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Library & Archives

233 Posts authored by: Hellen Pethers - Library and Archives






The latest edition of Evolve is out (Issue 22) and the Library and Archive collections (and staff) feature in many of the articles:


Dorothea Bate rediscovered map


Interview with our Special Collections Librarian, Paul Cooper

A first for the Library and Archives team!


Magnificent Monsters: The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs by Karolyn Shindler


Snapshot of war: the 100th anniversary of World War One by Karolyn Shindler


Cousins across the centuries: the pigeon and the dodo, a strange family tale


Evolve is available from the Museum shop or free when you become a member.






The latest edition of the Museum glossy magazine Evolve (issue 21 Autumn 2014) is now out!


The Library and Archives collections features in a number of articles:


Tring: The Walter Rothschild legacy by Graham Smith


Get stuffed: Taxidermy through the ages by Amy Freeborn


Snap of war by Karolyn Shindler


A key to understanding human evolution: the beautiful collections of Dorothy Garrod by Karolyn Shindler



Evolve is available from the Museum shop or free when you become a member.


The Library and Archives team (20+ of us!) will be keeping busy at this year’s Science Uncovered event. You can come and find us at various spots around the Museum on the evening of the 26th September.


Why not let us know if you have seen us via twitter @NHM_Library using the tag for the evening #SU2014




Origins and evolution with unique special collections


We’ll be offering behind the scenes tours and showcasing some of our most beautiful and important library collections in the Earth Sciences Library  - come and spend half an hour with us as library staff talk about books, manuscripts and amazing artwork all relating to the theme of Origins and Evolution and take the very rare opportunity for a close up look . Tours are on the half hour and run from 6.00pm till 9.30pm. You can sign up on the evening outside the Library.


Women Artists and our art on paper collections


Staff will also be in the Images of Nature Gallery between 6.00pm and 10.00pm, allowing you the opportunity to stop in for a chat and find out more about the very special artwork we have on display, and  chance to learn more about the Library’s art collections. Explore the latest display of watercolours from the 18th to the 21st centuries, all completed by women artists, and discover how we look after the collections and preserve them for future generations. You can also have a go at drawing something from the collections yourself!




Behind the scenes with our Paper Conservator


At 5.00pm, join us in the Attenborough Studio for a very special Nature Live talk, where you can enjoy a rare behind the scenes glimpse into the Library’s Conservation Studio and see our Paper Conservator talking about and working on our collections via a live link.


Piltdown forgery


The Archives team will be out in the thick of things, sharing a table in the Origins and Evolution section with NHM scientists, showcasing some of the Museum’s amazing specimens relating to the great Piltdown forgery, and the letters, papers and images associated with it. Get a valuable insight into the  work of the Archives in collecting some of our most important treasures and documenting events in the world of natural history.






Library staff will also be on their Soapboxes!  Join them and other researchers as they stand on their soapboxes to discuss issues that relate to their work and have your say in a dynamic exchange of opinions. You’ll have the chance to debate a variety of topics, in a style similar to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon. Keep an eye out for the Soapboxes throughout the Museum and join the event at any time. Library staff will also be in the Science Bar, where you stop by for a drink and discuss some of the burning scientific issues of the day.


Tring (Hertfordshire)


As part of a wider array of talks and tours on the night, the Walter Rothschild Museum, our sister Museum in Tring, will feature a talk at 8.45pm by our librarian Alison Harding entitled The Rothschild Library: yesterday, today and tomorrow. Discover the treasures of our library collections housed here and find out how this internationally important library is used by curators, scientists, and researchers from all over the world.


So keep an eye out for us at Science uncovered and come and say hello and find out more about our work…


CARE AND DISPLAY OF BOOKS WORKSHOP – Tuesday 4 November 2014, The Natural History Museum, London.

This workshop introduces the key elements of good practice for the care and display of books through a series of presentations, videos and practical sessions.  This introductory workshop is suitable for Library staff and Archivists and all those with responsibility for book collections.

Topics covered include:

• threats to library collections
• the structure of books
• curation
• preservation
• display of books

The workshop is led by Museum Library Staff and will be held in the Boardroom at the Natural History Museum. It starts at 10.00am and will finish at 5.00pm.  The course fee of £175 includes morning and afternoon tea and lunch, and a tour of the Library’s Rare Books Room.


For more information and to book please see the attached document.







by Geoff Belknap


I have just joined the Centre for Arts and Humanities Research (CAHR) at the NHM, in collaboration with the University of Leicester, as a postdoctoral fellow on the AHRC project Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries.


The project as a whole is looking at how non-professionals – whether termed lay, amateur or citizen – participated in the production and communication of science through historical and modern media platforms.





The project works in collaboration with scientists at the University of Oxford who are putting our historical analysis into action. Through the Zooniverse project scholars in the physics department are creating digital platforms which harness the power of the ‘citizen scientist’ to create data for a range of scientific disciplines.


The historical strand of this project, which is the side I work on, is investigating this question – how an amateur participated in science - through the lens of the Victorian periodical. My work, aims to understand how illustrations reproduced in natural history periodicals over the period of 1840-1890 allowed a range of audiences to participate in the production and communication of knowledge about the natural world. The excellent collections of periodicals at the NHM form the base of this research – in particular the unparalleled range of English local natural history society journals. I come to both the NHM and this project as a historian of Victorian science, visual culture and periodical history. My PhD, which was completed at the University of Cambridge in 2011, focused on the reproduction of photographic images within late Victorian periodicals. I have also worked as a researcher and post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University on both the Charles Darwin and John Tyndall Correspondence Projects.


This week we have 32 new book additions, covering Zoology, General Natural History, Earth Sciences, Ornithology, Entomology and Botany. Download the PDF attached to the bottom of this blog to view this week's list.

If you wish to view these or any other items, please contact the library to arrange an appointment or 020 7942 5460


The Library catalogue is available online and more information about the Library & Archives collections can be found via our website


by Kate Tyte, Assistant ArchivistO'Shaughnessy's-gecko-2.jpg



The Natural History Museum’s nineteenth century staff included some real characters.

Take Arthur O'Shaughnessy. He was born in London to an Irish family in 1844, and at the age of 17, became a transcriber in the British Museum Library. Supposedly he got this job through the influence of a family friend, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. Lytton was a popular novelist, now best known for his infamous opening line ‘it was a dark and stormy night’.

After two years in the Library Arthur was promoted to be a herpetologist (an amphibian expert) in the Zoological Department. He complained that he spent monotonous days classifying fish and reptiles ‘in a queer little subterranean cell, strongly scented with spirits of wine, and with grim creatures pickled round him in rows and rows of gallipots.’ He complained of low pay, and struggling to make ends meet by churning out scientific papers and reviews for extra cash.

Despite his criticism of his job, he was good at it, and became well-respected. He even gave his name to one animal - O'Shaughnessy’s gecko. But Arthur was far more interested in poetry. In 1870, aged 26 and having worked at the museum for 9 years, he published his first volume of poetry, Epic of Women.  Two other volumes: Lays of France and Music and Moonlight followed, in 1872 and 1874. He was part of London’s literary and artistic scene, mingling with the Rossettis, Ford Maddox Browne and William Morris at fabulous parties.





Arthur was fairly well known during his lifetime, though even his kinder critics noted that his poems could be rather hit and miss. Today, the only one of his works that is known at all is Ode from Music and Moonlight. The initial lines have often been quoted in popular culture, and it was set to music by Elgar in 1912 and Zoltán Kodály in 1964:








We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
















In 1874 Arthur married Eleanor Marston, herself from a literary family. The couple had two children and wrote a book of children’s stories together in 1875, called Toy-land. Tragically both children died in infancy, after which Eleanor lapsed into ill-health and died in 1879. Arthur struggled to c


ope with these losses, and to manage the conflicting demands of his life. He died in 1881, and his final book of poems, Songs of a Worker, was published posthumously the same year; full of poems about death and grieving.


Ironically, O'Shaughnessy’s gecko may be better known today than O’Shaughnessy’s poetry.



The two images depict the Gecko type specimen held in the Life Science collections, Natural History Museum, London.


This week we have 25 new book additions, covering Zoology, General Natural History, Earth Sciences, Ornithology, Entomology and Botany. Download the PDF attached to the bottom of this blog to view this week's list.

If you wish to view these or any other items, please contact the library to arrange an appointment or 020 7942 5460


The Library catalogue is available online and more information about the Library & Archives collections can be found via our website


This week we have 8 new book additions, covering Zoology, General Natural History, Earth Sciences, Ornithology, Entomology and Botany. Download the PDF attached to the bottom of this blog to view this week's list.

If you wish to view these or any other items, please contact the library to arrange an appointment or 020 7942 5460


The Library catalogue is available online and more information about the Library & Archives collections can be found via our website


In the run-up to the launch of the new Library & Archives search system on 14 July, the Library team will be operating a reduced online service from 27 June - 14 July.

1. Searching the Library catalogue
The current Library catalogue (due to be replaced by the new system) will stay available for you to search the collections as normal. However, please bear in mind that the catalogue will be read-only during this time: any items borrowed after 5pm on 26 June will continue to show as available on the catalogue and items returned after this point will continue to show as being on loan.

2. Borrowing barcoded items
The self-issue machines located in the Earth Sciences Library and Main Library Reading room will not be operational between 27 June – 14 July. You will still be able to borrow items from these collections, but please record your pass barcode number and book details on the sheets provided next to the self-issue machines. When the new system is launched, the Library staff will manually update your account with books borrowed during the period of downtime.

3. Renewing loans
You will not be able to renew items between 27 June – 14 July. However, all current loans have been automatically renewed until the end of 2014, so your items will not become overdue nor will you receive renewal reminder emails.

4. Reserving items
You will not be able to reserve/request items through the Library Catalogue between 27 June – 14 July. If you want to borrow a book that is out on loan to another member of staff, please email with the details and we’ll try to get it for you.


Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 14.31.16.jpg





A sneak preview of the new Library & Archives search system







5. New book/serial displays (Main, Botany and Tring Reading Rooms)
New displays will go up on Monday 30 June and will remain in place until 21 July. During this time, if you wish to reserve any items please use the paper reservation slips.

6. Requesting items for purchase
If you request an item to be purchased by the Library during this time, please bear in mind that we will not be able to place any orders until 14 July. We will work through any back orders as a matter of priority, but there will be a slight delay until your item is added to the collection.

7. The eJournal A-Z List and Article Search
The eJournal A-Z list and Article Search will both be available and operating as normal until 14th July, at which point they will be replaced by the new system.


8. Borrowing bookboard items

This will continue as normal.

9. Requesting off-site items and inter-library loans
These services will continue as normal until 14th July, when they will take place on the new system. Until then, please continue to fill out remote and inter-library loan request forms and email them to

10. Visiting the Reading Rooms
The South Kensington and Tring Reading Rooms will be open as normal. If you would like to view Library special collections or material from the Museum Archives, please contact or

11. Contacting the Library
Our staff will be available as usual to answer your queries. We’ll be busy getting the new system up and running though, so we may be slightly slower to respond than usual – please bear with us and we’ll respond as soon as possible.

Thank you for your patience while we work to develop and further improve the Library & Archives service; information about the new system will be posted in the run up to 14 July, so keep your eyes peeled!

If you have any questions, please email or ring the Library enquiry desk on x 5460.


1/ Why did you want to work behind the scenes in the NHM Archives?


For the last 14 months I have volunteered at several archives to gain the work experience required to apply for a post graduate qualification in the subject.  I wanted to work ‘behind the scenes’ to develop my knowledge of how a museum and business archive operates. The role offered the opportunity to learn and develop skills essential to becoming an Archives and Records Manager. This includes cataloguing historical material, dealing with user enquiries and using the CALM database. I felt compelled to apply for the position as it would give me the opportunity to improve accessibility and contribute to the preservation of a unique collection within a museum I am familiar with.


2/How long have you been working with us and what have you been involved in so far?


I have been volunteering since September 2013 and hope to continue until September 2014. I have been responsible for cataloguing a wide range of historical material into CALM. This includes correspondence relating to the Piltdown Hoax and photographs relating to the opening of the Human Biology exhibition, as well as the staff magazine Chrysalis. I have also taken responsibility for rearranging the Tring Museum correspondence into a new series, with each new reference number correlating to a specific year (1914-1920). Zoe-Fullard.jpg




As the museum is still a 'live' institution, it deals with active records on a daily basis. I have been given an insight in to how an archives and records manager deals with this area of business; the importance of retention schedules, confidential shredding, and the processes involved when a record has reached its retention period; it is either destroyed, or if it holds historical value, it will be appraised and held in the archive. As a volunteer I have not had any direct experience with the live records, but it has been useful to be exposed to these factors and learn about the life span and purposes of records.





3/ Have you come across anything interesting so far?


When cataloguing papers belonging to Dr Kenneth Oakley (Anthropologist and museum employee), I am required to construct a brief description relating to the content of each item of correspondence. Oakley discovered that the Piltdown Man fragments (founded in 1912 by amateur palaeontologist Charles Dawson) were in fact an elaborate hoax. Dawson claimed the fragments were the missing link between ape and man; subsequently Oakley's discovery caused uproar in the scientific community. It has been interesting to read the reaction's of Oakley's cotemporaries, the press, and the general public, as they write to him from all over the globe with their reaction to the news. Many speculate who was responsible and how the hoax was implemented; a true 'whodunit' of modern times. In his letters Oakley claims to have his thoughts of who the perpetrator(s) are, but never puts it in writing. To this day the culprit of the biggest hoax in history has never been revealed.


When organising the Tring Museum correspondence, I have come across numerous letters to and from Lord Rothschild, his director Ernest Hartert and curator Karl Jordan, written during the First World War. It is interesting to read records created during this time; letters from removal companies stating they cannot assist with the transportation of museum specimens as their automobiles are being used as part of the war effort; letters from employees sent away to war seeking job security on their return, as well as men enquiring about possible vacancy openings at the museum once released from the army. One gentleman lists his entire employment history prior conscription; he is striving to get back to the normality of civilian life, highlighting the disruption the war had on many people's lives. The series also includes a letter to Dr Hartert from Captain Robert Davis, an enthusiastic zoologist who was drafted into the RAF. After writing about his experiences at war, he ends the letter expressing his condolences to Hartert, who has just lost his only son fighting in battle. Hartnet later writes that he is taking a week off work to visit the grave of his son in France. The First World War had a huge impact on the museum's business, but foremost it had a huge impact on the personal lives of millions of people across the globe.



4/ What would you like to be doing in the future professionally?


When qualified I would like to work as an Archive Assistant and eventually as an Archives and Records Manager. I aim to bring passion and experience to an inspiring environment where I contribute to preserving the past for future generations to learn from and enjoy. I have been accepted onto the diploma in Archives and Records Management at UCL starting in September 2014. I am looking forward to undertaking the course to as it is essential to my professional development.




To learn more about being a volunteer at the Natural History Museum, please visit our volunteering web page.


Rod has been volunteering with us as part of the Wallace Correspondence Project since August 2012. But it isn't until you take the time to sit down and have a chat with him, that you realise we are one of four places he gives his time to.


The National Army Museum was the first experience of volunteering that Rod encountered. There is currently a huge behind-the-scenes effort by their staff and volunteers to prepare the Museum for a significant closure for building works. Rod has been working in the Department of Printed of Books, assisting to catalogue, scan, barcode and package a whole variety of material, ready to be moved off site. This has been a fascinating experience and has enabled him to see some very interesting material. A particular highlight has been MOD Army training manuals from the early 20th century, which included procedures for trench design.



The second place that Rod gives his time to is The Children's Society. His first project with them was to clean and flatten files dating from the 1880s to early 1900s. These related to successful applications made to the Society for individual children to be rehomed, the large majority having had some level of disability. This work was part of a project called 'Including the excluded', which Rod described as very interesting but emotionally charged, because you are learning about the circumstances these children found themselves in.


His current project involves going through the Society's quarterly journal and annual reports for the period covering the mid 1960s to the late 1990s, looking for references to specific CS homes and projects. The idea behind this is to build up a timeline of how the Society changed and developed during this time.


Rod's third volunteering position is as a reading helper at a primary school in Westminster. Here he supports children on a one to one basis, reading together for 30 minutes, with 3 children twice a week. He recalls on the first day being slightly apprehensive not knowing what to expect and whether the children would like him.  However, once his first day was completed, he couldn't wait to go back!



His work with us is one day a week for the Wallace Correspondence Project. It involves transcribing letters written by Alfred Russel Wallace to people all around the world, covering a myriad of subjects. He is given a batch at a time to go through, and has strict procedures to follow  in regard to how he types up each transcription. Since starting he estimates he has dealt with approximately 100 letters. Originally Rod completed a Geography degree which included a Geology module which he thoroughly enjoyed. It has been fascinating for Rod to be able to read letters between Wallace and the great names in geology such as Charles Lyell. Rod is well read up in regard to Darwin and evolution, and therefore had a general awareness of who Wallace was, but it wasn’t until he volunteered with us, that he was able to really gain a true understanding of the man himself. One particular set of letters were written to a young entomologist called Frederick Birch, fl.1905, who was working in Trinidad at the time of the correspondence. Rod found it interesting because Wallace is giving his younger counterpart practical tips and advice regarding areas such as getting the right price from dealers and sourcing supplies. Currently we know little about Birch, which is a little frustrating because it would be nice to find out how he got on in his profession. Another interesting example were letters from Wallace as he tried to secure work for his son, having returned from his travels.


Whilst working with us, Rod has made sure to take advantage of our temporary exhibitions: in particular he thoroughly enjoyed the Salgado Photography display in 2013, taking his daughter on the Darwin Centre Spirit Tour, and the current Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story Exhibition.


This week we have 27 new book additions, covering Zoology, General Natural History, Earth Sciences, Ornithology, Entomology and Botany. Download the PDF attached to the bottom of this blog to view this week's list.

If you wish to view these or any other items, please contact the library to arrange an appointment or 020 7942 5460


The Library catalogue is available online and more information about the Library & Archives collections can be found via our website


In March we welcomed Kate to our team as Assistant Archivist. A museum archive is familiar territory for Kate, having joined us from the Royal College of Surgeons and the Hunterian Museum, where for three years she worked as Project Assistant, cataloguing their institutional records. There is much common ground between our two organisations, and consequently she is already familiar with important individuals such as Richard Owen, who became Hunterian Professor (1836) and first Superintendent of British Museum (Natural History) in 1856, which was to later become the NHM.



When walking around the museum there are specimens that she recognises, and a number of NHM staff are already familiar to her as visitors to the Hunterian, researching subjects such as Human Remains.


Now that Kate is part of our team, one of the biggest adjustments she has had to make, is getting used the how much bigger we are, both in the number of staff but also the size of the South Kensington site. This is a common problem of being new here, finding your way around in your first few months! She describes her experience of going to attend her first lunchtime staff yoga class, located in the basement as "being like Alice in Wonderland, because I felt like I was going down, down, down!".


How did Kate originally find herself becoming interested in the world of archives? As part of her English Literature Degree, she worked on a project to rewrite the guidebook for a National Trust property, and found that she thoroughly enjoyed doing the research. Since then she has obtained an Archives Masters Degree at Liverpool University, so there is no turning back now!!


What has the new job involved so far? Her biggest role is to provide access to the Museum's Business Archive, by answering enquiries from both staff and the public, and cataloguing the collection. One example of the latter that she has worked on, is the draft Bird Report by Edward A Wilson, from the Terra Nova Expedition of Antarctica. Sadly Wilson was to later perish there with Captain Scott in 1912. For Kate it was very poignant looking at this collection, which includes some drawings, not just due to the inevitable sad conclusion, but because you are reading some of the very first descriptions and observations of this part of the world.


Kate has a particular interest in expeditions, and is very much looking forward to learning more through her work about the museum's role since 1881, in expeditions all over the world.


The other major part of her job is to answer enquiries about the archive. Some of the subjects she has handled so far have involved architectural plans for our building, and the provenance of specific specimens from the scientific collections. She has liaised not only with our own staff, but other museum staff and researchers from all over world.


She is looking forward to seeing the Mammoths Exhibition, and in July her first visit to our Natural History Museum, Tring.


Ruth has been with us since mid-January as Archivist for the Wallace Correspondence Project. She is perfectly suited to the role, having joined us from a similar project at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG). That project concerned the correspondence of Victorian painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts (1817-1904). Her work involved organising, cataloguing and digitising a collection of 1500 letters. There are comparisons to be drawn between Watts and Alfred Russel Wallace. Both came from a poor background, became social reformers, their interests were much wider than just the study of the arts or natural history, and since the popularity of their day, are now relatively less known.


Ruth's first introduction to using archives came whilst completing her BA in History during 2005, which inspired her to apply for a post at Lambeth Palace Library. This interest encouraged her to undertake a Archives Records Management MA at UCL, where her dissertation studied black, minority and ethnic archives.


Since Ruth has taken over as Archivist to the Wallace Correspondence project, more than 40 extra letters have been added to the online collection. One of her main responsibilities is to increase the total number that have been transcribed: currently nearly 50% have been. As well as her own contributions, she manages a team of volunteer transcribers and proof reading their work before they are added to the website.



Each year for two weeks during the summer, the Library & Archives hosts a group of Harvard students as part of their 8 week summer school programme here in the UK. So in July, Ruth will provide the next group of students with a chance to learn about the work of Wallace, by meeting scientists and specimens behind the scenes and giving them each a selection of letters to transcribe. At the end of their visit, these will then be proof read and added to the online resource.


Part of Ruth's role includes finding letters in other repositories and arranging for scans of letters to be included in the Wallace Correspondence Project.




An exciting development is that one of Wallace's notebooks from Rio Negro, which is extremely faint and therefore illegible, is being sent to the British Library (BL) to be scanned on their new spectral imaging machine. This technique was used by the BL for their Livingstone Project. Once this is complete Ruth will ensure it is added to the website, making it accessible to all.

Currently Ruth is preparing extra unpublished material including some drawings, from the Wallace collection held in the Library & Archives, to be scanned in-house and added.


With a zoologist mother and geologist sister, Ruth was already immersed in the world of natural history, but has already learnt a lot through her work here. She grew up in London and of course visited the museum as a child, but "it's so cool going behind the scenes and being here before the museum opens its doors to the public each day!".  Some of her highlights are the stain glass windows in the Central Hall, the Herbarium, the Bird Gallery and the Wildlife Garden. She, along with many others, is looking forward to seeing the new Mammoths exhibition.

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