Humble beginnings

Our librarians collected literature and artwork from across the globe, building a world-class resource for the study of natural history.

The first librarian

In 1880, the British Museum in Bloomsbury moved their Natural History departments to the new British Museum (Natural History) (BMNH) in South Kensington. They brought with them very few library materials, so the libraries of the BMNH, or Natural History Museum, as it would come to be known, had to be developed virtually from scratch.

A General Library was created to hold all works that were common to more than one department’s interests. Each science department also had its own collection of specialist literature, independent from the General collection.

The first Librarian in charge of the General Library was Bernard Barham Woodward (1853-1930), who had previously worked for the British Museum.

Bernard Barham Woodward (1853-1930)

Bernard Barham Woodward (seated right) in the General Library.

Cataloguing nature 

As Woodward began stocking the shelves, elsewhere in the Museum Charles Davies Sherborn (1861-1942) was creating the Index Animalium – an alphabetical list of scientific names applied to all animals since the year 1758.

As part of his work, Sherborn compiled a list of all European books and journals that contained descriptions of new genera or species of living or extinct animals. 

This list would prove invaluable for Woodward as he selected volumes for the Museum Library.

Growth and changes