A Paradise for Bird Nerds and Book Worms

Although most of my time as a graduate student is obviously spent studying, I spent a few hours a week working in the Division of Birds, housed inside the University of Michigan’s lovely Museum of Natural History, helping to manage the specimen collection (which consists of over 250,000 bird skins, skeletons, tissues, eggs, and nests). Most of my time is spent entering data on specimen tags, of preparing skins for the collection.

I am also spending more and more time in the Wilson Ornithological Society‘s  J. Van Tyne Memorial Bird Library, which carries almost every bird-related book and serial publication you can imagine — from all places and from all times (well, from the 1800s onward). If you love birds and you love books, then this little place — really, it’s small, just two rooms — is a little piece of paradise on earth.

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This collection of books represents something that is truly irreplaceable. Many of these books and publications are the only hard copies available in North America or the world.

Rumor has it that some university administrators are interested in getting rid of the collection, maintaining only digital versions. While digitizing the entire library would be great, getting rid of the hard-copy collection is problematic for three reasons:

  • Most of the digitization is done by a machine, without human supervision or error-checking;
  • Many digitizations are done in in black and white, not color (what good is a field guide full of birds without color?);
  • Fold-out pages, such as maps, are typically not included in the digitization process.

Lastly… the library and the physical, hard copies of the books are just gorgeous. Don’t even get me started about the heavenly smell… of paper, old books… and the magic you feel when you are surrounded by them on tall shelves on either side of you.

I have been scanning in and taking pictures of some of my favorite books and book art — look forward to a post with those soon!

“To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul.”  – Cicero


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