At the Columbus Zoo, Librarian Sheila Campbell Curates a Special Collection, Catalogs Biofacts and Answers 1,000 Reference Questions a Year

You’d think that after living over four decades in Columbus, I’d know the Columbus Zoo like the back of my mole-marred hand. However, my exposure to the zoo has consisted of a handful of childhoodAt the Columbus Zoo, 1971 visits, the “Hanna’s Ark” program that aired on WBNS-10TV in the early 1980s, one holiday Wildlights tour, and a sweltering visit in the summer of 1999 that helped me start realizing how well my guardian angel protects me. 

On a blustery, shivery day last week, I made the scenic trip up Riverside Drive to the zoo. This time, I was there to see not the animals, but Sheila Campbell, a warm and delightful fellow librarian who curates the zoo’s special collection of information resources. 

Sheila is a member of the Ohio Library Council’s Subject and Special Collections Division, and I’ve been working with her on a couple of presentation proposals I submitted for the OLC’s conference this October. So, when she suggested that I pay her a visit, I jumped at the chance to take a behind-the-scenes look at the zoo’s library. 

Although this library is not open to the public, its collection is frequently used in a variety of educational programs. It serves students in the Delaware Area Career Center’s Columbus Zoo and Aquarium School, a unique program in which high school students learn about zoology by working with zoo professionals, participating in authentic animal research and producing a college-level thesis. Volunteers in the Zoo’s docent program also use library resources to share information with guests about the zoo and its animal collections. 

I met Sheila at the Conservation Education Office, where she and her team work in a cozy complex of rooms housing children’s picture books about animals, a menagerie of animal puppets, and an eclectic collection of biofacts. When I asked the meaning of this new vocabulary word, Sheila explained that it refers to things like shells; porcupine quills; animal bones, skins and eggs; and other biological specimens that are helpful educational tools. 

Animal skins waiting to be cataloged at the Columbus Zoo's libraryThe Ohio State University’s Museum of Biological Diversity donated 15 animal skins to the zoo’s biofact collection.  With help from a National Park Service cataloging manual and a Connecting to Collections grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, she developed a classification scheme and a plan of attack for the project. 

Sitting at Sheila’s computer terminal, we explored the zoo library’s online public access catalog, powered by EOS.Web Express. In addition to offering a searchable catalog of the library’s holdings and images associated with bibliographic records, the module provides docents and zoo staff members with links to access free electronic resources like Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, the Botswana Herbivore and Zebra Research project and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 

More library resources are located on the lower level of the Polar Frontier building, better known as the home of polar bear sisters Aurora and Anana. In a processing workroom, Sheila showed me archival materials about the Columbus Zoo, including a copy of a 1940 illustrated Zoo Book that guided people during their visit. As I browsed the pages of the guidebook, Sheila told me more about the zoo’s history. In November 1926, Columbus City Council adopted a resolution requesting the state of Ohio to develop a 21-acre game refuge in southern Delaware County, just east of the Scioto River, to be referred to as Riverside Park. The resolution was approved and the park opened in October 1927. The first animals to be displayed there were reindeer provided by the Columbus Dispatch; later, the newspaper donated lions, tigers, monkeys and other animals to the zoo. 

Riverside Park officially became the Columbus Zoo in 1937. Since then, the zoo has added new animals to its collection, including Colo, the first gorilla to be born in captivity in 1956. Executive Director Emeritus Jack Hanna led the zoo to place animals in more natural habitats instead of cages. Today, the zoo is home to hundreds of species of animals and thousands of individual specimens. 

I also took an appreciative look at Sheila’s vertical files, a plethora of recently arrived boxes housing the archives of the Elephant Managers Association, and the impressive results of a project Sheila undertook to inventory primate resources for the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance. Sheila Campbell in the Columbus Zoo's library

Finally, we walked over to the zoo’s official library space. In 1997, Sheila, a former public librarian, arrived as the zoo’s first librarian and began creating an inventory of what information resources were housed in staff offices. Over the years, she has expanded the resource center’s collection to include about 4,000 books, 30 journals and audiovisual materials on animal-related topics such as endangered species, habitats and regions, environmental education, teacher curriculum guides, zoo design and zoo history. The collection also includes copies of the zoo’s annual reports and an indexed run of docent newsletters.

To update the zoo’s 70 keepers and other interested staff members on articles and other new library acquisitions, Sheila provides a table of contents service. Each year, this dedicated public employee answers about 1,000 reference questions. For more information about the Columbus Zoo’s library, or to ask Sheila a reference question, contact her at librarian@columbuszoo.org.

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5 Responses to At the Columbus Zoo, Librarian Sheila Campbell Curates a Special Collection, Catalogs Biofacts and Answers 1,000 Reference Questions a Year

  1. marylandis says:

    It is so gratifying to learn of the efforts of unsung professionals like Sheila Campbell who are preserving specialized knowledge. Animals are really not one of my interests, but libraries and archives certainly are! If it weren’t for your blog, we’d never know about the Columbus Zoo library!

  2. I never knew the zoo had its own library! I’d love to see some old pictures of what the zoo used to look like – do they have old zoo maps and such?

  3. Linda Locker says:

    Sheila — What a well deserved article on the importance of ibrarians for finding, organizing and preserving the world of vital information for the good of zoos! I love this article. Cheers! Linda Locker

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