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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2010
DOI: 10.5062/F4JM27J3

[Board accepted]

Zoo and Wildlife Libraries: An International Survey

Linda L. Coates
Director of Library & Information Services
San Diego Zoo
San Diego, California
lcoates@sandiegozoo.org

Kaitlyn Rose Tierney
Assistant Librarian
San Diego Zoo
San Diego, California
kaitlynrosetierney@gmail.com

Copyright 2010, Linda L. Coates and Kaitlyn Rose Means. Used with permission.

Abstract

The conservation and well-being of exotic animals is core to the mission of zoos, aquariums and many small nonprofit wildlife groups. Increasingly, these organizations are committed to scientific research, both basic and applied. To ascertain the current state of the libraries that support their efforts, librarians at the San Diego Zoo conducted an international survey between June and August, 2008. Only 73 libraries responded to our request for information. Of that number only 16 libraries had professional librarians. Most are struggling to become more "virtual," but only 11 are OCLC members and have a catalog available online. Almost all libraries are involved in activities other than managing books and journals. They are creating animal fact sheets, maintaining staff article databases, and managing archival collections. For a complete picture of the current status of Zoo and Wildlife Libraries, see http://library.sandiegozoo.org/survey.htm

Libraries are an integral part of the world's information ecosystem. University libraries with their super-sized collections of scientific books and online journals can be likened to nature's "charismatic mega-vertebrates" -- universally respected and admired. Public libraries can be characterized as "keystone species," providing a broad range of information and Internet access to a diverse populace. Then there are the extremely rare zoo, aquarium, and wildlife libraries which are seldom seen by the public. Their collections are small and varied, rife with gray literature and specialized resources that fall outside the scope of other libraries. Species Survival Plans, studbooks, zoo conference proceedings, zoo magazines and newsletters, field guides, taxonomies and phylogenies, horticultural information, exotic wildlife veterinary resources, natural histories, conservation, ecology, and of course, animal husbandry information, comprise a large part of their eclectic holdings .

In the last three decades, zoos have experienced a sea change in how they relate to the public and how they manage their animal and plant collections. They are increasingly committed to scientific research and the conservation of both wild species and wild habitats, embracing their new role as conservators. Between 2008 and 2010, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) made significant additions to their accreditation requirements to ensure that animal management, husbandry, and veterinary care are based in science (Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2010). Clearly there is a growing need for authoritative scientific information, but those information needs are acknowledged in a single ambiguous sentence: "a reference library appropriate to the size and complexity of the institution should be available to all institution staff members and volunteers" (Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2010). The vague wording has allowed many zoos to minimize their support for their libraries and in many cases rely on nearby institutions to fulfill their information needs.

Historically zoo libraries have been part of Education Departments and staffed by educators or volunteers. Reflecting the educator's focus on children and the 'visitor experience,' collections held little peer-reviewed material (Bent 1996). With the new emphasis on science and conservation, collections are becoming less "gray." But zoo libraries still suffer from a lack of funding and support, and librarians struggle to provide their users with the increasingly sophisticated and expensive information resources that are available. Very few are able to afford basic OCLC membership, so their unique holdings are invisible to the rest of the library world. There is heavy reliance on what can be obtained for free via the Internet, and zoo personnel must often rely on the help and generosity of local college and university librarians or their colleagues on professional mailing lists.

There have been several zoo library surveys in the past (Miller 1981; Kenyon 1984; Kisling 1988; Barr 2005). All have noted the vast individual differences among the libraries' staffing, collections, activities, reporting arrangements, and budgets. A fundamental issue is the varying concept of what actually constitutes a "library" and a "librarian." Kay Kenyon pointed out that although 103 zoos reported having a library in a 1981 survey (Miller 1981), most were just collections of books without management by anyone capable of providing library or information services. In her 1984 survey (Kenyon 1984), she identified 19 libraries that were managed by professional librarians either full or part time. (Interestingly, half of these librarians were volunteers who worked full time in another library.) In 1988, Vernon Kisling's survey found 18 libraries with full-time staffing but only nine were managed by professional librarians (Kisling 1988). And in 2002, Dorothy Barr reported that of the 102 zoos returning her survey, there were 20 individuals who claimed to have MLS or 'equivalent' degrees (Barr 2005).

To ascertain the current state of zoo and wildlife libraries, the San Diego Zoo Library conducted an international survey between June and August, 2008. 221 zoos in the United States and Canada are accredited by the AZA. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has 241 members in 48 countries or territories. A web survey tool was used to collect and analyze the data. Survey responses were solicited from librarians or their counterparts via the AZA-LSIG mailing list for AZA librarians and the "allwaza" mailing list for WAZA members. In addition, paper surveys were mailed to all AZA-accredited North American zoo and wildlife conservation organizations and all international zoos with more than 300 employees. Despite our efforts, only 73 libraries responded to our request for information. Only 16 of the responding libraries had a full-time professional librarian. Ten libraries had half-time professional librarians.

Most zoo libraries are struggling to become more "virtual." Approximately half of the libraries have small online journal collections, but only 16 percent have online catalogs. Almost all libraries are involved in activities other than managing books and journals. They are creating animal fact sheets, maintaining staff article databases, and managing archival collections. Again, it is extremely difficult to offer a coherent picture of the "typical" zoo library. It is perhaps best to let the survey results and the librarians speak for themselves.

Just over 30% of the responding libraries are open to the public. Of those 30%, their open hours ranged from the typical 9-5, Monday through Friday, to "someone just has to be here to unlock the door". Very few libraries had established weekend hours. As previously mentioned, 16 full-time professional librarians responded. Three libraries had more than one librarian, but one of these, Harvard University, most likely doesn't suffer from all of the same constraints of the other responding zoo libraries. In addition to the 16 full-time librarians, though, 10 libraries also noted the presence of a half-time librarian.

The 26 professional zoo librarians have little non-professional support, with only nine responding libraries reporting the presence of a single full-time support person in some capacity. Other than Harvard University, no zoo and wildlife libraries had more than one support person. An exception to this was the Walt Disney World Animal Programs Library, which reported being run by three part-time support staff, with no other staff (no professional librarian). Most likely as a result of the low staffing levels, over 80% of libraries do not offer library internships, but many of them had one or more volunteers.

With regards to reporting structure, the results varied. A large number of libraries were still under the umbrella of their organization's Education Department. Several of them reported to one of the organization's executive staff or curators. Despite the increasing trend of zoos to become involved in animal conservation and conservation-related research, only five libraries reported to anyone with the words "conservation" or "research" in their job titles. If we assume that libraries within a zoo's Education Department support an educational or community outreach mission, this begs the question: Where are the growing number of conservation scientists at these organizations meeting their research needs? Perhaps further zoo and wildlife surveys should probe local universities in cities with zoos, to explore possible official or unofficial partnerships that may be in place, filling the gap of peer-reviewed literature for zoo-affiliated conservation scientists (and fulfilling AZA accreditation requirements).

Not surprisingly, the collections of zoo and wildlife libraries vary as widely as the staffing arrangements. The size of book collections ranged from 100 to 200,000 volumes, with the majority of collections falling somewhere in the range of one to five thousand. Book budgets followed a similar distribution, with a majority between one to five thousand dollars, but many had no budget for books at all. A majority of libraries don't subscribe to any current serials or any online journals. For the few libraries that do have current journal subscriptions, 12 of them use EBSCO as their subscription vendor. SWETS and TXCOX were also mentioned, but many libraries indicated that they rely on donations for their serials. Journal budgets followed a distribution that reflects this, as about half of responding libraries have a journal budget over $1,000 annually, and the other half are somewhere under that, including many with no journal budget at all.

The survey question on full-text journal services garnered only 22 responses, presumably because the remaining libraries have no journal services. Eight libraries subscribe to BioOne 1, four to BioOne 2, five to JSTOR's Biological Sciences, two to JSTOR's Life Sciences, two to JSTOR's Ecology & Botany, three to WildPro, and two libraries subscribe to Academic Search Premier. Some libraries also noted that they have access to nearby academic library online journal collections, such as the Athens system in the UK.

Despite the poor showing of book and journal collections, quite a few zoo and wildlife libraries recognize the importance of maintaining special collections which aren't frequently retained by larger academic libraries. Of particular importance to zoos are studbooks, which track regional and international genetic lines for breeding purposes; 15 libraries maintain studbook collections. Eleven libraries have video or DVD collections, 13 collect zoo magazines or newsletters, three collect guidebooks, and five collect husbandry manuals. Eighteen of the libraries reported that they maintain some sort of institutional archive. Other special collections maintained by at least two libraries include fact sheets, slides, staff articles, and rare books.

Of course, zoo and wildlife libraries span an enormous range of subjects within the areas of zoology and zoos. Nearly 80% of respondents noted mammals and birds were key subject specializations. Between 60-70% of responding libraries collect reptile and amphibian information. Fewer than 50% collect information about zoos or veterinary medicine, however, but 41 libraries list conservation as a subject strength.

For many of these specialty collecting areas, zoo and wildlife libraries may very well be the only repositories. Since so few are open to the public, how can researchers gain access to these materials? Only 11 responding libraries are OCLC members and have a catalog available online. Although some libraries use an integrated library system like EOS, Spectrum, Horizon, or LibraryWorld, many resort to a homegrown database in Filemaker Pro, Microsoft Excel, or Microsoft Access. Only four libraries list their journal titles in OCLC. Although 18 libraries have archives, only eight have archival databases.

Zoo and wildlife libraries provide a great deal of service despite their limited resources, with 21 libraries providing interlibrary loan services, six providing some sort of newsletter, eight providing news alerts, and others providing services such as full text PDF article delivery, creation of bibliographies, and current awareness bulletins. Zoo librarians are ambitious as well -- 18 libraries have digitization projects in progress or in planning stages, ranging from wanting to digitize their entire collection, to slide digitization, to growing digital collections of staff articles. And, of course, many tend to communicate with their colleagues in this niche field, belonging to mailing lists and consortia as diverse as OCLC to OHIONET, AZA-LSIG to AZA Oriental Birding, and everything in between.

The most remarkable thing is that they manage to do all of this on shoestring budgets, creatively soliciting donations and funds. A few have applied for, and received grant support, and some advertise a library "wish list" in their organization's publication. In some cases, the library is funded completely through donations, and in other cases, the library's donation funding has been suspended to focus on higher priorities within the organization.

In 2006, former zoo librarian Julia Innes completed her Ph.D. dissertation on the communication of research being done in zoos (Innes 2006). Based on her experience at the Brookfield Zoo library, she hypothesized that as zoos began to hire more staff with advanced degrees, the tradition of orally transmitted information within the tight-knit zoo community would gradually move into the wider scientific community. Her goal was to discover whether or not zoo literature was becoming integrated into mainstream scholarly literature. She found that the slim body of zoo-related literature was scattered, and still much of it was not indexed. She also found that inter-zoo collaboration was rare, and that the broader research community used only a fraction of zoo research.

Zoo historian, Vernon Kisling noted that "A profession and its literature tend to develop together" (Kisling 1993). As zoos strive to become more research-based, it is important that their libraries keep pace. Zoo librarians serve an important function in collecting and preserving the various publications and ephemera that comprise a unique cultural niche, but they must also be credible wildlife information experts, able to recommend the right book, journal, or database. They must also be able to supply relevant information in a timely manner. Providing customized products and services to staff also increases the library's value to an organization. In the non-techy zoo environment, librarians must be technology experts -- helping with advice on downloads, copyright, web building, and software use.

Having "a reference library appropriate to the size and complexity of the institution" is a reasonable start for all zoos. But the libraries of larger zoos need to be staffed by competent librarians with subject and information expertise. Reporting arrangements matter. If zoo libraries remain buried within a specific department it will be difficult for librarians to effectively serve the organization's diverse staff. Reporting to an individual that understands and respects the value of information is just as critical. No library can function properly or thrive without adequate funding and support.

The Internet has given us the ability to connect to and receive assistance from the greater library world. Mailing lists that provide support from generous and knowledgeable academic librarians are invaluable. The various open access initiatives that have recently come on the scene are increasingly helpful to zoo librarians trying to stretch limited budgets. Google Scholar's free web search engine that indexes the full text of scholarly literature is providing all small non-profit libraries with a powerful research tool. It would be extremely helpful if OCLC, a monopoly that has greatly benefited from the academic library world, could reduce or even eliminate their rates for small non-profit libraries. As a global consortia, the collective library community would benefit by subsidizing non-profit access to OCLC, reducing collection redundancy and encouraging inter-library resource sharing and loans.

Zoos have certainly felt the repercussions of the recent economic downturn and a number of zoo librarians have been deemed expendable. It's important that we stem and reverse these losses. Thomas Jefferson was speaking about the natural world when he wrote these words: "For if one link in nature's chain might be lost, another might be lost, until the whole of things will vanish piecemeal." Small non-profit museum, zoo, and wildlife libraries with unique collections and archives are often undervalued and lost. Hopefully, with the help of the larger library community, these libraries and their librarians will be able to survive and contribute to the richness and diversity of the future information ecosystem.

References

Association of Zoos & Aquariums. 2010. The Accreditation Standards and Related Policies. [Internet]. [Retrieved August 12, 2010]. Available from: {http://www.aza.org/uploadedFiles/Accreditation/Accred%20Standards%20(with%20elephants).pdf}

Barr, D. 2005. Zoo and Aquarium Libraries: An Overview and Update. Science & Technology Libraries 25(3):71-87.

Bent, N. 1996. Ephemera and grey literature in a zoo library: The Brookfield zoo experience. Serials Review 22(3): 61-76.

Innes, J. 2006. Scholarly communication and knowledge management in American zoos [dissertation]. [Fort Lauderdale-Davie (FL)]: Nova Southeastern University . p. 1-310.

Kenyon, K.A. 1984. Zoo/aquarium libraries: A survey. Special Libraries 75(4):329-334.

Kisling, V.N. 1988. American zoological park libraries and archives: historical considerations and their current status. Science & Technology Libraries 8 (4):49-60.

Kisling, V.N. 1993. Libraries and archives in the historical and professional development of American zoological parks. Libraries & Culture 28(3): 247-256.

Miller, G.D. 1981. An inquiry into the role of libraries in zoos and aquariums [dissertation]. [Chicago (IL)]: University of Chicago. p. 1-58.

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