Best Library Collections


Illustration by Serge Bloch

It’s true—there is still plenty of printed matter that can’t be accessed on the Internet or uploaded to your Kindle. The libraries of Los Angeles are home to a vast collection of, well, special collections. We considered dozens that are open to the public: Some are scholarly and immense; others reflect a pack rat’s obsession. These seven archives proved particularly intriguing.

Main Dish
Want to know how Angelenos prepared a chicken dinner in 1881? Dig into the culinary collection at the Los Angeles Central Library, where stacks overflow with about 39,000 books on food and wine, from Scandinavian recipes to Jacques Pépin’s trusty tips to classics like Larousse Gastronomique. The crème de la crème, however, is in the rare books department, which is by appointment only and contains works from Italy published in the 1500s, Spanish-language titles dating from the 18th century, and California cookbooks such as 1872’s How to Keep a Husband, or Culinary Tactics (apparently tomato soup and ginger cookies help). Six thousand menus—mostly representing restaurants around the state, from the Brown Derby to Chez Panisse—provide another link to the past. » 630 W. 5th St., downtown, 213-228-7000

Paper Trail
Inside the hushed, elegant reading room—all wood and soft lighting—of the Department of Special Collections at UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library, visitors 18 and older can examine the manuscript collection, one of the largest in California. Among the gems are the papers of Susan Sontag, Carey McWilliams, Raymond Chandler, and Ezra Pound; in the D.H. Lawrence file we found the writer’s scribblings from 1926 for his short story “Two Blue Birds.” » Westwood, 310-825-4988

Medal Shop
To revisit Jesse Owens’s victory over the Nazis or Peggy Fleming’s golden spins across the ice, check out the Olympic Games collection at the LA84 Foundation Sports Library, which maintains official reports of events since 1896 and many bid documents from host-city hopefuls (turns out that Beijing presented its summer 2008 plans in a corrugated box). There are also about 100 oral histories by Southern California Olympians, including basketball great Jerry West, who won gold in 1960. » 2141 W. Adams Blvd., L.A., 323-730-4646

Shooting Gallery
Image is everything in Hollywood, which helps explain the more than 10 million photographs at the Roddy McDowall Photograph Archive. The collection, named for the late actor-photographer, is housed at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library (). Preserved in a 52-degree vault are original negatives, slides, transparencies, and prints—the latter ranging from film stills (Alfred Hitchcock with Tippi Hedren on the set of The Birds) to scenes from the Academy Awards (Joan Fontaine at the 1940 banquet). Visitors don cotton gloves to pore over photos of Mary Pickford and Cary Grant, among others. » 333 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-247-3020

Drawing Room
If seeing van Gogh’s brilliant Irises at the Getty Center is inspiring, head across the plaza to the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (1200 Getty Center Dr., Ste. 1100, Brentwood, 310-440-7390 or, which holds 800 titles on the Dutch artist and a world-renowned collection dedicated to the history of art and architecture. Public access is, for the most part, restricted to the sunny reading room on one floor, where reference books and periodicals fill the shelves (Ceramics Monthly, anyone?). » 1200 Getty Center Dr., Ste. 1100, Brentwood, 310-440-7390

Pioneer Town
In a former fraternity house just north of USC, the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives is named for the oldest-operating LGBT organization in the United States. The library’s periodicals collection reaches far beyond The Advocate (though each issue of that publication, founded in L.A. in 1967, is there, too). Among the 7,000 titles are the country’s first lesbian magazine, Vice Versa, published in the late 1940s; the Japanese magazine Barazoku, from the early ’70s; and a complete run of the 1950s and ’60s ONE magazine. » 909 W. Adams Blvd., L.A., 213-741-0094

Hello Kitty
Canine and avian enthusiasts might never browse the cat collection at the Glendale Central Library, but they’d be missing out. Comprising several hundred books, drawers stuffed with ephemera (cards, clippings), photos, and odds and ends (show trophies, figurines), this is devotion—and whimsy—writ large. A local cat club donated much of the material in the 1960s. Worth telling Fluffy about: a 1957 Puss in Boots pop-up. » 222 E. Harvard St., Glendale, 818-548-2030