Tessa provides instant access to rare and historical collections from Los Angeles Public Library. These collections include items that reflect our local history, as well as other rare, unique, and valuable items held by the library. Featuring hundreds of thousands of items comprising more than twenty collections, this site reflects the library’s goal to digitize and make available the special collections that explore the city’s history and promote cultural understanding.
Many items from the collection--as well as other items not yet digitized--are available for anyone to view in person at our Central Library. To learn more, visit the rare books department.
TESSA is named after Tessa Kelso (1863-1933), sixth City Librarian of Los Angeles. Tessa was a true maverick with moxie. During the brief six years of her tenure, she transformed LAPL from a small reading room into a truly modern metropolitan library. In her first year, she oversaw the tremendous move to City Hall, and by the end of her tenure, the library’s collection had grown sevenfold and circulation soared from 12,000 to 330,000. She abolished membership fees and agitated for open stacks at a time when both of these now-common ideas were radical. She also established the first systematic training of any type for library employees.
Historian John D. Bruckman, Collection Development Manager from 1968-1979 and founder of the Rare Books Room, described Kelso as “tough, practical, and dedicated, possessor of a large and liberal vision coupled with a healthy contempt for fussy detail, this thoroughly unconventional woman well supplied the energetic leadership which the moment required.” Tessa was, like many true visionaries, a polarizing figure. She was an early and vocal advocate of women’s rights and refused to hew to the time’s traditional gender roles. She blazed her own trail and LAPL is the richer for it. Tessa Kelso was inducted into the California Library Hall of Fame in 2017, an honor and recognition long overdue.
As public stewards of the most wonderful collections, we dedicate our Digital Collections site in honor of her memory and free spirit. We hope that visitors discover, enjoy and experience the special collections of LAPL with the realization that by making our collections free and accessible to all, we are continuing Tessa’s incredible gift and legacy to the citizens of Los Angeles.
Images contained in the Los Angeles Public Library’s digital collections have a variety of copyright and ownership statuses, and it is the responsibility of this site’s users to verify these statuses and comply with copyright law in any use of the images contained on this site. When available, rights and ownership information is included in each item’s description. If you have questions about the copyright status of an item or about reproducing an image on this site, please contact us below.
For information about ordering and use of Photo Collection images, visit this page.