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.


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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.