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The Natural History Museum Library

Address. Department of Library & Information Services, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD [Map]
Telephone. (020) 7938-9191; General Museum enquiries (020) 7938-9123
Fax. (020) 7938-9290
e-mail. [library@nhm.ac.uk]
Internet. http://library.nhm.ac.uk/ (catalogue); http://www.nhm.ac.uk/ (homepage). Specialist enquiries should be directed to the relevant subject library;

General & Zoology Libraries: Telephone: (020) 7938-9191; e-mail:[genlib@nhm.ac.uk]

Botany Library: Telephone: (020) 7938-9421; e-mail:[botlib@nhm.ac.uk]

Earth Sciences Library: Telephone: (020) 7938-9207; e-mail: [earthscilib@nhm.ac.uk]

Entomology Library: Telephone: (020) 7938-9491;e-mail: [tlib@nhm.ac.uk]

Ornithology & Rothschild Libraries (Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum, Akeman Street, Tring, Hertfordshire HP23 6AP): Telephone: (01442) 82 41 81; e-mail: [botlib@nhm.ac.uk]

Governing body or responsible institution. The Natural History Museum, London. Formerly known as British Museum (Natural History)
Function. Research library.
Subjects. Reference library for the life and earth sciences specialising in taxonomy and systematics.

Access. The library's main purpose is to support the work of the Museum. Access to the collections is also available to bona fide researchers. Enquiries should be directed to the relevant subject libraries. - The collections are available for reference only. Opening hours: Monday to Friday 10 a.m. - 4.30 p.m. by appointment. They are closed on Public Holidays and certain other days. Full details are available on request. On your first visit you will be issued (subject to proof of identity) with a readers ticket valid for two years.
Special facilities. Photocopies can usually be made at the Librarian's discretion in all the libraries (subject to copyright regulations). Details of charges are available on request. Photographs can be supplied (subject to copyright regulations). Details of charges are available on request from the Picture Library.
Travel directions. Nearest underground station: South Kensington. Buses: 14, 345, 49, 70, 74 and C1. The Museum is also not far from the Victoria coach and rail stations. There is a [printable map] on the Museum's website


1.1 The natural history departments of the British Museum, but not the main library collections on natural history, moved from Bloomsbury to South Kensington in 1881. (The library collections are now a part of the British Library). Small departmental libraries had been built up in the years preceding the move, and to these was added in 1881 a General Library, to hold those works which were of interest to more than one department such as books on regional natural history. The Head of the General Library had general oversight of the departmental libraries. The first Head of the General Library, Bernhard Barham Woodward (1853-1930), helped by Frederick Justen (1832-1906) of the London book dealers Dulau & Co, and Charles Davies Sherborn (1861-1942), one of the finest natural history bibliographers of all time, built up the collections by presentation, purchase and exchange into a library of international importance. Following Woodward was Basil Harrington Soulsby (1864-1933) who devoted much time to building up the Linnaeus Collection. The largest single donation to the Museum Library came in 1937 when Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937) bequeathed his Zoological Museum and Library to the Natural History Museum, of which it is now an out-station, housing the Bird Group and the Ornithology and Rothschild Libraries. All the libraries at South Kensington and Tring now form part of the Department of Library and Information Services and continue to acquire material by presentation, exchange and purchase, particularly that of taxonomic and systematic importance, in all languages.


2.1 The Natural History Museum is recognised nationally and internationally as a centre of excellence for taxonomy and systematics, the science of identifying, naming and classifying living and extinct life forms and for studying their interrelationships, and for the study of mineralogy. The Library of the Natural History Museum is a reference library for the life and earth sciences specialising in taxonomy and systematics. Collection development policy in the Museum Libraries has always been based on the need to acquire publications in any language containing descriptions of new genera and species. The application of this policy throughout the long history of the libraries has resulted in the Museum Libraries collectively becoming one of the most comprehensive resources for the study of natural history and allied subjects, in the world.

2.2 In terms of the major classics of natural history, holdings are extremely strong. From Pliny the Elder's Historia naturalis (Venice 1469), virtually every work and edition of significance is held. For those interested in the history of classification, the Museum Libraries' collection of works by and about Carl von Linné (also referred to as Carl Linnaeus, 1707-1778) is one of the three largest in the world (see below 2.6 ).

Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.3 The collections are of international importance with extensive holdings of early works, periodicals and current literature; including over one million books, 25,000 periodical titles and the third largest collection of original watercolour drawings in the United Kingdom (including hundreds of drawings by Georg Forster), as well as maps, (especially geological maps), manuscripts, CD-ROMs and the Museum Archives. There are 21 incunabula. Holdings of the 16th to 18th century cannot be specified with certainty, but there are at least 13,000-15,000 pre 1800- or 1850-items in the collection as described in the subject libraries below.

2.4 There is no survey of the collection by language in existence but as a proportion of the whole, German language holdings would be approximately 5 per cent and German imprint holdings would bring this up to approximately 7 per cent. The German language holdings do vary from subject to subject with some areas, e.g. entomology, likely to have larger holdings when considered separately. The following descriptions of the libraries' Germanic holdings offer a few selected highlights of the collections. Researchers are encouraged to search the Museum's website (see above) or contact the relevant subject libraries for more details.

Subject outline

General and Zoology Libraries

2.5 The General Library collection embraces multidisciplinary subjects including biodiversity, taxonomy and systematics, molecular biology, ecology, evolution, curation, biographies of naturalists, regional natural history and travel and exploration related to natural history. The Zoology Library collection contains literature on all groups of living animals except arachnids and insects. Special book collections for the General and Zoology Libraries total c. 5,000 vols of pre-1850 books and pamphlets, in addition to periodicals. Important Germanic items in the General Library include: Vincentius Bellovacensis (1190?-1264), Speculum Naturae (Strasbourg 1473?); four copies of Ortus Sanitatis (compiled from the German Hortus Sanitatis), two printed in Mainz (1491), one printed in Strasbourg (?) (c. 1495), and a further one printed in Strasbourg (?) (c. 1500); Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zur Naturwissenschaft überhaupt, besonders zur Morphologie (Stuttgart and Tübingen 1817-1824).

2.6 The Linnaeus Collection in the General Library contains c. 1510 vols by or about Carl von Linné including many interesting items such as the rare poem by Frederick Galvert (1731-1771) in Latin, French and English, printed in an edition of 10 copies at Augsburg, Gaudia Poetica: Latina, Anglica, et Gallica lingua composita (Augsburg 1770) which describes the home and work of Carl von Linné. The important Germanic works held in the Zoology Library include Conrad Gesner (1516-1565), Historiae Animalium (Zürich 1551-1587; and the 2nd edition Frankfurt 1617-1621). The Swiss scholar was the author of the first large-scale illustrated work on zoology. The library also holds August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof (1705-1759), Historia naturalis Ranarum nostratium in qua omnes earum proprietates praesertim quae ad generationem ipsarum pertinent, fusius enarrantur = Die natürliche Historie der Frösche hiesigen Landes, &c. (Nuremberg 1758). Rösel von Rosenhof made important observations on the development of frogs and this work features beautiful coloured plates, one showing the metamorphosis from egg to tadpole to frog. The text is in Latin and German in parallel columns. Another example is Georg Eberhard Rumpf (1627-1702), Amboinische Raritäten-Kammer, oder Abhandlung von den steinschaalichten Thieren, welche man Schnecken und Muscheln nennet (Vienna 1766). This is a German translation of the second book, or Molluscan portion, of the D'Amboinsche Rariteitkammer. Finally, Alfred Edmund Brehm (1829-1884), Illustrirtes Thierleben (Hildburghausen 1863-1869) should be mentioned. This popular survey of the animal kingdom went through many editions.

Botany Library

2.7 The Botany Library has a comprehensive coverage of world-wide floras, plant taxonomy, economic botany, botanical art, history and biography for flowering and non-flowering plants. There is a limited collection on fungi. The special book collection comprises c. 3,000 vols pre-1801, in addition to periodicals. In addition to the Linnaeus Collection in the General Library, the Botany Library has a special collection of c. 4,000 vols of botanical works by or about Carl von Linné. Examples of important Germanic works held in the Botany Library include: Conrad Gesner, Opera Botanica ... Omnia ex Bibliotheca D. C. J. Trew ...nunc primum in lucem edidit et præfatus est D. C. C. Schmiedel (Nuremberg 1751-1771); Conrad von Alemann, of Magdeburg, Das Buch der Natur (German; Augsburg [14]75); four copies of Ortus Sanitatis (see above 2.5); Hieronymus Bock (1498-1554), New Kreütter Büch von underscheydt, würckung und namen der kreütter (Strasbourg 1539); Christoph Jacob Trew (1695-1769), Plantæ selectæ, quarum imagines ad exemplaria naturalia Londini in hortis curiosorum nutrita manu ...pinxit G. D. Ehret (Nuremberg 1750-1773); finally, Anton Hartinger, Endlicher's Paradisus Vindobonensis, Abbildungen seltener und schönblühender Pflanzen der Wiener und anderer Gärten und Museen (Wien 1844-1860).

Earth Sciences Library

2.8 The literature contained in the Earth Sciences Library reflects the scientific research in the Palaeontology and Mineralogy Departments in the Museum. The library provides comprehensive coverage of mineralogy, crystallography, palaeontology, biological and physical anthropology, meteorites and most aspects of geology. The special books collection includes c. 1,600 pre-1850 vols of mineralogy. The collection contains many important books including the impressive work by Georgius Agricola (1494-1555), De re metallica libri XII ... Quibus accesserunt hac ultima editione ...sequentes ... (Basel 1657). Other earlier works by Agricola are also held. Further examples are Joannes Bartholomaeus Adamus Beringer, Lithographiae Wirceburgensis, ducentis lapidum figuratorum, a potiori insectiformium, prodigiosis imaginibus exornatae specimen primum (Würzburg 1726); Baron Ernst Friedrich von Schlotheim (1764-1832), Beschreibung merkwürdiger Kräuter-Abdrücke und Pflanzen-Versteinerungen: ein Beitrag zur Flora der Vorwelt (Gotha 1804); finally, Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel (1834-1919), Anthropogenie oder Entwickelungsgeschichte des Menschen: gemeinverständliche wissenschaftliche Vorträge über die Grundzüge der menschlichen Keimes- und Stammesgeschichte (Leipzig 1874).

Entomology Library

2.9 The Entomology Library provides a comprehensive coverage of insect and arachnid taxonomy, systematics, nomenclature and medical and veterinary entomology. The collection also includes literature on insect ecology, physiology, behaviour, conservation, genetics, economic entomology, the history of tomology and biographical material. Literature on other groups, such as the Myriapoda and Tardigrada is also held. The special book collection contains c. 2,000 pre-1851 books. All the major tomology works published in Germany or in the German language since the 16th century are represented in this collection. A few examples from this major collection include: the remarkable Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung, und sonderbare Blumen-Nahrung (Nuremberg 1683); Jacob Hübner (1761-1826), Sammlung Europäischer Schmetterlinge (Augsburg [1793-]1796-1830[-41]; Georg Wolfgang Franz Panzer (1755-1829), Faunae Insectorum Germanica initia (Nuremberg [1792-]1793-1809[-23]).

Ornithology & Rothschild Libraries (Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum)

2.10 The Ornithology Library is the Museum's principal source for modern ornithological literature. The majority of works in the Ornithology Library are post-1939. The Rothschild Library is a historical collection of bird literature, general natural history and early travel works containing c. 40,000 vols. The majority of the Rothschild collection is pre-1938. Examples of the many interesting works held include: the earliest book held at Tring, Gregorius Reisch (d. 1525), Margarita Philosophica (Naturalis Rationalis Moralis) (Heidelberg 1504); Johann Matthaeus Bechstein (1757-1822), Ornithologisches Taschenbuch von und für Deutschland oder kurze Beschreibung aller Vögel Deutschlands (Leipzig 1802-1812); Johann Wolf (1765-1824) and Bernhard Meyer (1767-1836), Naturgeschichte der Vögel Deutschlands in getreuen Abbildungen und Beschreibungen = Histoire naturelle des Oiseaux de l'Allemagne (Nuremberg 1805-1821). The work was issued in 29 parts, each having six plates with their text: a 30th part was in preparation, and others projected, in January, 1821. The work was published in German and French in parallel columns. Finally, J. P. A. Leisler, Nachträge zu Bechstein's Naturgeschichte Deutschlands (Hanau 1812-1813) should be mentioned.


3.1 Modern catalogues


[Available on the Internet, contains everything added to the collection since January 1989 and around 80 per cent of previously acquired material. There is an ongoing retrospective conversion project to extend coverage to the full library collection.]

Library catalogue:


Each of the libraries retains a card catalogue which was closed in 1988.

Natural History Museum (London): Department of Library and Information Services. Serial titles held in the Department of Library and Information Services. 4th ed. London 1995

British Museum (Natural History): A catalogue of the works of Linnaeus: [and publications more immediately relating thereto] preserved in the libraries of the British Museum (Bloomsbury) and the British Museum (Natural History, South Kensington). Compiled by B. H. Soulsby. 2nd ed. London 1933

3.2 Historic catalogue

British Museum (Natural History). Library. Catalogue of the books, manuscripts, maps and drawings in the British Museum (Natural History). London 1903-40 (repr. New York 1991)


4.1 Archival sources

The Museum is covered by the Public Records Act of 1958, as amended 1967, and is recognised as a place of deposit by the Public Record Office. The Archives are all held in the Museum at South Kensington and all items more than thirty years old may be consulted by appointment with the Archivist. The only exception are personal files, which remain closed until the death of the subject.

4.2 Publications

British Museum (Natural History): The history of the collections contained in the natural history departments of the British Museum. 2 vols and Appendix. London 1904-12 (vol. 1 contains an account of the libraries and principal accessions from 1753 to 1900)

Sawyer, Frederick Charles: A short history of the libraries and list of manuscripts and original drawings in the British Museum (Natural History). In: Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History). Historical series 4, no. 2 (1971) pp. 77-204

Thackeray, John C.: A guide to the official archives of the Natural History Museum, London. London 1998


There are many publications on aspects of the collections, but none specifically related to material of German origin. Some references are listed below.

General references:

Stearn, William T.: The Natural History Museum at South Kensington. A history of the Museum, 1753-1980. London 1998, pp. 317-330 [on the library] (Reprint of: The Natural History Museum at South-Kensington. A history of the British Museum [Natural History] 1753-1980. London 1981)

References to aspects of the collection:

Banks, R. E. R.: Resources for the history of science in the libraries of the British Museum (Natural History). In: British Journal for the History of Science 21 (1) no. 68 (1988) pp. 91-97

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ... 2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 183-185

April 1999

Carol Gokce

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.