Open Doors, Open Books

Renovated Research Library opens to the public this summer

Have you heard the rumors? This summer, the doors will open on a brand new exhibition space in the Museum, one that enables our visitors to “open the door” to our Research Library and archives for the first time.

A 17-foot wide open book will form the pediment high above the Atrium floor, framing giant-sized book pillars around the welcoming doors. This whimsical and inviting entrance will allow guests to venture into a new sky-lit space filled with delights.

Highlights will include a very rare opportunity to see the double elephant folio of Birds of America by John James Audubon, a huge book lavishly illustrated with Audubon’s life-size bird portraits. An herbal from 1517, annotated profusely by physicians from the Middle Ages; a folio on succulent plants from the 18th century with luminous hand-colored engravings; a rotating display of the original watercolors of California wildflowers by A. R. Valentien—these are just a few of the broad variety of precious objects which will be on view in the newly expanded space.

Many of the exhibits will reveal the historical contributions made to natural history by people untrained in science. Hands-on interactives will demonstrate how today’s technology is allowing ordinary citizens to contribute to science once again, coming full circle. Opening one of our research collections on the third floor for the very first time, this initiative is part of our institution-wide resolution to share more of our “hidden” riches with our guests.

An upper mezzanine will feature a rotating exhibition, starting with a selection of antiquarian natural history books featuring dragons, unicorns, and mythical beasts—creatures that still hold a fascination today. Our littlest visitors can hide away in the Book Nook, a cozy fort built to resemble an artfully jumbled stack of gigantic books. The mezzanine will also serve as the Library’s public programming space, where theNAT’s family story time will take place along with facilitated activities and classes that let visitors try their hand at everything from scientific illustration to making their own personalized bookplate.

Family and kid-friendly, this new exhibition space will ignite the curiosity of all our visitors, allowing them new ways to participate in the art, science, and history of the natural world.

This project was made possible through contributions to the Special Projects Campaign, most notably a generous lead gift from Eleanor and Jerome Navarra. 

Posted by Margaret Dykens, Research Library Director.

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