can see in the SF History Center images Man working in a Chinatown newspaper room with single metal slugs and Three men working in a Chinese newspaper room with single metal slugs.  

Like so many historic newspapers, especially those from the 19th century, these papers have largely been lost to the sands of time in terms of libraries or archives being able to offer comprehensive access to a collection (physical or digital) of such newspapers. At San Francisco Public Library, for example, we have scattershot coverage of some historic papers printed in Chinese in San Francisco in our print holdings. Furthermore, we are unable to offer a database or single digital collection that brings these Chinese newspapers together under one digital roof.

While there is no one-stop shop we are able to offer our patrons, we recently looked into the issue and were able to compile a list of Chinese newspapers printed in San Francisco that have been digitized, but they are scattered around libraries and archives across the country. 

The bibliography of digitally available newspapers follows. If you have more to add, please leave a comment to let us know!

The Oriental (Tung-Ngai San-Luk)

This is the first paper printed in Chinese in San Francisco, starting in January of 1855 and folding by February of 1857. A few issues are digitized and available in a digital exhibit called The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865 by the American Antiquarian Society. The paper was printed in Chinese three times a week and in English once a week in its early days (it was published less frequently and more sporadically as time went on), the project of Rev. William Speer who had been a missionary in China and knew the language. Lee Kan, of Chinese descent, was Speer's associate and the editor of the paper. Above is an issue from April 28, 1855 demonstrating its bilingual nature. There is also an August 1855 issue available on the AAS website. 

San Francisco China News

San Francisco China News Access Link: Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum

A complete issue of this paper from Dec. 26, 1874 is available on the website of the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum with some useful annotations about its contents (although when they say it was handwritten, they mean it was handwritten on a lithography stone which was then used to print from; every issue was not handwritten). While the website for the museum was painstakingly populated with useful leads in regard to Chinese newspapers in the past, it has experienced a significant amount of link rot. It's still worth a visit

The Oriental (Tang fan gong bao)

One complete issue from May 13, 1876 is available on the digital delivery website of the Center for Research Libraries (CRL). Check their catalog record for descriptive information about this newspaper. 

Chung Sai Yat Po

Coming later, at the dawn of the 20th century, the Chung Sai Yat Po enjoyed a long run from 1900-1950 and most copies are surviving today. The digital images of almost 1,500 issues were created from the microfilm of the newspaper, which is part of the UC Berkeley's Ethnic Studies Library. It is so incredibly nice to be able to consult the digital surrogates of this paper's backfile without trekking to UC Berkeley to slog through dozens of microfilm reels. 
For an academic study of the newspaper's impact on Chinese culture in San Francisco in its first two decades, consult Violet Johnson's chapter in Print culture in a diverse America (1998), "San Francisco's Chung Sai Yat Po and the transformation of Chinese consciousness, 1900-1920."

Chinese world = Shi jie ri bao (世界日報)


Shi jie ri bao's earlier twentieth century content is available online and it continues to be published until today (which is available in the International Center on the 3rd floor of the Main Library). In the Magazines and Newspapers Center, we have Nov 1909-Dec 1923 on microfilm and those rolls were digitized with the Internet Archive. It would be interesting to compare, for this time period, how Shi jie ri bao covered topics the same or differently than Chung Sai Yat Po (above), which is available digitally for the same time period.  

East/West (Dong xi bao 東西報) Newspaper

Moving into the relative recent past, we are proud to announce the San Francisco History Center just this week finished digitizing over twenty years worth of the bilingual Chinese newspaper East/West 東西報. We have over 1,200 issues from 1967-1989 available for you, a (near) complete run of the paper. 
The paper was founded by Gordon Lew, editor and publisher, and run out of San Francisco's Chinatown. Lew also was a professor at City College. The newspaper covers Asian American diaspora issues centered in San Francisco, but also covered national and international news.  
Group of men standing outside of a Chinese newspaper office reading the latest news in Chinatown. Image courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Strange de Jim and the Thrill of the Obituary Hunt

Herb Caen is the namesake of the Magazines and Newspapers Center here on the 5th floor of the Main Library. But where would Herb Caen be without the quipster-tipster Strange de Jim? According to de Jim, "I Made Herb Caen & I Can Break Him." At least that was the title of his 1978 34 page pamphlet that amassed about 100 contributions he made to Caen's column up till that point. For Caen's part, he said of de Jim: 

“I hope we never meet. Ours is the perfect relationship,” Caen wrote [in the introduction to de Jim's book of Strangeisms]. “Strange favors me with his wit, and I favor him with my print. Come to think of it, he could even be a girl, for all I know. The whole thing is strange, isn’t it.”

Our unique San Francisco personality and legend Strange de Jim died on May 1, 2024. On May 17, Sam Whiting's obituary for him was published on the SF Chronicle website. Later, on May 19, the obituary ran in the print Sunday Chronicle, in the obituaries section. 


Screen capture of the obituary that ran on the SF Chronicle website on May 17. Click to access.


Screen capture of the obituary that ran in the SF Chronicle Sunday paper on May 19, 2024. Click to access (SFPL card required)


Not to take the spotlight from de Jim, but this is an important lesson in the thrill of the obituary hunt. 

  • Obituaries often appear in print much later than the date of the deceased's passing 
  • Obituaries and other content will often be published first on the Chronicle's website, and subsequently appear in print (sometimes a week or more later)
  • An obituary is usually submitted by friends or family and runs in the Life Tributes section of the Chronicle. Due to the fact that survivors are mourning, these obituaries can appear much, much later than the death of the individual, especially if they are not announcing a funeral
  • However, obituaries for famous people, like Strange de Jim, are news pieces written by the newspapers journalists, and this is no exception 
  • News piece obituaries appear in a variety of ways in print, but often appear in the Sunday edition of a paper--this is true for the SF Chronicle and the New York Times, to name a couple 

All this to say, obituaries can be tricky to locate if you are doing genealogy research but the librarians at the Magazines and Newspapers Center remain at your service. 

Feeling nostalgic or curious about Strange de Jim? Keep his memory alive by reading one of his books held at SFPL, or do a search in the SF Chronicle historic backfile to see all the mentions of Strange de Jim in Herb Caen's column.