The Archival Center

The Archival Center Library

Archival Center Library

The collection that comprises the library of the Archival Center was begun in 1962 in order to allow scholars to “read around” the letters, documents and other historical materials forming the nucleus of the Church’s memory bank in Southern California.

What began as a modest accumulation of reference books has evolved into one of the most comprehensive and utilized libraries of Californiana and related topics. Initially housed in quarters at Queen of Angels Seminary, the library was moved several times – to Saint Catherine’s Military School in Anaheim, to San Buenaventura Mission in Ventura county and, finally, to our newly built archival facility in 1981.

While the greatest number of tomes in the collection were acquired from Dawson’s Book Shop in Los Angeles, probably every other major book dealer in the country has contributed one or more titles to what has become a truly significant reference collection. The pattern of holdings is anything but haphazard. From the very outset, the purpose has been to gather any and all titles related to the Catholic Church in California.

Over the years, several substantial gifts of books have been added to the collection, the most valuable of which are the 887 volumes from Carrie Estelle Doheny’s collection of Californiana which came in 1987. Other substantial donations include volumes from Peter T. Conmy, Robert Covey, Robert G. Cowan, Richard Curtiss, Msgr. Lawrence Donnelly, Marie Harrington, and Edward D. Lyman.

In 1993, Sister Mary Rose Cunningham, associate archivist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, began cataloguing the books. When unable to locate the appropriate Library of Congress number, she was assisted by the gracious staff of the Huntington Library in San Marino. The admittedly awkward system of shelving books by categories rather than by numbers avoids the practice of disfiguring the volumes with numbers affixed to the spines.

To date, there are over 12,000 books in the collection which continues to grow as new titles are published and old ones surface in catalogues. The Archival Center long ago embraced the notion expressed by Lawrence Clark Powell that:

“the collecting of books is… the summum bonum of the acquisitive desire, for the reason that books brought together by plan and purposely kept together are a social force to be reckoned with, as long as people have clear eyes and free minds.”

Among the categories of books in the library are those relating to Baja and Alta California, California Places and Persons,Western America and the Gold Rush, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Ranchos and Islands, Travel Accounts, Native Americans, Outstanding Biographies, History of the Church, Vatican Council II, American Catholica, California Catholica,
Mexican Ecclesial, Education, Religion in General, the Pious Fund, Fine Press Books, Sets and Series and the California Missions.

The books in this library do not circulate but must be consulted in the reference room of the Archival Center in Mission Hills.

Reflections on the library attached to the Archival Center can be found in a book published in 1998 under the title The Literary High Spots of Mission Hills, California.