MAKE:TNT Tools 'n' Tips

The Prelinger Library

You might have heard of the Prelinger Film Archive (, a stupendous collection of industrial films from decades past. But you might not know that there’s also a Prelinger Library, a library every maker should know about. Even if you can’t go, the fact that it exists should inspire: it’s a collection of roughly 40,000 books, periodicals, maps, textbooks, government documents, and printed ephemera, ranging on subjects from engineering, cooking, and astronomy to landscape and environment. The subject list sounds like a what’s what of modern living: cultural, rural, and urban geography, travel and tourism, highways and car culture, natural history, city planning, media, and technology, just to start.

There is no Dewey decimal system here: instead, it is what Rick and Megan Prelinger call “access-oriented.” Shelves tower above browsers, titles glimmering faintly down the aisles, a taste of what’s to come. Everything is grouped together by subject: the shelves start out with books about San Francisco and wend their way through the things of this world until they end with outer space. The beauty of the organization system lies in its seeming randomness; in an age where internet searches and closed stacks are common, serendipity doesn’t get much of a foothold. And, best of all, in true maker style, the library is “appropriation-friendly,” where users are encouraged to scan, photograph, and copy away to their heart’s content.

appointments to visit can be made at the library's website