The Library of the American Museum of Natural History was established in 1869 with the founding of the Museum. It has since become one of the world's great natural history collections, with topics spanning the full range of all the natural sciences except botany. It also includes the astronomy collection, transferred from the Hayden Planetarium in 1997.

Field notebook from Congo expedition
Field notebook from Congo expedition

In recognition of the depth and quality of the Library's collections, other libraries in the metropolitan New York area-such as the New York Public Library and the Columbia and New York University libraries-have typically not collected heavily in the field of natural history. Local students, faculty, researchers, and the general public rely on the resources of the AMNH collection, as do scholars at the national and international levels. Consolidation of the Library's holdings in one central collection provides significant advantages for users as well as insuring greater efficiency in collections management.

The Library's collection is rich in retrospective materials, some going back to the 15th century. It includes many materials that are difficult to find elsewhere and, as a result, forms the finest single collection for zoological systematics in the Western Hemisphere.

Chapin watercolor from Congo expedition
Chapin watercolor from Congo expedition

The Library's holdings includes over 150,000 monographic titles (about 170,000 volumes) and 19,000 serial (periodical) titles (280,000 volumes), of which more than 4,100 are current. (Serial holdings include hundreds of electronic journals.) An extensive 130-year exchange program with institutions throughout the world makes this serial collection unique, in that it covers the natural history literature worldwide. The Library's photographic collection encompasses more than one million images (negatives, prints, and lantern and other slides). Most were taken by scientists during expeditions throughout the world since the late 19th century. There is also a film collection of approximately 3,000 reels and 2,000 videocassettes, including those presented at the annual Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival. The archives of the Museum as a whole contain some 1,600 linear feet of manuscript materials, and the Art and Realia Collection comprises about 3,000 items.

Chimpanzee photo from Congo expedition
Chimpanzee photo from Congo expedition

The Library is a member of OCLC (Online Computer Library Center: and RLG (The Research Libraries Group: and maintains its own online catalog, available through the Web ( Although the Library's primary users are the scientific and educational staff of the Museum, it is currently open to the general public four days a week.

In March 1999, the Library was awarded a major, five-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop an integrated digital library, which will include selected items from the Museum's Library and from its natural history collections. The goal of this initiative is to design and build an integrated environment for information management and resource discovery, facilitating and supporting research, education, and biodiversity conservation. This digital system will benefit researchers worldwide and particularly in the developing world, where there is limited access to information or primary research materials (specimens and objects). The research goal of this project is to develop protocols and standards for broad application in the natural history community.

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Also at the Museum Beyond Planet Earth


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