With $4 million in gifts, The Bancroft Library launches a new program in Western Americana

Entrance to The Bancroft Library
The Bancroft Library plays a leading role in the development of UC Berkeley’s research collections. (Photo by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library)

The University Library at UC Berkeley today announces the launch of a new program in Western Americana, made possible by two generous gifts that comprise $4 million of the Library’s $8 million Bancroft & the West initiative.

Materials on Western Americana, which make up The Bancroft Library’s most heavily used collection, include a wealth of treasures that, together, help tell the story of the West, from a broad range of perspectives and sources. This initiative aims to connect these resources with the diverse communities the collection represents.

“I want to express our sincere gratitude to the donors whose generous leadership gifts secure long-term support for a collection of materials that are vital to research on this campus,” Chancellor Carol T. Christ said. “The Library’s collections continue to foster new ideas, helping to sustain the vibrant mix that makes Berkeley’s research environment one-of-a-kind, and this program offers a financial foundation that will provide scholars with ever-greater access and inspiration far into the future.”

The Bancroft Library’s Western Americana collection is an unmatched resource for the exploration of the social, political, economic, environmental, and cultural development of the West — the vast expanse that stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, and from Alaska to Panama. The collection documents the many communities that make up the fabric of the West through an impressive array of materials that range from 19th-century interviews by Hubert Howe Bancroft to dramatic accounts of the 1906 earthquake to documentation of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Since its founding, The Bancroft Library has preserved the important material record of the region and has inspired scholarly exploration of its history, often through the lens of the people who live, work, and create here.

“It is our privilege to preserve and share the important record of the many people who have made the West, the West,” said Elaine Tennant, director of The Bancroft Library. “Through these rich primary and secondary sources, both historical and modern, we can better understand and learn from the history of this remarkable region — whether in the reading room, in the classroom, or online.”

Three million dollars secures an endowment for the Western Americana curatorship at The Bancroft Library, which will provide scholars with permanent leadership in this area. Two million dollars from an anonymous donor and $1 million from Mr. and Mrs. Paul Bancroft III fund the curatorial endowment. This position helps bring the dynamic collection to life through the acquisition and investigation of materials, and engagement with researchers on the Berkeley campus and beyond.

“We are honored to provide scholars with increasing opportunities for inquiry into this collection, preserved at one of the premier research institutions in the world,” Paul “Pete” Bancroft said. “Bancroft’s commitment to the history of Western America will have a lasting impact on students at Berkeley, and we hope our pledge inspires others to support the program.”

An additional $1 million from the same anonymous donor launches an endowment for the Western Americana program at The Bancroft Library to sustain and grow this vital resource.

“The Bancroft collections represent everyone who helped build the West so that all communities are represented, from the early Californios to the Chinese railroad builders to the 1950s Beat writers,” said Camilla Smith, a member of the Council of Friends of The Bancroft Library and co-chair, with David Lei, of the Bancroft & the West campaign. “Funding this program makes these treasures available to all communities, providing greater access to the deep histories of the West.”

The Library aims to enhance the visibility and usability of the Bancroft collection by students, faculty, and the public, and to document more fully the communities — including Native Americans, Californios, descendants of the 49ers, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos — and movements — political, social, environmental, and religious — that shape the West.

“It is up to us,” said Brad Barber, chair of the Friends, “to remind people that the record of the past is indispensable if we are to understand where we are — and where we need to go.”

Others interested in joining the Bancroft & the West initiative can contact the Library Development Office at 510-642-9377 or give@library.berkeley.edu. For more information about the Western Americana collection and program, visit the web page for the initiative.

Media inquiries can be sent to librarycommunications@berkeley.edu.

About The Bancroft Library

The Bancroft Library is the primary special collections library at the University of California, Berkeley. One of the largest and most heavily used libraries of manuscripts, rare books, and unique materials in the United States, Bancroft supports major research and instructional activities and plays a leading role in the development of the university’s research collections.

About the University Library

The University Library comprises 25 libraries, including The Bancroft Library, The C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Doe and Moffitt libraries, and many subject specialty libraries. With a collections budget of over $15 million, the Library offers materials in all formats and provides robust services that connect users with these vast resources to inform their research and advance their understanding of the world.