The American Museum of Natural History Research Library Announces the Launch of Its Digital Special Collections Image Database Website main content.

Digital Special Collections Database Launched

by Tom Baione on

Library News

The Research Library at the American Museum of Natural History is pleased to announce the launch of its image database website, Digital Special Collections. A long-term endeavor to create comprehensive access to the Museum’s rich and varied visual collections, the site features archival photographs, rare book illustrations, drawings, notes, letters, art, and Museum memorabilia. The archival photographic images document a wide variety of Museum efforts in New York and around the globe, including the creation and installation of exhibitions, expeditions and specimen collection around the globe, and Museum educational programs and activities throughout the 20th century.

Ray De Lucia and Matt Kalmenoff working on Killer Whale Group, Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, 1967 [AMNH Image No. 332578]

The Museum’s new Digital Special Collections launched its Omeka (open source software)-powered site featuring more than 7,000 images, with more added every week from across the library’s historic and globally significant holdings. Noteworthy collections showcased include lantern slides created at the turn of the 20th  century  by Museum staff to illustrate culture, paleontology, and zoology in places as diverse as Greenland, Mongolia, and Africa; the Julian Dimock Collection, which documents moments in the daily lives of African Americans in South Carolina, new immigrants at Ellis Island, and the Seminole Indians of Florida at the turn of the last century; and the Lumholtz Collection, which documents four expeditions led by ethnographer Carl S. Lumholtz to northwestern Mexico between 1890 and 1898 and includes portraits of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.

Jochelson, Waldemar, “Yakut family at entrance to summer house, Russia, 1902.” [AMNH Image No. 1768]

These collections also include images of rare book plates from Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library, a book edited by Library Director Tom Baione and published in 2012 that features illustrations from the work of pioneers in natural science from as early as the 16th century, and from the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, which documented the people and cultures of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America and the Eastern Coast of Siberia from 1897 through 1902.

Overhead drawing of crab
Portunus reticulatus from Herbst's Versuch einer Naturgeschichte der Krabben und Krebse…  Zurich: 1782 [AMNH Image No. b11448969_5]

The project would not be possible without interns and volunteers for scanning, guided by the Library Digital Lab Manager Anna Rybakov, and metadata management and image cataloging directed by the Library's Visual Resources Librarian Stacy Schiff, through relationships with New York area graduate programs in library and information science.  Collections are selected by the Museum Archivist and Head of Special Collections Barbara Mathé, with special consideration for the needs of researchers, scholars, and cultural communities. 

The site, managed by Library Digital Projects Manager Jen Cwiok, provides technical information on scanning and metadata specifications and standards used, as well as the style guide and documentation manual composed for training and recording the evolution of the database through its growth.

The Digital Special Collections project received foundational support from the New York Metropolitan Library Council in the form of a 2005 digitization grant.

We welcome feedback about the site and its collections, which you can visit at