About the Collections
The Library collections are remarkable with nearly 200,000 volumes ranging from works published in the 1500s to current serials and monographs from all over the world. Since the Library's early years, we have exchanged scientific publications with institutions worldwide, currently receiving publications from 850 foreign exchange partners. Our printed works detail many significant developments in the field of natural history.
In our collection we have stunningly beautiful illustrated works from the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as lengthy runs of serial publications dating back to the 18th century. In addition, our collection incorporates a wealth of expedition literature, including both the works of distinguished scientists such as Lewis and Clark, and the published journals of amateur naturalists. Authors and artists represented in our collection include Louis Agassiz, John James Audubon, William Bartram, Mark Catesby, Charles Darwin, Conrad Gesner, John Gould, Carl Linnaeus, Charles Wilson Peale, Pierre Joseph Redoute, and Alexander Wilson. Access to the Library's collection is available through the Library Catalog.
The Library's published collection, both print and electronic formats, is superbly complemented by an extensive collection of some 250,000 archival items. The Archives is comprised not only of administrative records and official Academy documents, but also an abundance of scientific and personal unpublished materials derived from the collections of scientists and others associated with the Academy. The Archives houses a wide diversity of media including manuscript correspondence, field notebooks, personal diaries, and many photographic formats. Throughout the years a tradition of gifts and bequests to the Library and Archives has resulted in the acquisition of incredible collections bequeathed by people with an Academy connection. As a result the Archives art collection is impressive, including oil portraits (many displayed in the Reading Room) together with numerous original sketches and illustrations prepared for inclusion in scientific publications. We also have archival materials from such celebrities as John James Audubon, Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Wilson. Artifacts such as a life mask of Audubon, and copperplates used in the printing of Audubon's and Wilson's works are also part of the Archives collection.
Go to Academy Archives for more information on archival finding aids, guides and archival services.
The Library is a treasure house of magnificent illustrated volumes on natural sciences, from the pre-Linnean classics of Gesner, Aldrovandi and Catesby (published before 1750) through the great bird books of Gould, Audubon, Elliot, and Wilson and the floras of Redoute, Sowerby, and the Bauers, to the 20th century masters of wildlife art, F.L. Jaques, L.A. Fuertes, and Terence Shortt. The richness of these printed works is equaled and complemented by the original sketches and paintings in the manuscript collections. The 1849/1850 watercolors of the American Southwest by Edward and Richard Kern, Alexander Lawson's 19th century scrapbooks of original drawings and engravings, and a 17th century album of insect paintings by the English naturalist Alexander Marshal are among the highlights of the manuscript collection.
More than 2,500 scientific journals from 116 countries are received annually, allowing Academy scientists to keep abreast of the very latest research in their respective fields. Many of the periodicals are received from other scientific institutions in exchange for the Academy's renowned Proceedings and other publications, a practice begun in 1817 when the Academy began to publish its researches. As a result the Library's journal collection is rich in long, unbroken runs and unique copies, published in a wide range of languages. Information about the journal holdings is easily accessible through the Library's OPAC (online public access catalog).
From its beginning in America about 1840, photography has been used to document the various activities of the Academy. Events, personalities, expeditions, and scientific specimens are all represented in the collection, from the interior of the Academy's museum in 1841 to the most recent scientific discovery, new staff member, or public event. Botanical images representing Philadelphia's preeminence in late 19th century art photography are shelved beside handcolored glass lantern slides of local plants; views of Perry's exploration of Greenland in 1891 vie for attention with Academy expeditions to Africa and Tibet in the 1930s and to Ecuador and Venezuela in the 1980s. Portraits of eminent scientists about in every format from the daguerreotype to the color slide.
Facilities for copying, purchase, or rental make this unique collection available to users. The Library staff will assist in selecting the best available images for study and publication.