Museum Research Library Launches Major Archival Initiative

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Becca Morgan and Tom Baione pictured with Libbie Hyman’s typewriter and other objects. Special Collections Archivist Becca Morgan and Library Director Tom Baione pictured with zoologist Libbie Hyman’s typewriter and other objects.
D. Finnin/©AMNH

Roy Chapman Andrews’ 1925 Mongolian passport. A wax cylinder recording device from the late 19th century. The planning notes for a visit to the Museum by Marie Curie in April 1921. Is there anything that transports us to a time and place like a physical object? 

As the Museum celebrates its 150th anniversary, the Research Library is working to make these and other items in the Museum’s vast collection of archival treasures more accessible to the public and researchers through the new Shelby White and Leon Levy Archive Initiative. The three-year project will help expand access to the central archive documenting the Museum’s first 100 years, to create a comprehensive digital asset management system for digitized papers, images, videos, and other digital materials, and to reorganize thousands of items in the Memorabilia Collection.

“These are materials created for a specific purpose that help us tell the story of the Museum through objects,” says Tom Baione, Harold Boeschenstein Director of the Museum’s Department of Library Services. “The Shelby White and Leon Levy Archive Initiative supports efforts to enhance access to archival materials, reveal the richness of the collections, and create a framework for future growth.” 

The Central Administrative Archive is the Museum’s largest archival collection and repository of the internal and external correspondence, regarding everything from field expeditions to acquisitions to the letters of Museum scientists and administrators, and notes from the public, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, age 13, inquiring after his membership card. The contents will be re-assessed and comprehensively indexed for easier retrieval. The new digital asset management system will expand on the Museum’s ongoing efforts to digitize scholarly assets and make them available online.

The Memorabilia Collection, in addition to being reorganized for increased access, will be stored in new compact shelving to increase capacity. And, looking ahead, a selection of memorabilia will be displayed on a glass-shelved wall in a new public area of the Library that will open with the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation.

A version of this story appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of the Member magazine, Rotunda.