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Labor map expands California historical perspective in local libraries

In a letter to library directors accompanying the California Labor History map, State Librarian, Dr. Kevin Starr wrote:

The California Labor History map gives libraries the opportunity to bring local elected officials and labor representative together around a theme of local, as well as statewide, importance. The California State Library has been honored to be involved in this important undertaking, which I hope is of value to your community.

Since the California State Library distributed the labor map to California’s public libraries, many California library patrons have become interested in the state’s turbulent labor history. Some libraries, such as Contra Costa city library, have mounted exhibits showcasing the map and labor history books from their collections.

Photo of the Labor map

How the labor map evolved

In 2002, the Speaker of the California Assembly, Herb J. Wesson, Jr., and members of the Speaker’s Commission on Labor Education, asked the California State Library to assess, compile, and organize historical and contemporary events relating to California labor history for a printed California labor history map. Since the large number of events could not all fit on a printed map, a more expansive website was also created, in partnership with San Francisco State University.

Labor history is key to understanding business practices and economic progress, community and social development in California. The Speaker’s Commission on Labor Education intended for the map to increase public access to, and awareness about, these social issues as well as the crucial events that have affected working peoples’ lives in California’s contentious history.

Professor Dan Cornford of San Jose State University was historian on the project, along with David Fuller, cartographer, Rory Litwin, librarian, and Dr. Charlene Wear Simmons, project manager. A distinguished Advisory Committee of librarians, historians and members of the Speaker’s Commission on Labor Education assisted the team.

Where the labor map is now

In addition to being available in California public libraries, the California Labor History Map is currently being showcased in an exhibit in the second floor rotunda of the State Capitol. Speaker Wesson, Dr. Starr and Tom Rankin of the California Labor Federation spoke at the opening of the exhibit before Labor Day 2003.Many of the hundreds of visitors to the Capitol actively review the map and associated historical materials in the exhibit.

The text and panels for the exhibit may be viewed on the California Labor History Map website (see the link above). The California State Library is working with the California Exhibit Resource Alliance to enable the exhibit to travel to libraries around the state over the next two or three years. If you are interested in having the exhibit visit your library, please contact Robert Daseler in Library Development Services at 916 654-0108/rdaseler@library.ca.gov.

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