My Pilgrimage to the Prelinger Library


I’ve been back from San Francisco for a couple of days, and I want to go straight back as soon as I can. I finally got a chance to see the Prelinger Library, about a year after I had learned of its existence while at the institute. What can I can say? The library is pretty impressive.

In a somewhat nondescript office building in downtown San Francisco, Rick and Megan Shaw Prelinger have made their 40,000+ book collection open to the public. Megan has taken intricate care to create a unique taxonomy of the collection. I love the idea of describing a narrative for a collection of discrete units of knowledge of the physical book. Here, the narrative is one step abstracted from the normal way people construct them, which is based upon of the ideas in book as the unit, rather than the book itself. Starting with San Francisco, the collection’s organization ends in outer space, with land use, urbanism, suburbanism, communications, media and business in between.

I started taking pictures of shelves so I could document what might be interesting for future research. I was surprised to find a business section, with some great titles such as “The Organization Man” and “The Firestone Story.” Current business books are rather disposable forms of publishing, so it was great to see business books from the past. It’s not important that every page may or may not have been read by the Prelingers or a visitor to the Library. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes in his insightful and current business book bestseller “Black Swan,” the importance of a personal library is just as much knowing what is unread as is what has been read.

If you are in San Francisco and have some down time, definitely try to make a visit.

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