To preserve and protect

Photo By Mike Iredale

In a nondescript state building downtown, bandits and shipwrecked survivors hang out among the policy wonks. They, or rather their records and court testimonies, are part of California’s official library, located at 900 N Street. In addition to preserving historical records, the state library also ensures California’s Legislature and government have access to nonpartisan research, and advises public-library systems across the state. In an age of information overload and budget cuts, State Librarian Stacey Aldrich oversees it all.

How do you describe your job at a cocktail party?

The simple and probably perhaps a bit flippant [answer] is “Queen of California Libraries.” My job is to ensure the preservation and access to our California information and memories, and to help build the future of California through its libraries.

What would Californians be surprised to know about the State Library?

That California has a state library is a surprise to people. It’s like a Library of Congress for California. We have the Braille and Talking Book Library, California history, government publications, law, California Research Bureau, and Library Development Services. We are the state’s information hub. Folks can learn more about us at

What are some of the unusual items in the State Library?

We have so many wonderful pieces of California’s history and culture. Just to name a few … Tiburcio Vasquez is a famous California bandit from the mid- to late-1800s, [and] the State Library has contents from his jail cell before he was hanged for his crimes in 1875. It includes pieces of the rope that he was hung with, locks of hair and letters. We also have the diary of Capt. Josiah Mitchell, who survived with his crew for 43 days in a 15-foot-long lifeboat after their clipper, the Hornet, was shipwrecked. When they landed in Hawaii, he met a young reporter and gave him the diary to write a story about their ordeal. That writer was Samuel Clemens.

How did you get interested in libraries?

The feel and smell of knowledge. Walking into a library is like walking into a curiosity-satisfying machine. Whatever you want to learn or know about is right there. Libraries represent a commitment we have to each other and our society; that everyone should have access to the resources they need to be successful and to be an engaged in the community.

What books are on your nightstand?

I am completely engrossed in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I also am reading Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to Get Stuff Out of Your Head, Find It When You Need It, and Get It Done Right by Douglas Merrill. And the [Annual Report of the Education Department] from the University of the State of New York, circa 1899. While it sounds dull, it’s fascinating to read the introduction by Melvil Dewey. I also have waiting for me to crack open Decoded by Jay-Z.

E-books or print?

I am reading both. Some books you just want to savor in print, and others are just fine reading on an e-reader. I do like being able to travel with an e-reader. Then I can bring lots of books without the weight.

How do you envision the future of libraries?

[Annual Report of the Education Department] has an introduction from Melvil Dewey of Dewey-decimal fame. When you read it, it becomes clear that the more things change, the more they stay the same—but different. Libraries are and will continue to be about collecting, preserving and connecting. What is collected, preserved and connected to changes over time.

There is one more thing that libraries are doing, which is creating. They are creating content, and they are also enabling their communities to create content. Jamie LaRue, Director of the Douglas County Libraries in Colorado, has said, “Libraries used to bring the world to their communities. Today libraries help bring the community to the world.” The future library will look and feel different. [It will] offer the community virtual space to learn and navigate an ever changing landscape of technology and information, and create meaningful community content and stories.

William Gibson once wrote, “The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.” Here in Sacramento, there is a great example of the community content creation with the new I Street Press project, which will enable Sacramento residents to write and publish at the public library—and even create a print copy on the new Espresso printing machine.