Researching Oakland outside of the Oakland History Center

The Main Library under construction, likely in 1950. Courtesy Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Center.

While the Main Library is closed for repairs this year, no one (including staff) will have access to the many unique resources housed in the Oakland History Center. We know your research won't stop just because we're closed, so here are a few suggestions for some of our favorite online (and in-person) resources for researching local history questions outside of the Oakland History Center. 

No matter what you're researching, it's usually a good idea to search in historic newspapers. There are many ways to search online, collected here our website. Looking for articles that we only have on microfilm? Try the newspaper collections at UC Berkeley and San Francisco Public Library - both have extensive collections that have some overlap with what's available at the Main Library. 

Oakland City Directories are another multi-purpose resource. A list of links to Oakland City Directories, and a few Reverse Directories, can be found here. City directories often have a narrative section at the beginning giving general information about the city, which is a great way to get an idea of what Oakland was like during that time period. The directories are also a great resource for finding information about people, as listings often include names of spouses and employment information in addition to names and addresses. There's also a classified section in case you want to know how many glove manufacturers, hairdressers, or macaroni factories were operating in the city in a given year. You can search the full text of the online city directories for addresses, too, which makes them a helpful resource for researching the history of buildings.   

Want a book that's only available in OHC? Our Oakland History Center On the Go! ebook and audiobook collection, which focuses mostly on newer titles, will remain available through Overdrive / Libby. The Internet Archive, which has digitized copies of some titles in our collection. You can also try searching on LINK+ in case another library system has a copy they'll lend out, or a reference copy that's close enough for you to travel to. 

For genealogy research beyond newspapers and directories, you can access the Ancestry and HeritageQuest databases through the library's subscriptions at the links listed here. You can also seek in-person assistance at the Oakland FamilySearch Center, the California Genealogical Society Library, or the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California (AAGSNC) .

Researching a building? The Alameda County Assessor's Office can provide some information about buildings and property ownership via email or an in-person visit. Building permits for Oakland can be found online by searching the microfiche at the Planning Department's website. You can also email Betty Marvin at the Planning Department with more questions - she has access to the files of the Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey and some other documents that aren't available online.

Some Oakland Sanborn Maps are available here on the Library of Congress website. The David Rumsey Collection has made many other maps for Oakland and beyond available to view online. One particular highlight is Thompson & West's 1878 Historical Atlas of Alameda County from 1878. Old Maps Online is another way to browse maps that allows you to layer historic maps over a modern map - you'll see different historic map options as you zoom in and out or change the time period. 

If you're looking for photographs, try Calisphere. It's home to the Oakland History Center's digitized collections, as well as collections from libraries, archives, and museums throughout the state. Many images are available to download. We have photographs, posters, manuscripts, and more in our collection, and we'll be adding newly digitized materials throughout our closure.

California Revealed is a great place to find audiovisual materials. The Oakland History Center's digitized AV collection is available here, or on Calisphere.  The Bay Area Television Archive is another great source of documentary video footage. 

Looking for City of Oakland documents? Try Legistar, where you can find legislation, meeting minutes, and agendas for City Council and various commissions going back to the year 2000. 

If you're wondering where to find archival collections about a certain topic, try searching Online Archive of California and ArchiveGrid. These sites have finding aids for collections at many libraries and archives. Some collections will have links to items that are available to view online. 

You're also welcome to email Oakland History Center staff at Although we don't have access to our physical collection, we may be able to direct you to another place to search, either online or in person. We can also help you search if you're having trouble using any of the online resources listed above.