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Brookfield Zoo Chicago Zoological Society Library
by Carla Owens
Beautiful Italianate design can be seen
throughout Brookfield Zoo. Edwin H. Clark, Architect. View of South Gate
Chicago Zoological Society Brookfield Zoo is the
largest zoo in the Chicagoland area. It is one of Illinois’ largest
cultural institutions and the 5th largest zoo in the country, located 14 miles
west of Chicago in Brookfield, IL with an annual attendance over 2 million. In
1919, Edith Rockefeller McCormick donated 83 acres of land to the Forest
Preserve District of Cook County for the express purpose of building the most
modern new zoo. The new design would incorporate barless enclosures in
naturalistic settings. The Society was chartered on February 21, 1921. The
architect Edwin H. Clark and the Society had many architectural and financial
challenges to resolve before the zoo was completed. The zoo opened in 1934 to
many accolades. One of the Society’s most important missions has been, and
continues to be, “to inspire conservation leadership by connecting people
with wildlife and nature.”
The library building is opposite the Formal Pool. The building was built
in the 1930s and used to house an Insectorium. 22 peacocks roam the zoo grounds
but today it has graced us with a visit.
Library Services and
The Brookfield Zoo Library &
Archives functions as a zoological research library with a large archives
collection spanning from 1919 to present day. I found a memo from 1932
mentioning that a research collection was in the Director’s office for
anyone’s use. This current library was established in 1962. It is one of
the largest zoo libraries in the country with 10,000 volumes. The library
provides information and resources to the Society’s employees, visitors,
members, visiting scholars, volunteers, teachers, school children, and the CZS
Advanced Inquiry Program graduate students. The Archives house a variety of
materials and objects from its early history including an extensive photograph
and slide collection, scientific photographic representation of the animal
collections, correspondence, internal publications, annual reports, official
memorand, etc. The intriguing items of the collection include paintings,
buttons, banners, uniforms, WPA posters, WPA maps, postcards, souvenirs,
marketing materials & unusual ephemera in general.
The 268 archival boxes are housed in the Library.
This wonderful Art Deco merchandise display was used to sell postcards
in the 1930s when the zoo first opened.
Not a week goes by that there isn’t some interesting donation for
the Archives. This week we added a horse collar used by our Clydesdales, oxen
yokes, a bell and a butter churn. The Children’s Zoo closed after 60 years
of operation in 2013.
Our book collection is unusual as it contains many rare first editions. A
typical library may have 5 books on primates where we have over 200. The
Society library is part of the RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Library Systems)
consortium serving approximately 1300 academic, public, school, and special
library agencies in northern and west-central Illinois. We are very busy
providing interlibrary loan requests and our materials are delivered through
RAILS. We migrated over to SirsiDynix last year. Our online catalog is managed
This image is the beginning of my zoo museum. It is a display of live
animal casts that are a unique identification of an animal. The cast in the
forefront is from Bana’s foot, a Western Lowland gorilla residing in
Lincoln Park Zoo. The back row is a cast from Ramar’s right hand. He is
our emeritus silverback, Western lowland gorilla who resides in Tropic World.
We have a collection of over 90 species cast.
The Mold-A-Rama Company just celebrated their 50th
anniversary at the Society. I had a great time conducting photo research for an
exhibit honoring the occasion.
Our large photo collection brings us a glimpse of the past. Image of
the inlaid formica tables located in the Refectory. They were designed by WPA
artist, John Winters and the fountain sculpture by Louise Pflasterer Ross.
Guests can view the 20 tabletops at the Discovery Center.
Chicago Zoological Society History
The Society Library Services joined the Chicago Collections Consortium. It
is a new non-profit organization of 20 libraries and institutions that is
bringing together Chicagoland history under one roof. The excellent, fully
searchable, web platform has thousands of images and location of history
collections for scholars, teachers, students and historyphiles. We are now
scanning, cataloging and uploading our images into the platform.
Pandamonium ensued at the Brookfield Zoo when Su-Lin arrived in 1937
with immense crowds lining up to see him. This is a postcard in our collection
of the Giant panda. He was the first panda to be exhibited in North America.
My favorite cover of the Chicago Zoological Society’s 1952
guidebook featuring Cookie, our Major Mitchell Cockatoo, painted by Karl Plath,
our first bird curator. He was a fine artist and ornithologist. We have 483
hand painted metal id tags that Mr. Plath painted that were displayed in
Perching Bird and Aquatic Bird Houses.
A Day in the Life of a Zoo Librarian
As a solo librarian, my work revolves around the usual tasks of running a
special collection. I wear many hats. I manage a team of dedicated volunteers
and usually have 2-3 interns that assist in running the day to day library
operations. I conduct a lot of research and instead of looking at the history of
the Dow Jones Index, I put together aardvark bibliographies, find information on
pangolin reproduction and figure out what kind of sheep were exhibited on Ibex
Mountain. What is interesting, is that the library is like an academic, public
and business library all rolled into one. The Library falls under Conservation,
Education and Community affairs but we serve the entire zoo. I conduct a lot of
research for our teachers, animal behaviorists, animal welfare experts, keepers,
curators, public relations, and the veterinary staff. The Chicago Zoological
Society has a graduate program in zoology in conjunction with Miami University.
I conduct bibliographic orientation, assist with research strategies and work
with the graduate students one on one for their Master Plans. I also give
narrated history tram tours for Special Events and lecture on Art Deco art and
architecture at the zoo. All in all, every day is different and the best part
is a walk over to the giraffes to see them enjoying spring weather.
Copyright 2017 by Carla Owens.
About the author:
Carla Owens will be celebrating 10 years at the Chicago Zoological Society.
She enjoys researching zoo history from primary documents.
Deuchler, D., & Owens, C. W. (2009).
Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Zoological Society
. Charleston, SC:
Owens, C. (2011). Lions and Tigers and Bears—and Deco Art Deco
Flourishes at the Brookfield Zoo. Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine,