Members of the SLA@SJU, the student chapter of the Special Libraries Association, took a trip to the Bronx Zoo on April 11th to tour the Wildlife Conservation Society Library and Archives. Led by archivist Madeleine Thompson, the students had a chance to speak with librarians and other archivists about highly specialized collections.
“The formation of a zoological library was among the initial aims of the Wildlife Conservation Society upon its founding in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society. In 1909, with the construction of the Administration Building, an official library space was created. The WCS Archives formally began as a unit of the Library in 1979 with support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the H. W. Wilson Foundation. In addition to the Archives, the Library is composed of print and digital research collections focused on the topics of wildlife conservation, animal behavior, veterinary medicine, biodiversity, and the history of zoos and aquariums. Formats held by the Library range from eighteenth and nineteenth-century texts collected by WCS’s founders to digital books and journals.” (WCS Library & Archives)
The small library, housed in the Center for Global Conservation, is currently undergoing significant changes. The library has scaled back its library system, opting for the cheapest most basic management system, which Thompson believes actually works better than complex management systems for this particular collection. The librarian director, Kerry Prendergast, is also working on a new collection development policy. Currently, many of the library’s print resources are in need of evaluation for usefulness to the researchers at WCS. One of the WCS library’s largest issues is sending information to scientists working in remote regions of the world. “With limited Internet access, it is difficult to send whole journal articles the scientist needs,” Prendergast said, “sometimes we can only send them a few pages at a time.”
The Archives are not held in the same building as the library. These records are maintained in the Zoo’s original Administration building’s basement. Thompson is currently lobbying for a better space such that the collection can be better preserved and accessed. Thompson and colleague Leilani Dawson are working diligently to provide online access to the archival collection. “At over 1,200 linear feet, the WCS Archives contains historical documents, albums and scrapbooks, artwork, publications, and ephemera created throughout the organization’s history and reflecting WCS’s work in wildlife conservation, education, and zoos and aquariums.” During the visit, Thompson presented an old photo scrapbook from the Zoo’s early history and Dawson provided insight to the Zoo’s first expedition to China to receive pandas, depicted on painted glass slides.
Extremely passionate about their work, Thompson and Dawson explained long term goals of preservation, storage and access to their collection. They also reminded students of how difficult maintaining this archive has been. There was a period of time in which there was no archivist at the zoo, and thus there are significant gaps in the collection. Records created prior to the gap were created in such a manner that many cannot be opened digitally.
The highly educational and informative trip concluded with free access to many of the zoo’s animal exhibits. The SLA@SJU extends a special thanks to Thompson, Dawson and Prendergast for their hospitality and highly engaging tour of their facilities.