You may already know that the museum contains millions of natural history specimens, but did you know that it also houses a world-class collection of books and journals, plus a priceless archive? Held in 38 different locations across the museum, the collection of over 20,000 books covers all areas of natural history: zoology, geology, mineralogy, palaeontology, and is particularly known for its collection of entomology books and journals. In fact, we believe it is the third largest entomology library in the UK after the Natural History Museum in London and the library of the Royal Entomological Society.
In addition, there is a priceless archive of letters, maps, field notebooks, photographs, artwork and other items of interest. Where else would you find letters from Charles Darwin, the death mask of the Swiss biologist and geologist Louis Agassiz, and the trowel that laid the foundation stone of the museum’s building in 1855.
So, who is in charge of this fascinating treasure trove? That job falls to Danielle Czerkaszyn, the museum’s Librarian and Archivist. I went along to meet Danielle to find out how she came to work at the museum, what her job involves and to learn more about the amazing collection in her care.
From History to Natural History
Having first completed a degree in History in her native Canada, Danielle came to the UK to do a Master’s degree in Museum Studies. Following this, she was selected for a place as a Graduate Library Trainee at the Bodleian History Faculty Library here in Oxford and secured her post at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in 2017. Danielle revealed:
“When I came for the interview, I was asked what my weakness would be in the role and I replied that I didn’t really know a great deal about natural history! The good thing is that I learn new things every day and my knowledge of natural history has expanded!”
As well as a valuable resource for staff at the Museum and other members of the University, the library and archive is open to anyone with an interest in natural history. On a day to day basis, Danielle deals with many enquiries from the public requesting visits or requests for articles and chapters of books to be provided digitally to help with research. High-use collections in the library and archive are currently in the process of being digitised which will make it even more accessible to natural historians around the world. Danielle is also responsible for keeping the collection up to date with new publications and dealing with donations that come in from members of the public.
Highlights of the Collection
I asked Danielle to choose some of her favourite entomology items from the collection and she suggested two incredible and unique works – one from the archive and one from the library.
The first is William Jones’ Icones, one of the most scientifically important and stunning works on butterflies and moths ever produced.
“This work as one of my favourites because the paintings are so
detailed and beautiful. Plus it is completely unique.”Danielle Czerkaszyn
Danielle’s second choice is Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Insects of Surinam) published in 1705.
“Maria Sibylla Merian is definitely a figure to be admired as a pioneering role model for women and I love showcasing her work.”Danielle Czerkaszyn
Check out our blog posts on these incredible items from the collection to find out more:
Thank you so much to Danielle for giving us a fascinating insight into the library and archive here at the Museum of Natural History, and for sharing some of the incredible works in her care.
To find out more about the library and archive visit https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/library.
Do you have a favourite book on insects? Tell us about it here or in the comments below.