Graphical version

Natural History Museum



Reference code(s): GB 0060 DF LIB

Held at: Natural History Museum


Date(s): 1878-1984

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 8 series

Name of creator(s): General Library | Natural History Museum


Administrative/Biographical history:

Operating within the Director's Office was the General Library, set up by resolution of the Trustees in March 1880 to house books and periodicals which were not appropriate for one of the four departmental libraries. Bernard Barham Woodward (1853-1930) was transferred from Bloomsbury to take charge of the new Library, which was located in a corridor to the east of Central Hall. Responsibility for the General Library was initially in the hands of a committee of keepers, but was transferred to the Director in 1884. Woodward had the services of an attendant from 1884, and was given much help with acquisitions by both Charles Davies Sherborn (1861-1940), a natural history bibliographer, and Frederick Justen (1832-1906) of Dulau and Co. Although Woodward's authority was limited to the General Library, he did devise a classification scheme for books which was used in both the General and Geological libraries, and was responsible for cataloguing books across the Museum. He built up a card catalogue of books in all the libraries, which was published as 'Catalogue of the Books, Manuscripts, Maps and Drawings ...', 5 volumes 1903-1915, with supplement, 3 volumes 1922-1940. By the time that Woodward retired in 1920 the Museum libraries had an international reputation.

Woodward was followed by Basil Harrington Soulsby (1864-1933), who had worked in Printed Books at Bloomsbury, and then in the Natural History Museum Director's Office. Soulsby devoted much time to building up the Linnaeus collection, and published 'Catalogue of the Works of Linnaeus in the British Museum ...' in 1929. Soulsby had a staff of two, with George William Frederick Claxton as Clerk.

Alexander Cockburn Townsend (1905-1964), who succeeded Soulsby, presided over the wartime evacuation of the most valuable books and manuscripts, and the move of the General Library into the North Building in 1959. He tried unsuccessfully to wrest control of the departmental libraries from the keepers, but did succeed in centralising cataloguing, purchasing, bookbinding and accounts within the General Library in 1949. Townsend also started a subject catalogue and the publication of lists of accessions. He gained the services of a cataloguer in 1938, and had a staff of nine by 1964, when he was killed in a railway accident.

Maldwyn Jones Rowlands (1918-1995), who had worked in the Science Museum and the Patents Office as well as at the Museum, succeeded Townsend as Librarian in 1965. He oversaw the expansion of the General Library into the Northeast Building in 1973, and the formation of a unified library service for the Museum in the Department of Library Services in October 1975. At the end of 1975 the new department had a staff of forty two, who operated six reading rooms and received nearly 8,500 visitors a year. The Department was acquiring 25,000 items of stock each year, and operated an extensive advisory service. The Department was renamed the Department of Library and Information Services in 1994 to reflect its wider remit.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of the General Library, Natural History Museum, 1878-1984, comprising: DF600 Head of the General Library's Correspondence; DF601 Head of the General Library's Subject Files; DF602 General Library Visitors Books; DF603 Library Finance and Accounts; DF604 General Library Official Diaries; DF605 Library Main Agents Acquisition Files; DF606 Library Accession Records; DF607 Library Cataloguing Records.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

By appointment with the Archivist, by email to or by post to the Museum Archivist, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD.

Conditions governing reproduction:

At the Archivist's discretion. Photocopying service available. Digital photography (without flash) permitted for research purposes on completion of a photography permit form.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue



Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred from the General Library.


Related material:

Archives of the departmental libraries will be found in DF14 (Mineralogy), DF160-161 (Palaeontology), DF270-272 (Zoology), DF312 (Entomology) and DF460-461 (Botany).


Archivist's note: Entry copied from the Natural History Museum online catalogue by Sarah Drewery.
References: Sawyer, F C, 1971. 'A short history of the libraries and list of Mss. and original drawings in the British Museum (Natural History)', Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History). Historical Series. 4(2): 77-204.

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: Sep 2008

Natural history

Personal names

Corporate names
Natural History Museum