Library History

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.


Reading room of Library, west transept of main building, top floor, from north. Date 1900. (AMNH Image no. 350)

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.


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" (AMNH image no. 7205)

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.