Thursday, April 24, 2008

Newspaper Clipping File - Subject Index

For more than forty years Art, Music and Recreation Center staff has been clipping articles from San Francisco’s newspapers and organizing the articles by subject. The result is something that we librarians call a "vertical file" defined in the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary as "a collection of pamphlets, pictures, clippings, or other materials stored upright, as in a filing cabinet, or cabinets." We have just added the index to this file to the Library's web page under the category SFPL-Created Research Tools.

Vertical files were especially important to librarians in the days before computers and the internet. Our files initially served a dual function of assembling current information and information that might be difficult to find again, as well as documenting the arts and recreation of the Bay Area. Over the years the second function has come to dominate our use of the file. Until January 2003 scope of the file was the entire Bay Area. Since that time we have limited our coverage to activities and institutions within the San Francisco city limits.

There are files for broad subjects as well as for individual organizations. While some of the newer information saved in the file is today readily accessible through the web and databases, organizing the information chronologically and by subject provides access to the information in a long range and in-depth manner.


We have folders dedicated to specific artistic organizations, as well as those that more broadly cover an art form. This is where the Subject Index to the Newspaper Clipping File is important. Within the index there are many more headings than folders - we only have files for the entries in bold type. The remaining information is an elaborate system of cross references to ease the retrieval of information from the file. There are two ways we do this - using a "See Reference" and a "See Also Reference." A "See Reference" points from a heading without a file to the proper heading which has a file. A "See Also Reference" points from a heading which has a file to other related headings.

Along with the See and See Also References there are also many “x” and “xx” notations throughout the index. These are known in the library world as tracings, and refer back to the See and See Also references. The “x” means that the following term has a See Reference referring to it elsewhere in the Index. The “xx” means that the following term has a related See Also Reference elsewhere in the Index. These notations are for the benefit of the librarians using and updating the file.


The backbone of the index are newspaper clippings. We have systematically clipped and filed articles from the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner for around 40 years. We have always frequently clipped articles from San Francisco’s weekly, monthly and neighborhood newspapers like the San Francisco Bay Guardian, The San Francisco Weekly, The San Francisco Independent, The Nob Hill Gazette, etc... The files can also include fliers, press releases and other ephemera.

A look at the See Also references from broader topics can show the range of coverage of related institutions. For instance, with the heading Museums and Art Galleries one can see a list of more than fifty institutions for which we have created for folders, ranging from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to the Cartoon Art Museum, from the Musee Mecanique to the Museo Italo Americano. A broader heading Football also refers to the San Francisco 49ers, to Extreme Football, as well as College Football (filed under Football, College) and High School Football (filed under Football, High School).

Please remember that this is only an index – none of the file contents are available in an online form. We cannot read, mail, scan, fax or photocopy any file items. We can give an idea of the size and range of the file by phone or email.

As these files are unique, irreplaceable, and sometimes fragile we must hold acceptable identification while they are used. The files must be used under the supervision of Art, Music & Recreation Center reference desk staff.

Also, please remember to consult our two other vertical files – The Musicians and Performing Artists File and the Visual Artists File.

1 comment:

rpolsky said...

I'm the sole librarian at a small-town newspaper that's over 200 years old. I'm currently faced with the daunting task to giving some sort of structure to our clip files. Thanks for this article; I've been searching for advice!