Behind the scenes with our Modern Collections Team | Library and Archives

The Library holds a vast collection of literature covering all branches of the natural sciences. We collect this material to support the ground breaking science carried out in the Museum. To ensure we continue to support this research, we are constantly adding to our collections.

Photo of a member of the Library staff on a movable ladders placing a book into one of the shelving racks in the Library

Those collections don’t shelve themselves…

Over the past year, the Library purchased over one thousand books and subscribed and maintained access to hundreds of serials (journals, magazines and other items published in successive parts) both print and electronic. In addition to purchasing titles, we received hundreds more books and serials as gifts from other institutions and in exchange for our own material. New and existing collections need to be processed, cared for and maintained… and that’s where the Library’s Modern Collections team comes in.

The Modern Collections team are a group of librarians located just beyond the Library’s public reading room. Each day, the team is hard at work acquiring and caring for collections, ensuring that the Library continues to hold the World’s most comprehensive resource for current and historical natural history literature.

The team deals with books and serials covering a range of subjects every week; just last week we received books on subjects as diverse as violence and warfare amongst hunter gatherers, Japanese horticulture, Chinese land snails and the sounds made by Brazilian frogs and toads! We receive serials from all over the world, which makes our collections particularly rich in international, hard to get material. This is due to our active exchanges programme, which involves sending Museum journals to partners throughout the world in exchange for their material.

Photograph showing the Library and Archives staff at their desks working in their office

The busy hub that is the Modern Collections team office!

Books and serials are processed by the team and are stored in subject libraries. Subject libraries are located throughout the museum building, as originally, when the Museum was first established, science departments kept their literature close to the scientists’ working areas.

A lot of material is still retained in these areas, which are located throughout the vast labyrinth that is the Museum building. Books and serials can be found in libraries located from the topmost gallery to the depths of the Museum’s basement. Having the collections in such close proximity to the scientists may be useful for them, but it means shelving and locating items can take a bit of leg work!

In addition to acquiring material and ensuring that it is stored appropriately, the team carry out conservation tasks, ensuring loose pages, maps and papers are attached to the books they accompany and making sure that items are in a good enough condition to be used in the reading room.

Photo showing one of the staff working on a page before reattaching it to a book, with tools and other materials on the desk in front of them.

Attaching loose pages using archival quality conservation material

The team contribute many essential services to the development and maintenance of the Library’s collections. Without their vital contribution the Library would not be able to continue to provide researchers with the invaluable, comprehensive collections on offer. These tasks may not be glamorous, but they are essential to ensure that Museum staff and external library users can continue to access to the most cutting edge natural history research.

Let’s hear it for the Mod Coll team!

To learn more about the collections held by the Library and Archives, including the electronic resources we subscribe to (most of which can be accessed by external researchers using our reading room), and how to make an appointment to research in the public reading room, please visit our webpages.

Written by Heather Anderson, Information Assistant, Modern Collections Team