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ZSL’s Prince Philip Zoological Library and Archives

Library of the Week: 18th April: We feature the incredible Zoological Society of London’s Prince Philip Zoological Library and Archives this week! Emma Milnes (Deputy Librarian) has written this brilliant piece which showcases the work of the library, its history and the collections and activities that the library provides. Thank you to Emma and the ZSL Library and Archives for taking part.

ZSL’s Prince Philip Zoological Library and Archives (often referred to simply as ZSL Library & Archives) contains a unique collection of resources on zoology and animal conservation and is one of the oldest and largest libraries of its kind.

Main Offices building & ZSL Library

The Zoological Society of London was founded nearly 200 years ago, in 1826, with a purpose of establishing a living collection of animals (ZSL London Zoo!), an associated museum, and, of course, a Library.  Sadly, the museum is no longer extant, but the Library and London Zoo are still thriving to this day.

ZSL Library’s reading room
Charles Darwin

Originally, the Library’s main purpose was to support ZSL Fellows in their pursuit of zoological knowledge (eminent Victorians such as Charles Darwin and Richard Owen have both been Fellows of ZSL), but over the centuries ZSL Library has evolved to support a wider group of people in much more diverse ways.

Today, ZSL Library strives to support not only ZSL Fellows, but also external researchers and the hundreds of staff, volunteers and students working with ZSL.  This includes staff across both London Zoo, Whipsnade Zoo and around the world.  As a conservation charity, ZSL’s main purpose is to inspire, inform and empower people to stop wild animals going extinct, and the collections & resources within ZSL’s Library & Archives help support ZSL’s purpose.

To give a sense of how the Library operates, here are a few activities performed by our team which make up a ‘typical’ day:

  • Providing a library tour for Fellows, highlighting our older material and telling the story of ZSL.
  • An induction to PhD students conducting historic literature searches on butterflies.
  • Helping a Keeper find resources about the animals in their care.
  • Providing old veterinary journals (from the 1830s) to the current veterinarians to compare old and new methods of animal care
  • Assisting external researchers study the architecture of London Zoo.
Library visitors enjoying a tour

For anyone interested in making use of ZSL’s Library & Archives we’re pleased to say that we welcome enquiries from members of the public and we are also happy to make appointments for people to visit in person.

To explore our books and journals you may find our library catalogue of interest  From here you can discover in the region of 200,000 volumes all relating to animals and their conservation.

You can also use our new archive catalogue to explore original items relating to ZSL’s long and rich history  From here you can find a wealth of information which may immediately answer your enquiry, but if not, you can identify documents and then contact us to come and view them.

A page from the Daily Occurrences, a popular item in the archives

Please visit our website for more information or email us at

Emma Milnes – Deputy Librarian

Twitter:  @ZSLLibrary

All images copyright of the Zoological Society of London and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

You can explore the library’s collections on Discover and find further contact details on their Discover information page. 

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