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Free Historical Resources at the Santa Clara Library

Free Historical Resources at the Santa Clara Library Free Historical Resources at the Santa Clara Library

Almost anything can be found online. If you have a question, you can read about it on Wikipedia or if you really need a book you can order it on Amazon and get it within a couple of days. With all these resources at your fingertips it can be difficult to imagine what libraries are still useful for.

However, many important, historic resources can’t be found online because they aren’t digitized. Say you’re wondering what a Santa Clara newspaper advertised in the 1890s or say you’re wondering if you’re related to an early settler. You can find the tools to answer your question among the Central Park Library’s Heritage Pavilion’s numerous resources from genealogy records to newspaper microfilm.

Mary Boyle, the Central Park Library’s Local History/Genealogy Librarian, is often available to assist you with navigating the collection or answer questions. Boyle organized and cataloged a lot of the library’s historical resources and has vast knowledge of the collection.


There are a few ways to navigate the file cabinets that house genealogy files and other local files. The library has an old school card catalog cabinet where you can find alphabetized index cards that are organized by subject or person’s surname. The cards can tell you where to look for files about that particular subject or person.

This card catalog is the last in the library, said Boyle. It’s an older system and it might not be around forever.

“It is staying until we can find a better system and staff to convert it,” said Boyle.

On top of the file cabinets are the master lists of what is contained inside each row of file cabinets. Inside the cabinets you can find newspaper clippings, official documents, photos and maps about your point of interest.

Right outside the Heritage Pavilion, file cabinets contain census records and microfilmed newspapers. The library has microfilm of the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury, New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many Santa Clara newspapers.

Santa Clara’s had many newspapers throughout the years from the Santa Clara Journal to the Santa Clara Sun to the Santa Clara American and now the Santa Clara Weekly. The library has many of these papers in hard copies in the back rooms but also in easy to use microfilms.

Many Santa Clara newspapers haven’t digitized their older issues. According to Boyle, microfilming is how the library stores and preserves newspapers.

“The history of Library of Congress and California State Library having an interest in microfilming goes back to probably late 1970s and 1980s,” said Mary Hanel, a retired Librarian of the Central Park branch.

Hanel worked on the microfilming project from 1991 to her retirement in 2014 and before her Sylvia Taylor, the Local History Librarian at the time, worked on the 1984 microfilming project.

Digitization is on the agenda but, according to Boyle, there are legal boundaries on who owns the right to digitize the newspapers.

The microfilm reel looks like a miniature film reel you might have seen at the movies. To see the newspaper you have to load it onto a microfilm scanner that is connected to a computer monitor. There you can take digital pictures of the pages.

The oldest Santa Clara newspaper that the library has in microfilm is the Santa Clara Journal, “a semi weekly family newspaper” established in 1867. The issue is from Saturday, January 7, 1895 and states the newspaper cost just $3 for a year’s subscription.

Some of the newspapers were in better condition when they were microfilmed than others. The Santa Clara Journal’s was frayed on the edges with some spots on the pages. An issue from the Santa Clara American from January 4, 1980 was in almost pristine condition.

The card catalog can also help you navigate the Santa Clara newspapers’ microfilms. You can search by a person’s last name and the card will tell you which publication and on what date the person was mentioned.

If this sounds daunting to you, Boyle or the reference desk staff can help.

“People can come in and contact myself or the Reference desk staff,” said Boyle. “We also accept calls and emails.”

There are also some resources that have been digitized and are available on the library’s website. With your library card, you can search the available databases.

Beyond books on the shelves and many classes the library offers, your library card can go much further at the Central Park Library. Whether you’re a student with a research paper, a resident wondering about their genealogy, or local history buff, the Santa Clara Central Park Library has many historical resources that can help you.

If you have an inquiry, you can call 408-615-2900 or email Ask A Librarian at You can also contact Boyle directly at 408-615-2909 or


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