A couple of months ago I was asked by Copac to write a piece about the Library that I work in, and I was only too happy to oblige as I can proudly say I work in a very special library, which I’d love to tell you more about…
My name is Emma, and I’m the Deputy Librarian at the Library of the Zoological Society of London. We’re situated just on the edge of Regent’s Park, next to London Zoo, and we are one of the largest (and oldest) zoological libraries in the world! We have in the region of 200,000 items on our shelves, comprising of about 40,000 books, 5000 journal titles, along with art works and archives, all of which are related to the study of zoology. We also have nearly 20,000 unique records on Copac, demonstrating how unusual some of the items in our collection are.
ZSL Library interior
You may have noticed that I tend to stress that the Library is part of the Zoological Society of London, and that’s because ZSL is made up of many departments working together on a range of projects, across the globe. ZSL is comprised of not only London Zoo, but also Whipsnade Zoo, and very importantly the huge team of scientists and conservationists that make up two departments called the Institute of Zoology and Conservation Programmes. The Library has the challenging task of trying to support the needs of the staff in all of these areas (many of whom are overseas) ranging from ordering books about the naked mole rat for Keeper staff here in London, to helping with literature searching about the red panda for our colleagues out in Nepal! The Library is also open to members of the public, with the hope that we might inspire an enthusiasm for the conservation of animals.
Also, people are often surprised to find out that the Zoological Society of London has a rich history – a history that the Library has been intertwined with from ZSL’s founding in 1826. In 1826, an ambitious man named Sir Stamford Raffles founded ZSL to meet the needs of the growing zoological community. One of the obvious aims was to create a living collection of animals, but another very important goal was to create a leading zoological library. In the early days the library had various locations across London, including Leicester Square and Hannover Square, but by 1910 it was decided that the library should be closer to the living animal collection in Regent’s Park, and from that day on is where the Library has remained.
To give an idea of the kind of material ZSL Library holds, we wanted to share with you some of the highlights of the collection, but it has been proving very difficult to select just a few as there are so many to choose from! So I hope you don’t mind that I’ve selected a few that are my personal favourites, and hopefully you can see why.
Historiae animalium / by Konrad Gessner (1516-1565). – Tiguri : Froschover, 1551-85
Konrad Gessner was a Swiss naturalist, who was trying to describe all of the animals that were known (and unknown) at the time, and his 5 book work, Historiae animalium, is the culmination of his efforts. In these books can be found descriptions of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles – some accurate, but some curious, like this ‘giraffe’ below. This is also one of our oldest books in the Library.
‘Giraffe’ picture – Historiae animalium by Konrad Gessner (1516-1565).
The Library also contains a unique archival collection relating to the history of ZSL, and one of our more heavily consulted items is a series of volumes called Daily Occurrences. They record the comings and goings of animals at both London and Whipsnade Zoos, from both of the zoos foundation to the present day (admittedly the current ones are electronic). This particular page shows the arrival of one of the stars London Zoo – Jumbo the Elephant.
Daily Occurrences – 26th June 1865
Illustrations of the family of Psittacidae, or parrots, the greater part of them species hitherto unfigured… / by Edward Lear (1812-1888). – London : Lear, 1832
Edward Lear is most commonly known for his ‘nonsense poetry’ (i.e. the Owl and the Pussycat), but Lear was also a phenomenally talented artist whose skill influenced the style of others, such as the ornithologist John Gould and his wife Elizabeth. One of Lear’s most beautiful works is his volume on the family of parrots, of which the illustrations were based on the birds in ZSL’s parrot house.
Illustrations of the family of Psittacidae, or parrots, the greater part of them species hitherto unfigured… / by Edward Lear (1812-1888). – London : Lear, 1832.
ZSL Library welcomes members of the public, as well as Staff and Fellows of the ZSL. As well as being able to make use of our resources, we usually have something of interest on display and there are always paintings and sculptures to admire in the Reading Room. To find out more please email firstname.lastname@example.org or consult our web pages http://www.zsl.org/about-us/zsl-library-collection. Don’t forget to follow on Twitter @ZSLArts
The Zoological Society of London
All images copyright the Zoological Society of London and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.