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History and Collections | Departments

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History and Collections

The American Museum of Natural History is a nonprofit research institution chartered as a Museum and Library by the State of New York in 1869. Since that time the Library has grown into the largest natural history library in the Western Hemisphere. The Library's primary function is to serve and support the work of the Museum's scientific staff. The Library also serves scholars in natural history from around the world, as well as interested members of the general public. The Library's holdings are comprised of a research collection, special collections, and digital collections.

Research Collection
The research collection is made up of more than 450,000 volumes, as well electronic resources and microform materials. Subject areas include anthropology, astronomy, geology, paleontology, zoology and, to some extent, exploration and travel, history of science, and museology. This collection provides a continuous record of the natural world dating back to the beginnings of Western science in the 15th century, and is particularly strong in the historical materials important to research in systematics.

In its early years, the Library expanded its book and serial collections mostly through such gifts as the John C. Jay conchological library, the Carson Brevoort library on fishes and general zoology, the ornithological library of Daniel Giraud Elliot, the Harry Edwards entomological library, the Hugh Jewett collection of voyages and travel, and the Jules Marcou geology collection. In 1903 the American Ethnological Society deposited its library in the Museum and in 1905 the New York Academy of Sciences followed suit by transferring its collection of 10,000 volumes.

In 1997 the Library incorporated the Richard S. Perkin Collection in Astronomy and Astrophysics of the former Hayden Planetarium. This collection consists of over 8,000 volumes, 55 journal titles, over 10,000 photographs, and archives dating back to 1934, one year before the opening of the original Hayden Planetarium.

Special Collections
The Library's special collections consist of archival material relating to the history of the Museum, its scientists and staff, scientific expeditions and research, Museum exhibitions, education, and general administrative history. These archives also include personal papers and manuscript collections of individuals closely associated with the Museum and/or the history of natural science. In addition to textual material, are a large Photograph Collection, including several hundred lantern slides; the Film Collection, including viewing copies of some entries in the Margaret Mead Film Festival; and the Art and Memorabilia Collection, including paintings by Charles Knight, sculpture by Carl Akeley and the sweater worn by Roy Chapman Andrews on the Third Asiatic Expedition.

Visit the Special Collections Department for more information about these collections and how to access them.

Digital Collections
An initiative to create digital collections was launched in 1999. The goal is to create an integrated database of natural history resources that can be used by researchers around the world. The pilot project of the Digital Library is focused on on the 1909-1915 AMNH Congo Expedition. This has provided the Library with the opportunity to create a prototype digital library that links published data to archival materials and specimens in scientific departments. The Digital Library Department provides additional information about current digitization projects. Funding for the Digital Library initiative is made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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The Library is organized into the following departments:

Reference and Circulation
Reference and Circulation staff can assist with research inquiries and show patrons how to use Library databases and reference materials. This department also manages the circulation of Library materials to Museum staff. To contact staff in this department, email

Inter-Library Loan
The Inter-Library Loan Department handles arrangements with other libraries for borrowing materials for the Museum's scientific staff and lending materials to other libraries. To find out more about inter-library loan policies and services, visit the Interlibrary Loan site or email

The Acquisitions Department coordinates the selection of Library materials in various formats (printed books and journals, CD-ROMs, e-journals, and databases, microforms, etc.) as well as ordering, receiving, and processing these items, including gift and exchange publications. To contact staff in this department, email

The Cataloging Department is responsible for cataloging all books and journals added to the Library's collections and for maintaining and enhancing the Library's online catalog, which features many tables of contents (searchable by keyword) as well as links to electronic journals. Current projects include completing the reclassification of the "old" pre-1970 collection and adding those records to the online catalog. The catalogers also provide assistance with the development of metadata standards for the Digital Library. To contact staff in this department, email

The Library has a fully equipped Conservation Laboratory where the latest preservation technology is used to protect the Library's unique collections. Additional information about this department and the conservation of print materials is available on the Conservation Department's site.

Special Collections
The Library's special collections include photographs, films, art and memorabilia, and the Museum archives. For more information about these materials and how to access them, visit the Special Collections site. To contact staff in this department, email

Digital Library
The Digital Library is developing electronic resources that will be accessible to natural history researchers from around the world. More information about the Library's digital initiatives and staff in this department is available from the Digital Library site. To contact staff in this department, email

Museum Publications
The Library handles subscriptions, back issue sales, institutional exchanges, and copyright permissions for American Museum Novitates, Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, and Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History. For more details and contact information, visit the Museum Publications site.

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American Museum of Natural HistoryResearch Library