The History of Natural History at The Field Museum
My Life as a Science Promoter on March 20, 2012
Today the world population is 7,030,490,410
Deep in the bowels of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History the thoughts and observations of scientists, dating as far back as 1486, are neatly organized in the The Marie Louise Rosenthal Library. The collection of historical materials includes books, journals, photos, and illustrations. You won’t see them with general admission to The Field, but make an appointment and the lovely librarian will help you use the library’s historical collections. There are old books, and older books. Colorful books, and German books. Books organized horizontally, and books organized vertically. Everywhere you look books, books, books. Before you see it in real life, here is what I learned about the history of natural history at The Field Museum.
The Director of the library is Christine who has been employed there for 10 years…and she’s awesome! If you want to know anything about the history of The Field, she’s the person to ask–an encyclopedia of Field Museum knowledge.
The library has been here since the museum opened at this location in 1921 . Did you know this museum has had 5 names in its history?
1893 – Columbian Museum of Chicago
1894 – Field Columbian Museum housed at the building that is now The Museum of Science & Industry
1905 – Field Museum of Natural History
1943 – Chicago Natural History Museum
1966 – Field Museum of Natural History
There are 9 stacks (aka collections) sprinkled throughout the museum ranging from Botany (plants) to Geology (fossils) and everything you want to know about zoology (animals–birds, mammals, insects, fishes, etc.). Since the stacks are scattered throughout The Field near the departments they represent, working in the library is no easy task. You need to be in good shape with a comfortable pair of walking shoes and possess the skills to navigate long hallways.
I was fortunate that Christine had time to take me into the humidity and temperature controlled Rare Book Room. Only accessible with her security card, this room houses the oldest and most valuable books in the museum’s collections. Below is a picture of the oldest book (from 1486), which doesn’t look like the oldest book at all; and for the first time in my life I was inches away from something that Charles Darwin had touched and signed on October 21, 1864!
If you are interested in using The Marie Louise Rosenthal Library’s collections for research purposes or simply for personal education, an appointment can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The public is only allowed in the reading room (the 1st picture of this post) from 1-4pm Tue-Fri and the librarian will get the books you need. Before you head over there, check out their online catalog: Harlow Catalog. Also, if you are a member of The Field, on April 12-13 during Member’s Night, you have the option of showing up without an appointment. The library is on the 3rd floor.
As much history as there is in the library collections of The Field Museum of Natural History, I was happy to see them preparing for the future (pictures below). Participating in A Greener Field–The Field’s initiative to make the museum more environmentally friendly–there are recycling bins and a mini-garden. Thanks to all members of the library who respect our environment. And thank you for reading, find a smile, and letUbeU.