About the Library

Photograph of the Museum's Research Library Reading Room in 1930

Reading room, Museum Library, 1930. Image no. 313282, AMNH Library


The Library of the American Museum of Natural History was established in 1869 with the founding of the Museum. Since that time, the Library has grown into one of the largest natural history libraries in the world, with topics spanning the full range of the natural sciences (except botany). It also includes the astronomy collection, transferred from the Hayden Planetarium in 1997.

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.

The Library Reading Room is open to the Public: Tuesday - Thursday 2:00pm - 5:30pm.

The Library Reading Room is open to Museum Staff: Monday & Friday 9:30am - 4:30pm; Tuesday - Thursday 10:30am - 5:30pm.

Access to material in the Rare Book Collection and Special Collections is by appointment only.

Mission Statement

The AMNH Library is a unique and extensive collection of natural science books, journals, archives, photographs, moving images, art and Museum memorabilia. The Library's mission is to foster intellectual growth and support the research, teaching, and educational activities of the Museum. The Library fulfills its mission by acquiring, organizing, preserving and making available collections of scholarly materials in all formats to Museum staff, students, the wider scientific community and the general public.

Library History

Reading Room, Library, 1900

Reading Room, Library, 1900. Image no. 350, AMNH Library


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. In its early years, the Library expanded its book and serial collections mostly through such gifts as the John C. Jay Library on Conchology, 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.

Photograph of field notebooks from the Central Asiatic Expedition

Field notebooks from the Central Asiatic Expedition: "Record of Fossils, Mongolia 1925", "Mongolia - 1930", "L.E. Spock Jr. Book I, Central Asiatic Expedition 1928, Geological Field Book." Image no. 7205, AMNH Library


It has since become one of the largest natural history libraries in the world, with a collection that 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 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.

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. Contact Library Reference.

Interlibrary Loan
The Interlibrary Loan Department handles arrangements with other libraries for borrowing materials for the Museum's scientific staff and lending materials to other libraries. Contact Interlibrary Loan or Request an Interlibrary Loan.

Acquisitions
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. Contact Acquisitions.

Cataloging
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.  The Cataloging Department also provides assistance in the development of metadata standards.

Conservation
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 here.

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. Contact Special Collections.

Donations & Gifts

The Library welcomes gifts of in-scope books and journals, and Museum related artwork, memorabilia and archival material (photographs, film, manuscript material, etc.) from the general public and other institutions. Gifts may be brought to the Library's front desk Tuesdays through Thursdays from 2:00-5:30pm. Book and Journal gifts may also be mailed to the Library at the following address:

"Division of Library Services - Gifts"
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th St.
New York, NY 10024-5192

Please note that gifts to the Library are only accepted without restrictions and with the understanding that every gift may not be added to the collections. Please indicate if you would like to have a letter sent to you stating the number of items given to the Library.

The Library does not purchase materials based on solicitations, nor are we able to evaluate materials for the purpose of establishing their market value or value for tax purposes.

You may contact Acquisitions if you have specific questions regarding book and journal donations.  You may contact Special Collections if you have specific questions regarding artwork, memorabilia or archival material donations.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I get digital scans of Museum images?
    The Special Collections department of the Library has a large collection of photographic images available for publication, broadcast, exhibition, or educational use. More information on how to submit your request may be found at Reproduction and Licensing. Please be aware that some images may not be available for use. 
  • Does the Library appraise books?
    The Library staff does not evaluate materials for the purpose of establishing their market value or value for tax purposes. For such information, you may wish to consult the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America website.
  • Does the Museum appraise objects and artifacts?
    The Museum's scientific staff are not available to authenticate or perform appraisals of any artifacts for the public. You may wish to contact the Appraisers Association of America to get more information on certain types of appraisals. 
  • Where can I get an answer to an astronomy reference question?
    The Hayden Planetarium Question and Answer Hotline can be reached at (212) 769-5901.  
  • Where can I find and order Museum publications?
    For information about the Museum's Bulletin, Novitates, and Anthropological Papers please visit the Library's Museum Publications site. Visit Natural History Magazine for subscription information for this popular magazine.
  • Where can I find out more about the scientists who work at the Museum?
    Our Research contains biographical and credential information for some of the prominent scientists associated with the Museum.
  • Where can I get more information about the geologic time scale?
    The Museum's Timelines online exhibition provides a wealth of information on the historic periods of the Earth and their characteristic flora and fauna. You can also visit the University of California website for an online introduction to the geologic time scale.
  • What is the Museum's mission statement?
    The act to incorporate the American Museum of Natural History, which passed the New York State Congress on April 6, 1869, states:
    The American Museum of Natural History, to be located in the City of New York for the purpose of establishing and maintaining in said city a Museum and Library of Natural History; of encouraging and developing the study of Natural Science; of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects, and to that end of furnishing popular instruction.
    The 1996 strategic plan, adopted by the Board of Trustees on December 10, includes the following statement of mission:
    To discover, interpret, and disseminate -- through scientific research and education -- knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.