by Christi Weindorf

Located in San Francisco’s Civic Center district, the Museum of Performance & Design Performing Arts Library (MPD PAL) collects, preserves and provides access to materials about the performing arts and theatrical design.  The non-circulating research collection was started in 1947 by Russell Hartley, a performer and costume designer for San Francisco Ballet.  Today the library houses approximately three and a half million items in its Archives, Reference Collection, Special Collections and Theatrical Design Collection.  These materials document the performing arts in California and around the world with a special focus on the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Cover of California Theatre program, March 13, 1900” from the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Images and Memorabilia collection

The library serves many types of artists and researchers including performers, choreographers, directors, architects, novelists, curators, dance reviewers, music lovers, opera buffs, filmmakers, teachers, professors, students, genealogists and costume, set and fashion designers.  Though some patrons who visit the library are residents of the San Francisco Bay Area, many come from across the United States and beyond to access the library’s unique holdings.

The library often provides materials from its collection for exhibits in the MPD galleries.  One current exhibit, These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Movie Music Selections from the Bob Johnson Sheet Music Collection, showcases selected items from the 60,000 pieces of sheet music in the library’s reference collection.  Photographs from the library collection are presented in Stars of the Early San Francisco Stage which features performers from the 1840s to the early 1900s.  Another MPD exhibit, Toy Theatres: Worlds in Miniature, provides a bibliography of materials available in the library’s Theatrical Design Collection for patrons who want to continue learning about tiny stage designs.

Several digitized collections from MPD PAL are accessible online.  The San Francisco Bay Area Theater Images and Memorabilia collection holds almost 200 digitized images of theater buildings, performance programs, tickets, seating charts and more from the 1850s to the 1970s.

The escape of President Sun Yat-sen and his wife Soong Ching Ling from warlord troops in Canton, 1922, staged at the Great China Theatre / May’s Photo” from the Chinese Theater in California collection

The Chinese Theater in California collection brings together a selection of over 400 digitized photographs showing performers and productions staged at the Great China Theatre, the Great Star Theatre and other venues between the 1880s to the 2000s drawn from the library’s Wylie Wong Collection, Lois Rather Papers, Jack Chen Papers, and the Chinese Theater Collection.  Selected audio recordings and transcripts from the Legacy Oral History Collection are also available online through the MPD website.

The Museum of Performance and Design welcomes visitors on Wednesdays from 1pm-5pm and on the last Saturday of the month from 1pm-5pm.  Library appointments for other times may be scheduled by contacting 415-255-4800 extension *814 or  The exhibits mentioned above are open in the hallway galleries on Mondays-Saturdays from 10am-5pm.

Performing arts libraries are few and far between.  This is part of what makes the Museum of Performance & Design Performing Arts Library (MPD PAL) such a treasure, both locally and internationally.  As libraries go, it is a rare find, and its collection is a true gem.

Christi Weindorf is excited to complete the MLIS program at San José State University in August 2012 and launch into the wider world of libraries and archives. Over the last two years she has worked and interned with the Museum of Performance and Design, Dance Heritage Coalition, King Library at San José State University and Stanford University Libraries. Before pursuing an MLIS, Christi worked in arts education and earned an MA from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

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