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Library & Archives

32 Posts tagged with the behind_the_scenes_in_the_library tag

Tina Konstantinidou in her studio.JPG





Konstantina (Tina) Konstantinidou joined us as Paper Conservator on 5th August and has well and truly hit the ground running.




As well as getting to grips with all the projects that are in the pipeline for her, she has been working hard to become familar with some of the collections that she will be working with and meeting her colleagues in the Library & Archives team.



Tina joins us from the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) where she worked on various short projects covering a period of three years. Previous to this she worked at a facinating variety of other organisations such as The National Trust, All Souls College, Oxford and Regent's Park College, Oxford.



When I caught up with her she was working on a enchanting volume of 19th Century chinese watercolours from our Reeve's collection, that had become weakened and fragile. Using japanese tissue Tina is repairing each individual piece in a non invasive way, ensuring that any work done can be reversed at a later date, if required.








Tina Konstantinidou changing Audubon display.jpg

Originally Tina studied English Literature and Humanities at Birkbeck, during which time she used the collections at the British Library a great deal. It was during this time that she became fascinated by their special collections and particularly old books. Here began her interest in, and subsequently her career in Paper Conservation, where she has found her interest in art, science and her craft skills, to be the perfect receipe for success!


Like many, prior to joining our team, Tina admits to not realising the extent of the art collections held by the NHM Library & Archives. Now that she has had a chance to see for herself the full extent of what we do hold, she is keen to get involved!


Our version of a British institution with a natural history twist - what would you pick?


Chris Booth: Digitiser, L&A Collection


You are marooned on a desert island and are allowed to take 8 flora and fauna with you. Which ones would you select and why?


Assuming I knew I was going to be marooned for a very long time I’d bring a very focussed selection of: hops, barley, sugar cane, banana, butternut squash, bamboo, aloe, and a dog.


Beer creation being the objective of the first three choices but hops can also alleviate inflammation, and sugar would be a good chewy mood-lifter. Bananas for their deliciousness and the leaves making excellent crockery. Butternut squash (or any gourd) left to dry out would make a superb container for the aforementioned beer and they taste good if I absolutely had to do something besides drinking my despair away. Bamboo because it’s a wonderful construction material and I would need to craft a shelter quickly otherwise my fair skin would be burned all the time. Hence the aloe until my shelter is up and running… I suppose I could also wile away the long weeks and months by becoming adept at basketry as well? The dog is for company and amusement. I don’t have a dog at the moment but I know my cats would disappear as soon as they noticed that they could. A dog probably wouldn’t. I’d hope.


You are rescued, but can only take one back with you. Which one would it be and why?


Well it would be very cruel if I decided to rescue my collection of dried gourds so I suppose I would have to rescue my hops. Only kidding, the dog would come home with me and we could bore bus stop strangers to death with our tales of sand getting stuck to the aloe and teeth rotting away from excessive sugar consumption.




You can take one item from the L&A collections with you, what would it be and why?


Alfred Russel Wallace’s ‘The Malay Archipelago’ would be my choice. It sounds like an excellent read but I’ve not tried it yet, despite having wanted to for a number of years. If I was lucky enough to be marooned in the Malay Archipelago I could at least hope to identify something familiar in the book. Hopefully it describes some poisonous endemic beasties for me to avoid too.


'Ejecting an intruder' taken fron The Malay Archipleago by Alfred Russel Wallace (1874) NHM image: 033800



You can have one luxury with you on the island what would it be?


My Kindle. It’s got so many books on it already that I believe I would be supplied for about a year as it is, without re-reading. I could also cheat the system by quickly loading pictures of my loved ones onto it before I go - sneaky, eh! Though that would suggest I had prior knowledge of my marooning, so why would I put myself in that situation in the first place?


Sharon Touzel: Bibliographic Librarian






How long have you worked at the NHM?


I began in 2007, so 6 years.


What were you doing before you came here?


I was studying, and volunteering as an Assistant Archivist at LAARC (the archaeological archives of the Museum of London). The volunteering was great – in one box, a Roman shoe; in the next, a medieval horse skull.


What does your average day look like?


I might spend time buying books for the Entomology Library, or working on projects with external academic visitors.

Mainly though, I spend a lot of time cataloguing our collections. It’s not a dull job here - today I’ve catalogued an 1870s Austrian sales catalogue, advertising plaster heads & preserved frogs; 1930s newspaper cuttings on a secret journey through Forbidden Arabia; and 1970s reports on the Loch Morar monster. Finding items like these means I always have something to put on our Twitter feed!

If you had to pick one favourite from the L&A collections what would it be?


The flea etching from Robert Hooke’s Microscopy, or some of our relatively unknown 17th century Dutch art.






Do you have a favourite place or object on display in the Museum?


I love the piece of the moon in the Earth Galleries. Walking past it every morning gives me a real kick.


If you had to spend the rest of your life as an animal, what would it be and why?


As an Entomology librarian, it’s tempting to say I’d like to be one of those brain eating parasites which make zombies out of ants ( . However, I’d probably go for something much more boring, like a domestic cat!


Daoud Jackson.jpg




Daoud Jackson has joined us for a week of work experience during his summer holiday.


He has just completed his first year of A levels where he is taking; Maths, Japanese, History and Theology.


During his time with us he is helping to index volumes of artwork from the Hodgson collection. Learn more about this project.


In just over two days Daoud has already worked his way through 102 images, including quails and storks.


We have also been using his Japanese language skills to assist with the translation

of recent acquisitions.


For more information about volunteering opportunities throughout the Museum take a look at our website.


Hannah Rausa: Serials Librarian (Technical Services)




How long have you worked at the NHM?

I started at the NHM Library 10 years ago in May 2003, as an Information Assistant.  I left for a short period to pursue my academic studies, but returned in August 2005.  I have been Serials Librarian for the past four years.


What were you doing before you came here?

I was studying for my BSc Geography Degree at University and I also worked as an office secretary in London.  Working at the NHM Library was my first full time job since leaving University. It is such an interesting and unique place to work in, I have continued to work here.


What does your average day look like?

An average day for me involves a variety of tasks.  They range from corresponding with our subscription agent and publishers, about our annual subscription orders and newly available content. Reviewing our expenditure forecasts against our budget, investigating alternative ways to access content which may benefit our users and our budget. I also assist staff with serial queries such as finding material on the shelves, tracking down missing issues, and advising on the best way to manage our serial records.  In addition I provide enquiry support on our service desk on a weekly basis.




If you had to pick one favourite from the L&A collections what would it be?

There are so many amazing items to choose from! A personal favourite is Williams Smith’s Geological Map from 1815.  It was the first treasure I unearthed when I started working here. I had the opportunity to handle it and was involved in some public outreach events associated with it, so really got a flavour of the excitement and amazement which it draws from people.


Do you have a favourite place or object on display in the Museum?

The Mineral Gallery is a fascinating space and I always discover new things each time I visit there – it is amazing to see what our natural world produces.  The Blue Whale also holds a place in my heart.  Along with the Central Hall it forms a strong memory of my first visit to the NHM when I was a child.  I remember being completely in awe of the size and beauty of the Museum and the Blue Whale.  I purchased a Blue Whale book from the museum shop, which was treasured for many years.


If you had to spend the rest of your life as an animal, what would it be and why?


Based on my love of the countryside and my belief in the value of family, I think it would have to be a dog, with its pack mentality and outdoor lifestyle.  I would of course need to be homed with a loving and caring human family. 


Cicely Proctor has joined us for a summer internship working with the Centre for Arts and Humanities Research (CAHR).


She is in her second year of a degree at Southampton Solent University, studying 'Writing, Fashion and Culture'.








In her first 2 weeks she has already participated in behind the scenes tours for potential collaborators with CAHR, giving her an insight into the daily work of museum staff.


This has included watching the preservation of palaeontological specimens in our Conservation studio, the pressing of dried plant specimens by a herbarium technician and learning about curation of moth speciemsn undertaken by entomologist Martin Honey.







Cicely has been given the task of studying the recent Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) consultation relating to 'Classifying and measuring the creative industries'. Next month Cicely will be meeting with individual staff members from the Library & Archives team to learn more about the types of researchers who use our collections and how many could be classed as coming from the 'creative industries'. Information collected by Cicely will go towards a longer term plan of how the museum can encourage more researchers such as fashion designers or artists to use the collections.


When you speak to Cicely, it is clear how struck she is by the size of the collections that she has already witnessed behind the scenes, and how she never realised this as a regular visitor to the Museum.


We are looking forward to her working with us over the summer and hope that she really enjoys learning more about the museum, its collections and how researchers from all different walks of life could be interested in our collections.





In March 2013 a short term funded project was started to catalogue miscellaneous Alfred Russel Wallace manuscripts. These items were recently added to the Library's larger Wallace collection, and consist of items such as printed ephemera, photographs, cuttings, maps (including constellation), notebooks and other miscellaneous items (for example, a lock of hair belonging to his friend Richard Spruce). These items are generally those collected by A. R. Wallace, rather than written or made by him




Diane Tough is the cataloguer employed to undertake this interesting project, which is funded until November 2013.





Information relating to each individual item is recorded into CALM, the Archives online catalogue, and is available immediately via our website for the use of researchers. Each item is given a individual reference number, described, measured and specific information is recorded; such as a physical description, any markings or notes that it contains etc. On average approximately 25 items are processed per day.





As a result of the work she has already completed for this project, Diane has learnt new information about Wallace, his personal life and family. This includes;



      • His artistic talent
      • William, his brother, was also a talented artist
      • Wallace was interested in phrenology


Diane is thoroughly enjoying the variety of items that she is handling and the stories they tell. The following are examples of some of her favourites:




Address presented to the Reverend W. P. Stephens

St Savour's, Johannesburg - dated 1899 (hand coloured and on vellum) (WP18/77)

[Pictured with Diane above]


Results of a Phrenological study taken of A. R. Wallace by James Quilter Rumball - dated 1845. It includes the development chart and handwritten character analysis WP18/39 [Pictured above]


Wallace is scored on a scale of 6 (very small) to 10 (very large). Some examples include:


Locality - sense of place, of space - love of travelling = Score 9

Destructiveness - impluse to destroy, by word or deed = score 8





Proofs of woodcut illustrations for Wallace's publication 'The Malay Archipelago', these are by multiple artists (WP6/1/7 1-34) [Pictured above]


Photograph of 369 Channel Street, Stockton, California (WP2/1/25) This is believed to be the house of Wallace's brother John, who Wallace visited during his tour of America and taken circa 1887. What is particularly interesting is that it depicts two youngsters in the foreground sitting on what look to be very early bicycles. [Pictured above]



harvard students 2013 1.jpg



Eleven Harvard students arrived from America this week to begin two weeks of work the NHM Library & Archives. The students are here as part of a eight week summer school, the first two weeks in London and then the rest of the time in Oxford.


During their time with us in the museum, they will work on transcribing Wallace letters from the collections as part of the Wallace Correspondence Project


The students are in the UK for a total of eight weeks and are funded by the David Rockefeller International Experience Grants Program (DRIEG). After they finish at the NHM next week they are attending the Harvard Summer School Programme course called "An exploration of evolutionary biology" at Oxford University.


For many of them this is their first experience of London and the UK, so thankfully the weather has finally turned summery for them!


We thank them for their hard work over the next two weeks and wish them luck for the rest of their trip.






Last week we welcomed Ana-Maria Costa, the Library & Archive's first Synthesys funded researcher. She is with us for three weeks.


Ana-Maria is here as part of her PhD with the University of Lisbon, entitled 'The Natural History in Art and the Art in Natural History 1770-1810'.


During her stay she will be using the Botanical and Zoological artwork collections from the Library and in particular those relating to:


Captain James Cook's two voyages

First Fleet

William Bartram







In particular the goal of her PhD is to compare and contrast the 'cultural' skills of Portuguese artists with those of other European artists during the period 1770-1810.





When studying the collections, she is looking at a number of different levels:


Artistic - not only interested in the colours used, but form, line and composition. Also what the artist puts behind, whether the perspectives are correct and their use of light and shadow to create a 3D effect.


Scientific/taxonomic - has the species been identified and if so correctly.



Geographic - she is recording the geographical information of the specimen depicted in order to later plot these on a map.


Ana-Maria is in her third year of four and has already researched the art collections at the Libraries of the Natural History Museum and Botanical Gardens, Lisbon, National Museum, Lisbon and Botanical Gardens, Madrid.


By the end of her research here Ana-Maria is looking to have identified approximately 40 pieces of artwork to use for her PhD, in addition to those selected from the other institutions.


Christina Adams has been working as an intern behind the scenes in the Library & Archives since the 14th August.


She has always had a strong interest in natural history, and keeps up to date with current developments in her spare time. A farming friend has encouraged her to be interested in the subject of Lepidoptera (butteflies and moths).


After completing a degree in Physics and Astronomy, Christina worked in a laboratory environment, but soon realised it wasn't her 'cup of tea', and has since been working at a specialist gaming store. She admits to being a fully-fledged 'gaming geek'!


Christina began to look for a career route where she could use her degree, but in a less direct route. A friend suggested being a Librarian, what a perfect mix of her love of books and making information accessible to others!


She spotted an advert on the current vacancies page of the Natural History Museum's website for a seven week internship within the Library & Archives. What an ideal opportunity to overlap her science knowledge, customer services and interest in printed books.christina.JPG


Christina was over the moon to be offered the position and started back in mid-August. She has loved her time here so much, that she has requested for a week's extension to her original time frame and hopes that she can blend in so well she never has to leave!



What types of things has Christina been involved in so far?


In the Archives - Researching and indexing a collection of newspaper clippings about the Natural History Museum and former parent organisation, the British Museum.


Working alongside the Assistant Records Manager, repackaging paintings and documents in the store.


In the Library - Cataloguing as part of the dedicated cataloguing team based in the library. This Christina admits she found this difficult initially but is now completely converted! She loves the fact that each book you pick up is never the same and always offers something interesting. This includes entertaining Victorian books and fold out maps, with each one offering the temptation of flicking through before you start cataloguing.


Transcribing letters written by Alfred Russel Wallace, as part of the Wallace Correspondence Project. This Christina loved, and likened to be being a detective: looking through private letters, seeing snippets of someone's life, and trying to decode their Victorian handwriting. In two letters alone, she recalls learning a huge amount about plants.


What has she enjoyed the most so far?


Definitely the transcribing, as Wallace is a personal hero of hers, but also learning about the collections the Library has. This includes being shown vibrant pieces of artwork that are more than two hundred years old, and seeing beautiful books, whilst learning about why they are important.


What is Christina's tip to anyone else interested in volunteering behind the scenes in the NHM?


Go for it: it is well worth it! A good experience, and an opportunity to contribute to the Natural History Museum, with the feeling that you have played a small part in science.  The Museum, and Library in particular, is a really nice place to work, where you feel like a member of staff, rather than just an intern or volunteer.



Thank you to Christina for all her hard work, it has been a pleasure having her as part of the Library & Archives team. We hope that she continues to enjoy her last two weeks with us.






Like all areas of the Natural History Museum, the Library & Archives are proud to take part in the Volunteer and Work Experience programme.


This week we had two new additions to the team, Christina (intership) and Jessica (work experience).


Jessica has joined us for two weeks, she is a 16 year old student from St. Michael's Catholic Grammar School, Finchley.








In her first four days Jessica has already been busy working on a number projects and getting involved in the work of the other Library & Archives staff.










She has been listing and describing birds from two volumes of watercolours from the collection of Margaret Bushby Lascelles Cockburn (1829-1928), an english lady resident of India, until her death at the age of ninety nine.


A task she has already completed!








In addition Jessica has been working on an album from a collection of Earth Sciences (specifically palaeontology) themed stamps. As is often the case the stamps were collected and put into country order, so Jessica has been indexing the individual subjects (dinosuars, fossils etc) so that researchers can unlock the collection.








During her stay Jessica will be given the opportunity to learn about the work of different members of the Library & Archives team, as well as attending a Nature Live talk.


We hope Jessica enjoys her stay with us, even though she has the dreaded GCSE exam results day during the two weeks!


By Lisa Di Tommaso


The Library recently lent a selection of its artwork and manuscripts to two institutions in Australia. Watercolours from the First Fleet, Sydney Parkinson and Ferdinand Bauer collections went to the Australian National Maritime Museum for their exhibition entitled Fish in Australian Art.


courier blog 1.JPG

State Library of New South Wales


Items relating to John Lewin, the first professional artist to travel to Australia and earn his living there, are on loan to the State Library of New South Wales as part of their new exhibition, Wild Art.


A member of the Library’s staff travelled with the material from London, ensuring it arrived safely. While there, she was also able to see the items for the Lewin exhibition installed in the gallery.


Exhibitions such as these provide a unique opportunity for the Library to showcase its special collections throughout the world and allow greater access to our materials.


courier blog 2.JPG

State Library of New South Wales


Eleanor Russell joined the Library & Archives team as our new Paper Conservator, on the 1st August.


Eleanor 003a.jpg


She was previously at the British Library specialising in art on paper. Prior to this she worked at the British Museum, the National Archives and the St. Paul's Cathedral architectural archives. Eleanor originally trained at Camberwell College of Art, gaining a BA Hons in Organic Conservation (e.g. paper, wood, leather).


One month in Eleanor is thoroughly enjoying her new role. As many of us did, she remembers her visits to the Natural History Museum as a child and now loves the feeling of playing a part behind the scenes. Originally from Cornwall, as a youngster she developed an interest in collecting and the natural world, which led to an interest in the history of art.


She feels her new role is her 'dream job', and is particularly enjoying the mixture of interaction with different museum departments and staff, and is starting to get her head round the size and variety of the collections in the Library & Archives.


Eleanor 001a.jpg


It has already been a busy month for Eleanor: visiting the Tate Britain to de-install NHM items loaned for their watercolour exhibition; and more recently installing an NHM item at the Royal Academy for their forthcoming exhibition 'Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement'.


Eleanor will next be concentrating on the forthcoming rotation of artwork in the NHM Images of Nature Gallery, and preparing a book handling course.


We look forward to Eleanor blogging in the future about the work she is involved in.


A well-earned reward for the 7 undergraduate Harvard students working on the Wallace Correspondence Project in the Library.


They had the chance to meet Sir David Attenborough who was visiting the Museum. He is also the patron of the Wallace Correspondence Project.




During the past two weeks, a seven strong group of Harvard undergraduate students have had their heads down in the Library working hard to transcribe letters as part of the Wallace Correspondence Project.



Back row L to R (from the viewer's perspective): Eric Chen, Michael Truong, Antone Martinho, Will Murphy

Front row L to R (viewer's perspective): Mary Griffin, Alyssa Botelho, Alex Bradbury


The students are in the UK for a total of eight weeks and are funded by the David Rockefeller International Experience Grants Program (DRIEG). After they finish at the NHM this week they are attending the Harvard Summer Program course called "An exploration of evolutionary biology" at Oxford University.




The students learning first hand about Wallace from Dr George Beccaloni Curator of orthopteroid insects
at the Natural History Museum & Director of the A. R. Wallace Correspondence Project


The Wallace Correspondence Project commenced in October 2010 and aims to finish in October 2013.  For more information about this exciting project visit the Wallace Correspondence Project official website.


Below is an example of one of the letters that Antone had to tackle; it is a good example of some of the problems encountered when transcribing old documents. Not only do you need to get to get to know an individual's handwriting, but you also have to contend with the condition a document may be in. In this case, the letter has been partially burned at some point.



WCP700_L872_1small.jpg WCP700_L872_4small.jpg 

Letter from Alfred Russel Wallace to Fred Birch October 9th (WCP700 /L872) page one and page four.




[[p. 1]]      
Brow[MS burned]

Oct. 9th [MS burned]

My dear Fred

I was very plea<sed> to receive yesterday the enclosed letter from the Controller of Customs, in reply to mine of Aug. 17th.  The “conditions specified” were, that about half your time would be free for collecting and I mentioned your el[MS burned] qualifications & that I woul<d> guarantee your integrity, sobriety &c. in any position <of> trust.  His mail goes n[MS burned] [[p. 2]] [MS burned]s [1 word illeg.] next Wednesday so you had perhaps better write to Mr. De Jouge yourself asking him to be so kind as to let you know what the work would be &c.

But as I wrote to the Commissioner of Mines about the Post of Sun-warden, by the next mail (Sept. 2nd.)  I may have a reply from him in a fortnight, & you can very well wait for that, as he [following parenthetical note added above line] (Mr. De Jouge) suggests your  waiting two months, which I suppose [[p. 3]] will suit you very we<ll as> it will give you more time to prepare.  The salary Mr. De Jouge offers is small, but having your board is a great thing, & I presume it includes lodging.

I have just written to the Controller of Customs thanking him for the trouble he has taken, & saying you will write to Mr. [name inserted above line] De Jouge.

I think now, your chance of going out looks very promising and I think you may tell any persons to whom you writ[e] for information, that you rea[MS burned] [[p. 4]] [MS burned] decided to go in a month or two.

Let me know the result of your interview with Mr. Schill as soon as it has taken place.

[1 word illeg.] is up the Esseguibo a little below the Potaro river, & seems to be in a hilly country. I long for you to be there almost as much as if I were going myself!

Yours very sincerely | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

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