State Spotlight: 
California State Railroad Museum Library

The California State Railroad Museum Library (CSRM Library), a California agency that is part of California State Parks, has a rich and rare collection of source materials on railroading in the American West and the nation. Though the CSRM Library is a research library, any member of the public may access the library’s historical treasures including its Ephemera, Manuscript Collections, Maps and Photographs in the library's reading room as well as through the library's online catalogs.

CSRM Library customers: Not just “railfans”

The CSRM Library’s customers, CSRM Librarian Cara Randall says, happily accept the archival library’s visiting requirements, such as wearing gloves to examine historic photographs or limiting research tools to pencils. Most “railfans,” Randall reports, are “obsessed in a good way with the story of the western railways and the items in our collection.”

In addition to “railfans” - railroad modelers, corporate history buffs, and people restoring historic railroad equipment, among others - the CSRM Library’s customers include professional researchers and historians from around the world.  Students, from 4th graders writing reports to graduate students writing dissertations, also comb through the library’s resources for information and images of the Iron Horse’s great 19th-century push west and the lasting social changes it brought.  Reference requests also come from genealogists and documentary film producers.  Researchers can contact library staff by phone at (916) 323-8073, by email, or using the contact form on the CSRM website.

Collection overview

Ellen Halteman, Director of Collections, was the librarian when the collections were first opened to the public in 1981. Halteman explains that since 1981, the library has greatly expanded its collections primarily through donations from individual and corporate benefactors.

The CSRM Library’s many documentary collections focus on the history of railroads and railroading in California and the adjacent states from the 1850s to the present. Its diverse and extensive collection also includes selected railroad topics throughout North America. The CSRM Library emphasizes acquiring material relating to the social, economic, political, cultural, technological and environmental impacts that the industry has had, and continues to have, on the region.

The CSRM Library, which provides public access to the California State Railroad Museum’s documentary collections, preserves over two million photographic images, extensive archival and manuscript collections and more than 250,000 technical drawings and maps from railroad companies and railroad–related equipment manufacturers connected to more than 4,500 corporate entities throughout North America. The CSRM Library also has voluminous holdings of corporate ephemera including public and employee timetables, promotional materials, menus, tickets, postcards and other railroad-related documents.

Primary access to the research collection is on-site in Old Sacramento. Online catalogs in selected formats are also available within the “Library & Collections” portion of the Museum’s website. Digital content currently includes selected photographs of railroad passenger cars from the Pullman Company as well as colorful dining car menus. In addition, with funding from an IMLS/LSTA grant (2001-2004), the CSRM Library partnered with three Sacramento institutions to create Sacramento History Online, a digital resource documenting agriculture and transportation in the Sacramento region from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. This website highlights not only photographs but also printed materials such as pamphlets, broadsides, tickets and posters.

A resource for public library customers

People who work in California’s public libraries may wish to refer customers looking for information on railroading in the west to the CSRM Library’s Online Catalogs Home Page.  The CSRM Library is located immediately to the west of the Railroad History Museum on the second floor of 111 “I” Street.  The reading room is open to the public without charge Tuesday through Saturday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Library customers may also be interested to know that the CSRM Library is part of State Parks’ Capitol District, a historic California destination which, in addition to the California State Railroad Museum includes the Governor’s Mansion, the Leland Stanford Mansion, and Sutter’s Fort, all of which are State Historic Parks.

For more information about the CSRM Library, please visit the "Library & Collections" section of the California State Railroad Museum website at (www.californiastaterailroadmuseum.org).
  

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