About the Collections

Library Collections

The Academy’s remarkable Library collection houses nearly 250,000 titles 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 400 foreign exchange partners. Our printed works detail many significant developments in the field of natural history.

Our collections contain stunningly beautiful illustrated works from the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as lengthy runs of serial publications dating back to the 17th century. In addition, our collections incorporate a wealth of expedition literature, including both the works of distinguished scientists such as Lewis and Clark, and the published journals of amateur naturalists. Notable 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 collections are available through the Library Online Catalog.

Archival Collections

The Library's published collections, both print and electronic formats, is superbly complemented by 2,000 Archives collections containing over a million items. The Archives is comprised not only of administrative records and official Academy documents, but also an abundance of unpublished scientific and personal materials derived from the collections of scientists and others associated with the Academy. The Archives houses a wide variety 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. Intriguing artifacts such as a life mask of Audubon, and copperplates used in the printing of Audubon's and Wilson's works are housed in the Archives collection.

Go to Academy Archives for more information on archival finding aids, guides and archival services.

Illustrations

The Library is a treasure trove 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, from the flora 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  wonderfully complemented by the original sketches and paintings in the Archives collection. 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 Archives collection.

Periodicals

More than 2,500 scientific journals from numerous countries are received annually, allowing Academy scientists to keep abreast of the very latest research in their respective fields. Many of the titles 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 research. 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 Online Catalog.

Photographs

From its beginnings in America around 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 hand-colored 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  celebrated scientists exist in just about every format from the daguerreotype to the color slide.

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