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Environmental Design Library @ UC Berkeley

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Finding Local Information

Finding Local Information is a bibliographic research guide to finding U.S. community-specific information in the UC Berkeley libraries, the community, and on the Web, in the context of the built environment and with an emphasis on the San Francisco Bay Area and California. For international community research, please the guide International Planning. While of general research interest, this guide is designed to support various UC Berkeley courses, especially City Planning 110: Introduction to City Planning. For further assistance, please consult the Environmental Design Library reference staff, 210 Wurster Hall.

UC Berkeley faculty, registered students, and staff who are off campus may use items marked UCB Only or UC Only by using The Library's off-campus access services.

Content reviewed: June 2010. Compiled by Deborah Sommer.

Interpreting the Built Environment

See also Finding Information on Buildings & Places for stimulating questions to ask about places, and tools to find answers.




Researching Local History

See also the Neighborhoods section of this guide.


Finding Books & Related Materials

Using Library Catalogs -

Start with Melvyl for the most comprehensive coverage of UC Berkeley library holdings. For additional tips, see the Guide to Library Catalogs.

Here are selected subject terms for searching the library catalogs. Remember that you can combine subjects or subjects and keywords.

[place name]--City planning
[place name]--Economic conditions
[place name]--Guidebooks
[place name]--History
[place name]--Pictorial works
City planning--[place name]
Community development, Urban--[place name]
County planning--[place name]
Infrastructure (Economics)--[place name]
Neighborhood--[place name]
Regional planning--[place name]
Urban policy

Here are examples of ways to search for specific areas or neighborhoods within a city:

Aquatic Park (Berkeley, Calif.)
Chinatown (San Francisco, Calif.)
Embarcadero (San Francisco, Calif.)
Haight-Ashbury (San Francisco, Calif.)
Hunters' Point Naval Shipyard
Mission Bay (San Francisco, Calif.)
San Antonio District (Oakland, Calif.)
South Berkeley (Berkeley, Calif.)
Telegraph Avenue (Oakland, Calif.)
Treasure Island (Calif.)



The following titles are bibliographic research guides to UC Berkeley collections and Web resources. Consider them shortcuts to material on your topic.


Finding Journal Articles

Finding local, neighborhood-level information published in journals can be challenging. Here are three titles worth browsing for California and San Francisco Bay Area community information. They are not commercially indexed.


Article Indexes

The selected article indexes listed here may be helpful; in addition, the following guides to journal indexes and abstracts may be useful: Architecture, City Planning, Environmental Planning, and Landscape Architecture. To boost your article retrieval skills take a drop-in class at Moffitt Library. For UCB Only or UC Only indexes and databases, go to The Library's home page→ Find Information→ Articles.



Community Web sites are good sources of directories of contact people. Local telephone books and reverse directories can be helpful, too.

Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs)

General Plans

General plans are an excellent source of local planning information. General plans have many synonyms, among them comprehensive plan, development plan, land-use plan, master plan, and urban plan. Simply stated, a general plan is "the official statement of a municipal legislative body which sets forth its major policies concerning desirable future physical development..." (Kent, The Urban general plan, 1964).



Using Images for Research
Image Sources

For a more comprehensive list of images of the built or designed environment, see Image sources for the Built Environment.


Image Sources: HABS/HAER

Historic American Building Survey (HABS)/Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) , U.S. National Park Service. The HABS/HAER collections contain more than 363,000 measured drawings, large-format photographs, and written histories for more than 37,000 historic structures and sites dating from the 17th to the 20th century. See also California HABS.

Indexes to the HABS/HAER collection


Maps & Aerial Photos



In addition to local histories and guidebooks (use the catalogs to locate them), formal neighborhood profiles offer a quick overview of an area's demographics, etc.



Sometimes the only record of a hot community issue is in the local media. In addition to the indexes listed here, some newspapers are available full text on the World Wide Web; information regarding archives of older issues is sometimes available at these sites. For a list of links to online full-text local and international newspapers, see The Library's home pageFind InformationArticlesNews Article Databases.


Newspaper Indexes/Databases


Regulatory Codes


Statistics & Data

Here's a small selection of statistical resources. For a more comprehensive list, including some full text, see Statistics & data for city planning: United States; American focus with a California emphasis.


Historical societies


Municipal Libraries & Archives


UC Berkeley Campus Libraries

Consult the list of Libraries & Collections for additional resources.