New home for old library collection

In a climate-controlled room on the top floor of SF State's J. Paul Leonard Library, Haleh Motiey-Payandehoo proudly singles out a 400-year-old map of the world hanging on the wall.

A photo of books on the shelf in the Sutro Library.

Rare books sit on the shelves of the Sutro Library's sixth floor.

"We have visitors from all over the world who come just to look at this map," says Motiey-Payandehoo, a supervising librarian with the California State Library (CSL).

The item is one of 250,000 in the CSL's Sutro Library, one of the state's oldest collections that now has a new home on the fifth and sixth floors of SF State's library. The new location gives the Sutro Library, which Motiey-Payandehoo manages, its first permanent home since it was donated to the state nearly a century ago and comes with technological upgrades that bring it into the digital age.



A photo of 17th-century Oriental scrolls in the Sutro Library.

Oriental scrolls from the 17th century are among the rare items in the Sutro Library's special collection.

The collection was donated to the state of California in 1913 by the family of Adolph Sutro, a prominent businessman, philanthropist and early San Francisco mayor who had amassed a sizable assortment of historical books and documents from around the world. SF State has housed the collection since 1983.

In addition to historical records such as family histories and city directories, the Sutro Library includes a special collection of about 90,000 rare items that date back hundreds of years, such as pre-1890 Mexican manuscripts, Italian documents from the 15th to 17th centuries and one of only 200 copies of Shakespeare's First Folio.



A photo of the fifth floor of the J. Paul Leonard library building.

The fifth floor of the library building is open to the public and contains a reading room for viewing items from the special collection.

The Sutro Library, including the special collection, is open to the general public and students, although Motiey-Payandehjoo says few drop by. "All students are welcome," she said. "We love to have them. And all faculty are welcome to give their students assignments that utilize our collection."

Along with a new location, the library has received some technological upgrades. Scanners are now available so patrons can make digital, rather than paper, copies of documents, and documents on microfilm and microfiche can also be converted to digital formats.

Items stored in the climate-controlled sixth floor must be requested in advance so library staff have time to gather them. Patrons are then able to view the items in a reading room on the fifth floor.

The Sutro Library is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit

-- Jonathan Morales