The Prelinger library

By Chris Tarr

An unusual field trip offered in this year’s Birdathon is a visit to the Prelinger Library. Do not miss the chance to see this amazing local hidden gem!

I first learned about the Prelinger Library when I was in the Master Birder program with Megan Prelinger. I’m a retired librarian myself, and the first thing I marveled at was the organization of the material. The library does not follow Dewey Decimal or the Library of Congress classification system, but instead is organized in a way that suited the needs of its first users, Megan and Rick. It uses a “landscape-based, geospatial arrangement system”  starting in San Francisco and ending in outer space. It moves from landscape and nature through artiface (art, media, and culture), abstraction  (society and philosophy) to space exploration.” Here is an overview of the arrangement, or read Megan’s explanation of the arrangement here.  If you have a home library, it’s like what would happen if you had the time and space to arrange all of your materials in the way that made the most sense to you. In browsing a library collection, it’s often the materials next to the thing you are looking for that prove to be the most interesting. The arrangement itself, of course, is as revelatory as anything written with the materials contained. 

The second amazing thing about the collection is the materials. In an SF Chronicle article written in 2015, Rick says, “We were not so interested in ordinary books that you would see at a public library. We were interested in books that were evidence in a lot of ways, books that had illustrations, books that had underrepresented or suppressed narratives in them.” “Books,” Megan says, “that expressed moments in history rather than told stories about moments in history.” Included in the library are materials they’ve used for research projects of their own,  deaccessioned library materials found on cross country collecting trips including a complete run of the Auk, a collection of New York State forestry documents which include lithographs of every lake in the Adirondacks, all kinds of ephemera. If the idea of the arrangement is serendipity, it’s the depth and uniqueness of the collection that makes that possible. Check out this Stack Explorer to see a few examples of what’s on the shelves. 

The library was started in 2004, when Rick and Megan pooled their books and records and realized that renting a space for a library would be cheaper than renting storage space. It has grown and deepened over the past 20 years. The public is welcomed, usually once a week, and materials may be scanned or copied, but not checked out. Or join the Birdathon field trip on Saturday, April 27 (register here: for a special guided tour from Megan and Rick Prelinger themselves.

More info here: