The Farallon Library
By Point Blue at Los Farallones | May 31, 2017
If you like to read and you’re fortunate enough to stay on the island, this is my advice: don’t bring a book. I’m not necessarily encouraging you to spend your time on activities other than reading. Rather, I say this to encourage you to explore the Farallon Library.
The library is distributed between both the lower and upper floors of the house.
Throughout the library, the books are decorated with annotations, dedications, and memos. Many are thoroughly leafed through with splintered spines, evidence of the many times they have been opened. Also evidence of the very toxic conditions that books weather in this harsh, salty environment.
Though they are degraded, and though many of them would be impossible to reproduce if they were ever lost, there are still many important reasons for keeping them here, available to the residents, to use for work or for pleasure.
On the lower level, against the exterior wall, the shelves contain many unique documents which are highly relevant to the history and science of the Farallon Islands. The daily journals, I am guessing, are frequently reached for first. These journals, written in the words of the biologists stationed here, chronicle the events of every day on the island beginning April 3rd, 1968.
Three-ring binders are used abundantly in this portion of the library to organize and group documents. Some of these binders are have a rather mundane purpose, consolidating instruction manuals and warranties, but others are curated collections of articles, excerpts, photographs, and letters. The one labeled “Farallones History and Media Coverage” is especially intriguing. I also found an unmarked binder full of beautiful film photographs from the earliest days of bird banding on Southeast Farallon Island. Academic dissertations and hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, all written using data collected on the island, are also available.
Outside the realm of scholarly resources, there is also a photo album colorfully portraying the people who have lived and worked on the island over the decades. It is humbling to see these photos, to realize that I share my appreciation for this island with many others–those who undertook, at times with relish and at times with difficulty, the duties that are presently mine.
On the lower level of the house, you’ll also find shelves dedicated to field guides. There are generalized guides as well as a great variety of those written for particular taxa and geographic regions. Though many are focused on birds, those seeking to identify seaweed, insects, and all other types of organisms will find help among these shelves.
Out of view of those lounging in the living room, many more books are kept upstairs. Portions of these shelves are devoted to scientific periodicals and also to a collection of novels. For those of you who would prefer to read to escape the island environment, not learn more about it, there many imaginative works to choose from, brought here in good taste by the astute interns of the past.
Though I have delineated some sections within this library, the bulk of the collection is difficult to parse, particularly because the books are not well organized. Most books, aside from some found on the lower level, are not about the island specifically, but are relevant to it through focusing on avian fauna, marine ecology, oceanography, maritime history. Altogether, the books span epochs, though most of what has caught my eye is relatively archaic–if any era is underrepresented I would say it is the present. Those that most capture my interest are both scientifically and creatively inspired. Here are a few examples:
The Birds of California, by W.L. Dawson. 1923. For every species occurring in California, the author has summarized detailed information about its physiology and life history, also using creative license in composing prose passages about its behavior.
Neighborhood Sharks, by Katherine Roy. 2014. This book targets a younger audience, which sets it apart from much of the literature that uses the island as its subject matter. I especially like the book’s diagrams, where the scientific content melds nicely with the author’s visual style.
Between Pacific Tides, by Ed Ricketts and Jack Calvin. 1939. I recognized the title of this thoroughly battered edition among the other field guides. Written in a narrative style, the book describes intertidal species based on ecological rather than taxonomic groupings, which was forward-thinking at the time it was published. There are also many valuable nuggets of information about how to find these creatures. Ed Ricketts, whose marine biological supply company was based at Cannery Row in Monterey, California, was also known for his influence on writer John Steinbeck.
The Farallones, The Painted World, and Other Poems of California, by Milton Ray. 1934. The copy in the Farallon Library was withdrawn from the Oakland Library with a nameplate identifying it as a gift of Ms. Milton Ray. The first volume has poems portraying the Farallon Islands as they existed in 19th century, an ocean wilderness where few people held on to an extraordinary lifestyle, and the second volume, photographic plates captured during the same period. By the time the book was published, a new era of history had taken hold on the island, dissipating the source of the author’s inspiration.
With these selections, I hope I have stimulated your interest in the Farallon Library and encouraged you to leave your books at home if ever you have the privilege of staying on this island. Even if you don’t find anything that appeals to you, you’ll still find the materials for making a lamp stand.
Point Blue Farallon Intern