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Library & Archives

32 Posts tagged with the behind_the_scenes_in_the_library tag

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…







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.


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.


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.


For Auld Lang Syne.jpg


Konstantina with her new friends.jpg



by Konstantina Konstantinidou

Paper Conservator




Check it, pack it, wrap it, seal it. Relax at business lounge. Ensure it's in the same plane with you, and then relax. 20 + hours later... Unwrap it, unpack it, check it, and see it safely put in place.



The Art Gallery of Ballarat (Victoria, Australia) has installed a new exhibition For Auld Lang Syne: Images of Scottish Australia from First Fleet to Federation celebrating the influence of Scotland in Australia, by uniting items from across Australia and beyond. The exhibition explores the way Scottish people and culture have influenced the development of the Australian nation.


The Gallery have done a great job bringing together a varied international collection to tell this part of the country's cultural history, many of which have never been seen alongside each other. The Natural History Museum Library & Archives were very happy to contribute 8 watercolours by Thomas Watling (c1767-1797), from Dumfries.  Watling arrived in Australia with the First Fleet, not as an artist however, but as a convicted forger.






So, finally, the Watling drawings are back in Australia, and on the opening night find themselves displayed in front of viewers dressed in tartan and all things Scottish, and suddenly they fall into place. Mission accomplished, and now the long journey home.


More information about the First Fleet Collection and specifically The Watling Collection.



The exhibition runs until 27th July 2014.

For more information follow The Art Gallery of Ballarat via Twitter @artgalbal


(Many thanks to The Art Gallery of Ballarat for the use of their images from Twitter.)

Packed up and ready for the journey.jpgAll ready for the public.JPG

Entertainment for the launch.jpg


On 3rd March we welcomed Rachael Gibson into our team as the Departmental Coordinator for the Library & Archives. Rachael graduated from Liverpool University in May last year with an English Degree and now, whilst working in her part time post with us, is embarking on the road to a PhD. She has a huge love of poetry and, as a result, her subject of choice is Christina Rossetti, a nineteenth century poet. It was a Victorian module during her degree that originally introduced her to Christina and, finding there wasn’t much information to hand about her, became increasingly fascinated. “Christina was single all her life, but was actually proposed to 3 times in 2 years!”. Now Rachael has set herself a personal challenge to complete her PhD.





Rachael joins the NHM with a love of travelling, having lived in both Mexico and Barcelona. She spent just under a year in Mexico teaching English and one year teaching and tutoring in Barcelona. This city was her favourite, although after six years she admits her Spanish is a little rusty!


When her family moved to the South East, Rachael recalls as a seven year old the Natural History Museum was the first place visited in London. “I remember thinking how pretty the building was and how lovely it would be to live there!”.  She remembers seeing Dippy, but not going to the Whale Hall.





She also has  memories of seeing cased butterflies and being fascinated that she could get so close to them, not like the ones back in her garden at home. Rachael was therefore so excited when she came back all those years later for her interview, and now since starting work, she has redressed the balance and visited the Blue Whale and wants to try and be proactive in her lunch break visiting all the public galleries, including our art gallery Images of Nature. In particular she is very much looking forward to the May opening of the new Mammoth Exhibition.


Since starting, Rachael has had to learn a lot, including a new finance system that went live only a few weeks ago, so definitely a good time to have started. She has also introduced a new fortnightly internal staff newsletter, encouraging our busy department to keep up to date with everything that we are all doing.  As Departmental Coordinator Rachael is responsible for the day to day smooth running of the L&A in a role similar to a secretary. This includes; arranging meetings, taking minutes, organising paperwork and emails, and liaising with other Coordinator’s in different departments. All this involves visiting  the many different parts of the museum, and Rachael has had to learn her way around the building as quickly as possible, which is not easy with such a large site. She admits to having copious notes to help her remember where to find everyone.


Welcome to the team!


by Lisa Di Tommaso (Special Collections Librarian)


Packed case.jpg





There’s no doubt many of you have enjoyed exhibitions of art or artefacts from around the world on a variety of topics. But have you ever considered just how the items brought together from across the globe actually made it to the gallery, and the activity involved? The Library at the Natural History Museum lends many items from its collections to exhibitions, be it to an institution just down the road, or to far-flung places overseas. The process of lending material starts many months in advance and involves a large number of people.


I was fortunate enough to travel to Australia recently, to oversee the delivery and installation of some unique artworks from our First Fleet Collection.




(Above and below) The cases containing the artwork are packed into the bespoke crate, before it is sealed.


The paintings were borrowed by the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, for their exhibition entitled Artist Colony, which brings together paintings by officers, convicts and other colonists who helped establish the first European settlement in Port Jackson in the early years from 1788.


In order for the State Library to be Packed crate.jpgable to borrow the items, a number of negotiations took place with the NHM, confirming the items they wished to borrow, the dates and length of time they would be lent for, the temperature and lighting conditions in which they would be displayed, and any security issues. This always involves a lot of paperwork and many emails back and forth across the globe. Temporary export licences are also arranged at this time. A specialist global shipping company was engaged to assist with the transport of items door to door by road and air.


As the time to send the items approached, the Museum’s Paper Conservator prepared the material for transport and for display, and wrote detailed reports on the condition of each item. Having a detailed record of the state of the material before it leaves the Library allows us to check the items again after their long journey to make sure no damage occurred en-route.  The art was then wrapped very carefully in layers of tissue and then packed securely into what look like large suitcases, lined with protective material to prevent any movement on the journey. The shipping company manufactured a bespoke wooden crate, in which the cases were again packed securely, allowing no room for movement and providing maximum shock absorption.


Checking the conditions of the artwork in Sydney.jpgInstalling one of our paintings.jpg



My job as courier was to travel with that case to Sydney, as far as possible not allowing it out of my sight. The crate and I were collected from the Museum early one morning on a lorry and taken to the company depot where last minute checks and paperwork were completed. We were next driven to the airport, where I oversaw the loading of the crate into a pallet which would then be loaded on to the aircraft. As ‘civilians’ are not allowed on to the tarmac, a company representative oversaw the loading of the pallet onto the plane.




(Above) Checking the conditions of the artwork in Sydney and installiing one of our paintings.


After a quick petrol stop at Dubai and assurances that the crate hadn’t been off-loaded, the journey continued on to Sydney. The crates were collected from the freight cargo area, and we were back on the truck to the State Library.




The items were left for 48 hours to acclimatise to their new environmental conditions before the crate was opened. I worked with the Conservation staff at the State Library to check the condition of each item on arrival, and then to oversee the installation of the paintings on to walls in the display area, and books in to their special cases. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to stay for the official opening of the exhibition, but feedback from visitors so far suggests they are thrilled to be able to see artworks which have travelled all the way from London, to be displayed alongside local collections for the first time.

Exhibition installation in progress.jpgEnsuring one of the NHM’s volumes is correctly placed in its case.jpg


(Above) Exhibition installation in progress and ensuring one of the NHM's volumes is correctly placed in its case.


It takes a huge team effort and plenty of logistics to bring together items for exhibitions – so spare a thought for all the people involved next time you admire an item on loan from another institution!


The final installation.jpg









The final installation!


Migrating an old card catalogue from hard copy to digital form is a complex task. When we made the switch in 1998, tens of thousands of items made it across – but thanks to our recent stock audit, we’ve turned up a few treasures that didn’t. Although these items still exist in the card catalogue and on the shelf, they may not have been recorded electronically. With such a vast and rich collection, an extra copy or two might escape notice. For this reason, we close annually to audit our stock.



Due to the size of the Library collection, we choose a section each year to audit. Recently, we’ve been focused on ensuring our Special Collections are all present and correct. For most staff, this involves printing a list of what the catalogue says we have on the shelf, and manually comparing it to what is on the shelf. If books are on the shelf but not the catalogue, they need to be added – usually, from scratch.



The Cataloguing Team spent our recent audit (November 2013) rediscovering and cataloguing some pretty interesting stuff – so we thought we’d share them with you. We don’t always know a lot about them though, so the pictures may have to speak for themselves!




A labour of love this year involved unravelling our catalogue entries for Archetypa Studiaque Patris (Hoefnagel, 1592). We hold three copies, all with different plates bound in different orders, inside different bindings, with different histories. One copy of the three is coloured. In its coloured form, this title is exceptionally rare. We can’t be sure our copy was coloured at the time of publication, but we hope so – for artwork 420 years old, the colours are still fantastic.     Archetypa-Studiaque-Patris-(1592)-frog.jpg  



Our audit is also a good chance to monitor our collections for items which may need some level of conservation -- this set is a prime example (image below). Chemicals used in the tanning process of this binding have become acidic over time, turning the leather flaky and brittle. Using the books n this state will damage them further, while leaving them on the shelf might lead to their neighbours (and librarians!) getting discoloured as well. So, off to the conservation studio...






More unusual was finding “an old pin with the twisted wire head” taped into a page, and a retention request! Adhesive tape and rusty pins aren’t good for books, so they’re both being removed by our paper conservator. The pin will be kept, but in a small pocket or envelope.












Some other new favourites included…


The Dry Fly Man’s Handbook (Halford, 1897). We hold the original manuscript, but you’ll have to be the judge of whether the manuscript is more or less fascinating than Volume 2 – with real fishing flies!

Our-manuscript-copy-of-The-Dry-Fly-Man's-Handbook.jpg  Real-fishing-flies-from-The-Dry-Fly-Man's-Handbook.jpg


A Victorian tale of murder and mayhem unfolds in Nemesis among the beetles (Gould, Britton Jr., c.1875)…


Nemesis-Among-the-Beetles.jpg  A-drama-unfolds-in-Nemesis-Among-the-Beetles.jpg


A 20th century scrapbook of the author’s (Richard T. Lewis) published and original artwork, mounted side by side:


And last but not least, 5 binders full of a stamp collection focused on butterflies and moths (complete with negatives). 


I wonder what we’ll rediscover next year? We shall keep you posted.




Hellen Pethers: Reader Services Librarian








How long have you worked at the NHM?


8 1/2 years, wow that went fast!


What were you doing before you came here?


I graduated from Brighton University (Library and Information Studies BA Hons) in 2000 and began my professional career at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, by starting as a Library Assistant and progressing to Librarian. I joined the NHM in 2005, so now I've spent 13 years working in the Museum Library environment and love it! I've been fortunate enough to work in two fantastic large museums, in two incredible buildings and with internationally renowned collections. I count myself very lucky!


What does your average day look like?

I'm responsible for the day to day management of our Public Reading Room and my office is next to the main enquiry desk. With so many different people making appointments to visit us and contacting us via phone and email, no day is the same nor predictable. I love meeting new people, learning about their research and exchanging a shared love of the natural world.






We have collections in over 100 locations all over the Museum's South Kensington site and elsewhere, so fetching the material requested by visitors ready for their visit is a constant activity. I manage the Library & Archives blog and Twitter @NHM_Library, and encourage my colleagues to contribute to regular entries such as Item of the Month and behind the scenes project updates. I really enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for our collections and I get the chance to take part in Nature Live talks within the Museum. These have been on William Smith's geological map and on printed zoological ephemera relating to menageries and other oddities.


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


In 8 years I've become rather fond of numerous items in the collections, in particular printed ephemera relating to the weird and wonderful world of menageries and animal shows. But if I really had to pick one, it would be William Hamilton's Campi Phlegrei (1779), because it makes me chuckle thinking about the first time I learnt about it. When I started at the NHM I worked as Assistant Librarian in the Earth Sciences Library, I had just spent the previous 5 years being immersed in the world of Admiral Nelson. So I was almost relieved to start my new job, surrounded by fossils and minerals, seemingly a world away from Horatio! Only to find that in my first week, I was introduced to this wonderful book depicting the different stages of activity of Mount Vesuvius, and only to find that the author William Hamilton was the husband of Admiral Horatio Nelson's mistress Emma! Turns out I can run, but I can't hide!


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


On a beautiful sunny summer's day I love our Wildlife Garden, a little gem in central London. You can sit surrounded by nature, whilst still being aware of the hustle and bustle of London traffic around you. But nothing beats standing by the giant sequoia at the top of the museum, first thing in the morning, as the sun shines through the stained glass windows, across the empty floor of the central hall before the doors open and our visitors fill the building.


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

Since working at the NHM I've fallen in love with many animals I didn't even know existed, but I think I would be a dolphin. Family means everything to me, as far as I can see dolphins always look like they are having fun and stick together as a unit, so that's good enough for me!






Agarose is a rigid gel made of seaweed and it is a homogeneous polysaccharide. Rigid gel is water in solid form at room temperature and in this example we are using seaweed that is made up of over 95% of water. The advantages of using rigid gels in paper conservation is only a recent discovery.


The proceedure is as follows:


When the gel is placed over an object that is drier than itself, water travels through from the gel to the object. It is thanks to the process of osmosis that this takes place. 


Once the concentration of water is increased on the object, the water is pulled back into the gel, but this time it also drags any impurities from the object back with it into the gel. This allows us to clean an area locally without immersing the whole object in a bath.




The water is released on the object slowly. I used Agarose gel (4.5%) to surface clean an area on a watercolour. The area was affected by the adhesive underneath, which created stains on the surface of the artwork that subsequently attracted dirt. I placed gels on top of the affected area and left them for a while. The only area subjected to any moisture was purely the area that the gel pieces were place on.


The yellow discolouration faded and the dirt was removed.


A successful technique, involving minimal distruption and handling to this type of item from our collections.




by Konstantina Konstantinidou (Paper Conservator)


Caroline Catchpole: Archivist Wallace Collection





How long have you worked at the NHM?

2 years


What were you doing before you came here?

I began my archive career at Kew Gardens where I worked for two years, the second year part time whilst I studied for my archival qualification at UCL. I then worked in the archives at Kings College London before coming here.


What does your average day look like?

I think one of the reasons I became an Archivist is that no two days are the same which keeps you on your toes! As Archivist for the Wallace Correspondence Project, one thing I can be sure of is that my day will include thinking about and talking about Wallace! My job includes cataloguing Wallace letters into our project’s database, answering enquiries about the project and Wallace. I research the letters and select which ones to tweet about on the NHM L&A Twitter page (@nhm_library )and also which ones to write about for my ‘Letter of the Month’ blog. (Wallace100 blog)


Our database of letters includes letters to and from Wallace from repositories around the world, so I’m responsible for talking to these repositories and arranging for their Wallace letters to be scanned and sent to me. I also manage a successful volunteering programme whereby volunteers assist the project by transcribing the letters. I then link the transcriptions to our database so people who use Wallace Letters Online are met most of the time (2,600 out of 4,700 letters are transcribed) with a user-friendly transcription instead of trying to decipher Victorian scrawl.



I also get to give talks to the public about Wallace and his archive we have here at the museum which is one of my favourite things to do.


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

A letter that Wallace wrote to Richard Spruce in September 1852 because the story contained in it is so dramatic and life-changing. Wallace left the Amazon in July 1852, but he was shipwrecked when the boat that was taking him back to England caught fire and sank not long into the voyage. He only had time to save a few personal possessions before abandoning ship. The survivors were rescued 10 days later and it was aboard this rescue boat that Wallace composed his 8 page letter to Spruce. In it he details the sinking and the loss of two years’ worth of Amazonian specimens. You can really feel the desolation at having lost his collections – he wrote that his collections would have been the finest in Europe had they survived. Towards the end of the letter you can feel his utter joy at arriving back in the UK after the nightmare voyage home. This letter always makes me wonder as well would his life have taken a different course if he hadn’t lost his collections and diaries and notes from the Amazon?


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

My favourite public place in the museum is the balcony where the Huxley and Owen statues are and looking back at Central Hall over Dippy, to the Darwin Statue and Wallace portrait. I still get awestruck every time I’m up there. My favourite objects on display are the Blaschka glass models in the Treasures gallery; they are so beautiful and unique. I think it speaks volumes that with all the technology we have today, no-one has been able to reproduce them since they were first made in the nineteenth century.


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

A bumblebee. They do such a vital job for our eco-system and are having a bit of a hard time of it at the moment. So at least if I became one, it’d boost the numbers slightly.


James Hodgkin: Library Services Manager

James and Megatherium.jpg


How long have you worked at the NHM?

8 years

What were you doing before you came here?

My first library job was at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) which was a fascinating mix of nationalities and subjects. That persuaded me to be a librarian so I got a qualification from Loughborough University. My job before NHM was at Oxford University, English Faculty Library. Oxford was a wonderful place to work and live, but I don’t remember getting paid very much. I guess you were privileged to work there and competition for jobs was huge.

What does your average day look like?

I don’t have average days anymore. Since I became a “manager”, anything can be thrown at me and the day job will be working on various projects. This is really interesting and pushes me to keep learning. It is not the usual museum library because of the quantity and quality of the NHM’s scientific research. We are undoubtedly playing catch up but the areas we are developing have far more in common with the university sector. I look after customer services and this also means our external users. We have been getting busier over the last 5 years which is great and it is fascinating to see the variety of visitors from all over the world coming to use our unique collections. We are regarded as a national collection as well as a local library supporting NHM research – this can be a tricky balance to maintain!



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

I don’t really have much to do with the collections anymore which is a shame so all my favourites will come from my time as an Earth Sciences Librarian. I have a soft spot for William Buckland: a fascinating and slightly bonkers contradiction of a man whose work supported the theory of a biblical flood but was also quite ground breaking in hinting at modern developments in geology and palaeontology. Check out the background image on our twitter page – a beautiful fold-out from Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology (1836).

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

Place = Top of the main staircase next to the Giant Sequoia. Object = I love some of the retro galleries like Human Biology. It was a totally different way of designing museum galleries (no specimens!). I think we are moving towards more science and collections on public display which is great. The Polar Bear is my favourite object – huge paws.

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

A duck. I love being on or around rivers and canals, they can walk, swim and fly plus they are smart enough to be tame and get fed by humans. Am I also allowed to say they taste good?


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


Edd Bagenal: Internet Archive Digitisation Technician


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?




Chickens- for roasting and egg laying.

Humming birds- they are probably the best animal.

Seahorses- because they are so relaxed.

Bees- to sweeten my time there.




Tobacco- because what else are you gonna put in your pipe whilst contemplating your existence?

Jasmine- to go with the bees.

Spinach- to keep me strong.

Bamboo- nature's gift to human ingenuity.


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


Humming birds. They have a lot to offer aesthetically.


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


Audubon's The Birds of America. I don't think I could ever get bored of them.


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


A pencil and endless paper. I would never be bored with those.


Anthracothorax nigricollis, black-throated mango Plate 184 from John James Audubon's Birds of America, original double elephant folio (1831-34), hand-coloured aquatint. Engraved, printed and coloured by R. Havell (& Son), London. NHM Image Ref: 003184

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