Ornithology Collections in the Libraries at Cornell University
Helpful Tips for Researchers
The researcher or student working in one of the Cornell libraries may well need to
consult material in the others, especially if his or her interest is historical in nature.
To persons contemplating use of the ornithology collections at Cornell, the following
notes may be helpful:
- The Mann Library collection is the only one of the four
described in this guide that has the majority of its materials on open shelves and allows
most of its publications to circulate to qualified borrowers. Anyone working in the area
of current ornithology or 20th-century history would be well advised to begin at Mann.
- The Mann Library collection and the Hill Ornithology Collection both include historical
materials, but there are differences.
The Hill Collection concentrates on rare books published
before 1900. Many of them are lavishly illustrated with hand-colored plates reflecting the
development of bird illustration as an art form and as an effective means of explaining
textual materials. These books are fundamental to the study of the early history of
ornithology as a science. Because they are rare, however, their use is restricted to the
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections' reading room in Kroch Library.
The Mann collection also includes pre-20th-century material important to the history of
ornithology, but only a small portion is sufficiently rare or irreplaceable to warrant
removal from the open shelves. Much of it is journal literature, with complete runs of
major ornithological serials dating back to their beginnings in the 1800s. The writings of
all the well-known, and many not so well known, ornithologists are present.
For instance, first editions and other early versions of the works of the famous North
American bird artists Alexander Wilson and John James Audubon appear in the Hill
Collection, but later editions are available for circulation in Mann Library. American and
British men who helped lay the groundwork in the late 19th century for the 20th-century
development of ornithology are represented extensively in both collections. Daniel G.
Elliot, Spencer F. Baird, Robert Ridgway, John Cassin, Elliott Coues, R. Bowdler Sharpe,
Philip L. Sclater, George R. Gray, and John Gould are typical examples. Most of their
monumental illustrated monographs are held in the Hill Collection under conditions
appropriate for rare books, but their often prolific day-to-day writings, in journal and
monograph form, are part of the Mann Library general collections.
- The person whose interest lies in the history of ornithology before the 20th century may
want to begin work in the Hill Ornithology Collection in Kroch Library. This is
particularly true if one's main interest is the development of bird art and the scientific
illustration of bird books over the centuries.
- For original source material papers, letters, photographs, etc. the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections is the place to
begin. The list of ornithological collections, available from the department, is revised
periodically to include new materials, but anyone working with the history of ornithology
should check with staff of the department for complete, current information.
- The Ornithology Library of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
is intended mainly to serve the needs and functions of the staff of the laboratory. Since
most of its holdings, except for local bird club newsletters, are duplicates of those in
Mann Library, researchers should first check for a title at Mann Library. If for some
reason the book or journal is not available there, the Ornithology Library will make its
copy accessible for use in the laboratory building.
Online guide developed from:
Ornithology Collections in the Libraries at Cornell University: A Descriptive Guide
Revised Edition, 1999
Ithaca, New York
© 1999 Cornell University Library
Webpage last revised: 6/10/99 by jfc & clsb.