Archives For Lenhardt Library

Clicking Through Time

Undercover Science

Julianne Beck —  October 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

In 1860s New Hampshire, botanical artist Ellen Robbins perched before her canvas, creating wildly popular watercolors of fall leaves. Books of her paintings sold well, landing in the hands of high society members such as fellow artist Gertrude Graves, a cousin of poet Emily Dickinson. Graves presented her copy of one such volume, Autumnal Leaves, to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1923, where it remained until being acquired by the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2002. Today, the historic, storied volume is accessible to us all via a visually crisp, easily navigated online library.

ILLUSTRATION: autumnal leaves.

Selection from Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins

Autumnal Leaves is one of the historic books, postcards, and similar materials digitized and conserved by the Garden in recent years and now accessible via the Internet.

“It just opens up the opportunities for more people to see the wonderful pieces that we have,” said Leora Siegel, director of the Garden’s Lenhardt Library, which was established by the Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society in 1951.

The Lenhardt Library’s impressive collection includes materials dating from 1483 to 1917, which are now available online to an expanded audience.

“In this age of e-books, these primary resources are something different. They are something really important to our civilization and culture,” said Siegel, who is delighted to help the public, scientists, historians, and artists from around the world access the remarkable materials.

PHOTO: Leora Siegel.

Leora Siegel directs the Garden libraries.

Publications originating in North America are predominant in the collection. Western European books that once resided in the private family libraries of dukes and earls are also included. In some cases, bookplates were traced back to their original owners.

“They were in private libraries and only the family could read them, and now they are on the web and anyone can get to them,” remarked Siegel. The international component of the digitized collection also includes ikebana illustrations from Japan.

These materials were part of a collection of some 2,000 rare books and 2,000 historic periodical titles collected by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society of Boston before being purchased by the Garden in 2002. Since that time, grants including a $172,000 award from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2011, allowed the Garden to digitize 45 of the books that have traveled time and distance to reach us today.

What did South America’s tropical vegetation look like to illustrator Baron Alexander von Humboldt in the 1850s? How was the Horticultural Building portrayed in Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition?

The answers can be found in the preserved volumes and vintage postcards accessible via the Illinois Digital Archives and the Garden’s new digitized illustrations website, launched in September.

Front of advertising card showing the Horticultural Building at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, with inset of company logo.

Front of advertising card showing the Horticultural Building at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, with inset of company logo.

Front of postcard showing a rowboat on a lake in front of the Horticultural Building at the World's Fair grounds in Chicago, 1934.

Front of postcard showing a rowboat on a lake in front of the Horticultural Building at the World’s Fair grounds in Chicago, 1934.

The new site houses illustrations from a significant number of titles and interpretive notes, and it is continuously updated with material. From books on grafting plants to postcards from flower shows, there is much to discover with cultural and scientific relevance.

ILLUSTRATION: Selection from Water-color Sketched of Plants of North America 1888 to 1910.

Selection from Water-color Sketches of Plants of North America 1888 to 1910 by Helen Sharp, Volume 08

“The botanical illustrations come close to our herbarium specimens in many cases because you really see the roots and the life cycle of the plant,” noted Siegel.

The majority of materials were digitized offsite by the premier art conservation center in the United States, the Northeast Document Conservation Center. When the processed files arrive at the Garden, metadata is added by Garden librarian Christine Schmidt. She then adds the files to a software program that allows them to be accessed through either website. A volunteer photographer also contributes to the files. In the most recent set of 45 digitized volumes, 18 are currently being processed and prepared for the site.

While the rare books are still available by appointment to those who can make it into the library, many of the books are delicate and will benefit from an increased percentage of online viewing into the future.

ILLUSTRATION: Bookplate from "Physiognomy of Tropical Vegetation in South America"

Selection from Physiognomy of Tropical Vegetation in South America: a series of views illustrating the primeval forests on the river Magdalena, and in the Andes of New Grenada

Allowing access to these materials online has yielded many rewards for those who made it possible, from contributing to research around the world to the reproduction of selected images in new book publications, which is done with special permission from the Lenhardt Library.

“People are really blown away,” according to Siegel. Garden exhibitions have benefited from the collection as well, such as the winter Orchid Show exhibition, which was enhanced by complimentary full-text access to some of the rare books from the online portal.

Next, Siegel hopes to digitize the Garden’s collection of an estimated 20,000 pages of manuscripts of scientists’ field notes.

“We have some unique one-of-a-kind manuscripts that no one else has,” she said. “This is just the start.”

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Turning the Pages

Undercover Science

Julianne Beck —  July 8, 2014 — 1 Comment

Historical depth and futuristic innovation meet in the Lenhardt Library and Lenhardt Plant Science Library.

PHOTO: Rare book exhibitions are displayed at the entrance to the library.

Rare book exhibitions are displayed at the entrance to the Lenhardt Library.

Led by director Leora Siegel, the comprehensive library facility houses rare books dating back to the 1400s. The library also serves as a portal to a nearly unlimited amount of scientific information in the digital realm. It’s a resource for staff researchers, students, interns, and citizen scientists alike. Beneath the quiet of the library shelves, there is an ever-present forward movement. “Everything that we do here is about providing information to anyone who needs it,” said Siegel. “Our scientists who are out there in the forefront and publishing have the library behind them to get needed information.”

The library was recently named one of the newest contributors to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, an open-access, digitized collaboration of leading garden and scientific libraries nationwide. The move allows the Chicago Botanic Garden to share digitized materials unique to its collection with the broader research community. Together with other contributing institutions, the Garden is “trying to make biodiversity literature available for everyone around the world, especially in places where they do not have physical libraries,” explained Siegel.

PHOTO: A view into the research and storage shelves at the Plant Conservation Science Center.

Research-specific collections reside in the Plant Science Center.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library collection is a resource long accessed by Garden scientists, in addition to a multitude of books, digitized journals, and databases available through the Lenhardt Library and Lenhardt Plant Science Library. The comprehensive resources allow scientists to dig deeply into subject matter; for example, accessing journal articles from the early days of a publication to the most recent edition. This is critical to their work, according to Siegel, who explained that current research must always reference early work on related material, and build upon subsequent research leading to current theories.

The library facility, which was founded by the Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society in 1951, predates the physical structure in which it now sits, the Regenstein Center. The Lenhardt Plant Science Library is a research-specific facility in the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center. It is not open to the public, but is used by Garden scientists. 

One of Siegel’s favorite science books is Seeds: Ecology, Biogeography, and Evolution of Dormancy and Germination, which is housed in the Lenhardt Plant Science Library.

PHOTO: Leora Siegel.

Leora Siegel directs the Garden’s libraries.

Siegel has been managing this tremendous resource for more than ten years. To her, it was a natural path from her childhood in New York where her love of plants began. She went on to pursue advanced degrees in biology and library science. “My worlds align in working here,” she reflected. “This is a great institution.”

Perhaps one of her favorite elements is the Rare Book Collection, which can be seen during special tours. “It’s just magical to touch a book from 1483,” she noted. “Sharing it with someone is just a pleasure.” The Rare Book Collection includes original materials published by Carolus Linnaeaus, who changed the way we understand the natural world, and who established binomial nomenclature. A bronze statue of Linnaeus anchors the Heritage Garden near the Regenstein Center.

In summer, Siegel often passes by the statue on her way to her favorite display garden—Evening Island. On cooler days, she enriches her day with a walk through the Greenhouses.


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Parents: Read This

And there's a tattoo, too!

Karen Z. —  June 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

It’s a fact: kids can lose valuable reading skills during summer break. It’s called “summer slide,” and the loss can be large—two months worth of lost reading skills is not unusual over the summer, and teachers will tell you that retraining in fall regularly takes up precious class time.

It’s also a fact: by reading just 20 minutes per day, your child maintains his or her reading level through the summer. 

At the Lenhardt Library, our creative librarians have come up with a fun way to help you make the latter happen.

Bookcover: There's a Hair in my Dirt! A Worm's Story.

Bookcover: Homegrown Honey Bees: An Absolute Beginner's Guide.

Bookcover: Compost Stew, An A to Z Recipe for the Earth.

Bookcover: Attracting Butterflies to your Garden.

Bookcover: The Plant Hunters.

Bookcover: Jardineria Facil para Ninos.

Sign up now to be a Summer Nature Explorer at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Between May 31 and August 17, your child can read books and have fun at drop-in activities, earning stamps and prizes—encouragements that help kids stave off reading loss.

It’s also our library’s link to the National Science Foundation’s STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) that aims to increase science skills in the United States. Here’s the foundation’s interesting and fact-filled site: www.nsf.gov/nsb/sei/edTool.

Here’s how our Summer Reading and Nature Program works:

  • Sign up at the Lenhardt Library. Take home a reading and activity log.
  • Read a book; get a stamp. The log helps you keep track of your books.
  • Play at a Family Drop-In Activity; get a stamp. Great for reluctant readers who learn critical thinking skills in different ways.
  • Earn 5 stamps; get a prize. Bring your child to the library for the prize—we don’t want to give away the surprise!
  • Earn 10 stamps; get a prize. At 10 books, the reader earns the temporary frog tattoo shown below.
  • Earn 15 stamps; get a prize. Hint: it’s something to tuck into your backpack for school.
  • Earn 20 stamps; get a big prize. We’ll hand the proud reader a free ticket for his/her admission to Butterflies & Blooms. (Parents, you can sign up, read some great books, and earn your own free ticket, too!) 
  • Here’s the link for more details: chicagobotanic.org/library/summer_reading.

ILLUSTRATION: A cartoon of a frog reading a book.

Not reading yet? Even the pre-K set can sign up! Parents/adults can earn stamps/prizes for littler kids by reading books to them—that’s how a lifelong love of reading begins! (Of course, little kids love getting the same treats as their already-reading siblings, too.)

Of course, members have check-out privileges at the library, but nonmembers are welcome to sit and read—the reading nook (pillows on the floor, kid-sized reading table) has been known to attract many a bookworm parent, too. On the library shelves, look on book spines for:

  • Yellow dots = Books for the 2 to 6 crowd
  • Yellow dots with blue stars = For readers 7 to 10
  • Yellow dots with red stars = Spanish-language books for kids
  • Blue tape = New to our collection!

Family Drop-in Activities shake up the routine with a roster of unusual, nature-based activities: kids might dissect a seed at the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden…or search for underwater creatures at Kleinman Family Cove…or make a samurai mask at the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden. Drop-in activities take place every summer day—for the line-up and locations, go to chicagobotanic.org/forfamilies.

And did we mention that it’s all free?

Happy summer reading, and we look forward to seeing you at the circulation desk!

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

“But wait! There’s more!”

Lenhardt Library Treasures Populate Exhibitions

Amy Spungen —  February 13, 2014 — 2 Comments

Stacy Stoldt is never not working on an exhibition.

Even when the Lenhardt Library’s public services manager is staffing the desk, answering reference questions, and locating articles for staff, the “million and one” details involved in putting together the library’s four annual rare book exhibitions are percolating in her brain.

PHOTO: Stacy Stoldt organizing bookshelves.

Stacy Stoldt awaits patrons in the Lenhardt Libary.

Stoldt has streamlined the process since she first began working at the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2007, but it remains a lot of work to curate an exhibition. “There’s the research, the writing, the editing, the design, the approvals,” she said last month. “Here we are in January, and we’re in the design phase of our next exhibition, which opens in February, but back in November I was already meeting with someone about books for an exhibition that opens this May. There’s always a deadline looming.”

Stoldt loves her work, and one of her chief pleasures is deciding which literary treasures will be selected. It is a process involving research, more research, and finally, she says, just a bit more research. The excitement of finding the perfect volume has prompted Stoldt to burst into song (just ask cataloger Ann Anderson, a neighbor in the basement office who sometimes joins in).

The public services manager and her colleagues have many volumes from which to choose: in 2002, the Lenhardt Library acquired a magnificent collection of 2,000 rare books and 2,000 historic journals from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society of Boston.

An Exhibition Takes Shape

PHOTO: A meeting with a dozen people gatherered around rare books.

Stoldt shows rare books to a group in the rare book reading room.

Before Stoldt begins hunting down books, there are meetings to decide Lenhardt Library exhibition topics for the year. That process begins with a brainstorming session including Stoldt, Lenhardt Library Director Leora Siegel, and Rare Books Curator Ed Valauskas. Sometimes the trio bases their topics on themes within the collection, such as the upcoming succulent show that features the work of A.P. de Candolle and botanical-rock-star-illustrator Pierre-Joseph Redouté.

Alternatively, they might collaborate with another botanical library on a theme, as happened when the Lenhardt Library team worked with the New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library on the recent exhibition Healing Plants: Illustrated Herbals. Other times, they select topics that complement events held at the Garden, such as Butterflies in Print: Lepidoptera Defined, which ran in conjunction with last summer’s Butterflies & Blooms.

Newest Exhibition Focuses on Orchids

PHOTO: An illustration of Masdevallia coccinea from an illustrated book panel.

The Lenhardt Library’s newest exhibition, Exotic Orchids: Orchestrated in Print, runs through Sunday, May 11. This image is from Xenia Orchidaceae: Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Orchideen, by Heinrich Gustave Reichenbach.

The newest Lenhardt Library exhibition complements the Orchid Show and is titled Exotic Orchids: Orchestrated in Print. Running through Sunday, May 11, it features such rare books as Charles Darwin’s seminal On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects, and on the Good Effects of Intercrossing, published in 1862. Another item is Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, with a beautiful color illustration of Angraecum sesquipedale, also known as Darwin’s orchid. “One doesn’t come alive without the other,” said Stoldt. “I’m always trying to put the connections together for people.”

For some exhibitions, Stoldt does it all—A to Z. For others, she receives the researched text, citations, and selected illustrations from Valauskas or Siegel and develops the material into an exhibition. Once the topics are established, research is completed, and explanatory text is written and edited, graphic designers enter the picture. Stoldt selects images from the featured books to use with the accompanying text, and then the designers work their magic. Along the way, Stoldt and Siegel review the progress. The result is an exhibition compelling not only for its content but for its elegant layout, which extends throughout the display cases that greet visitors as they enter the library.

Accompanying library talks are on Tuesday, February 18, and Sunday, March 9, at 2 p.m.

“For our new Exotic Orchids exhibition, we really wanted to show some bling!” said Stoldt. Within the Rare Book Collection, there was so much to choose from on orchids that she found the selection process daunting. Visitors to the exhibition will find the beauty and science of orchids well-represented, and discover items about orchid conservation and preservation as well.

Art Conservation Key to Documenting Plants

Stoldt noted that conserving the books and the artwork that document a plant’s existence is almost as important as preserving the actual plant. In cases two and three of Exotic Orchids, there are select illustrations from two orchid collections, Les Orchidées (1890) and Les Orchidées et les Plantes de Serre (1900–10), which the Lenhardt Library recently had conserved by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) through grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

How did the conservation process work? Professionally trained book and paper conservators removed the illustrations from their original acidic bindings; then the inks were tested, the surfaces were cleaned, and the illustrations were digitally photographed. Then the illustrations were placed in chemically stable folders and housed in custom-made boxes made from lignin-free archival boards. Conservation completed!

ILLUSTRATION: An unidentified Cypripedium, or slipper orchid.

Cypripedium VIII. color plate

The Rare Book Collection

Stoldt recently brought out some rare volumes to demonstrate the variety within the Rare Book Collection. As noted on its web page, the collection reflects a relationship between people and the plant kingdom that has been documented since the earliest days of print, when botanists were not simply plant describers, but explorers.

Out came volume after volume, with Stoldt pointing out noteworthy details about each. Among them was the oldest book in the collection, Historia Plantarum, written by Theophrastus (d. 287 B.C.E.) and published in 1483 (it has some unusual marginalia). There was also an exquisite Japanese book on flower arranging, Nageire Kadensho: Saishokuzu Iri, published in 1684 and donated by longtime library volunteer Adele Klein. Stoldt continued her informal presentation with seemingly boundless enthusiasm, finishing with lush life-size images from The Orchid Album, published between 1882 and 1897.

More than once, Stoldt returned a book to the vault at the end of the show-and-tell only to call, “but wait! There’s more!” as she glimpsed another book she absolutely had to show. This librarian really, really loves her books. And she feels very protective of them.

Stoldt recalled the horror she felt once when she was installing an exhibition, with a rare book exposed nearby on a book “cradle”: “There was a sign that said ‘Exhibit installation in progress: please do not touch the rare books,’ but this person came in from the rain and loomed over it, dripping wet. I got her out of the way, but that was a close one.”

Cultivating Relationships

More often, visitors are sensitive to the delicate state of the Garden’s rare books. Some Garden members make a point of coming to each new exhibition and attending the free gallery talk. “One patron always calls from Wisconsin to find out about the next talk,” said Stoldt. “And once, a library regular who came to a talk told me how much she loved the book Brother Gardeners [about eighteenth-century gardeners who brought American plants to England]. I was able to show her some books by the book’s featured plantsmen, including Joseph Banks, John Bartram, and Phillip Miller, among others. It’s what I call an ‘on-demand rare-book viewing.’ She was thrilled. These are the kinds of things that lead to relationships with people.”

Devoted patrons feel that the library and its exhibitions enhance their lives; in turn, some are moved to enhance the Rare Book Collection. “We have our patrons, and then we have our patron saints,” said Stoldt. One patron who came to the 2009 exhibit on Kew Garden’s 250th anniversary enjoyed the accompanying talk by Ed Valauskas so much that she donated the 1777 edition of Cook’s Voyage, or A Voyage Towards the South Pole, by Captain James Cook, which had been in her family for family for decades. And longtime members John and Mary Helen Slater made it possible for the library to acquire 11 volumes of Warner’s Orchid Album.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Stoldt loves to see the excitement she feels about the Garden’s Rare Book Collection spreading to a new generation. She recalled a day when a grandfather brought his grandson to the library, and the child asked to see a rare book. “I asked him what he was interested in, and he said, ‘poisonous plants.’ First, I showed him Histoire des Plantes Vénéneuses et Suspectes de la France by Bulliard, a book on poisonous plants written in French from the eighteenth century, but what really spoke to him was a book with the ‘coolest illustrations!’ entitled Poisonous Plants, Deadly, Dangerous and Suspect, Engraved on Wood, 1927, by John Nash. This kid was just amazed. I love seeing young readers light up when they’ve found something intriguing for them in print. It’s heart-warming.”

ILLUSTRATION: Cattleya aclandiae.

Cattleya aclandiae from a rare book color plate

Although that particular drop-in visit and viewing request occurred on a busy weekend day, another library staff member was available to manage the circulation desk while Stoldt showed the books. “I can’t stress enough the importance of making an appointment for a viewing,” she said. “Besides kids, grandparents, and garden clubs, people from all over the world come to Lenhardt Library to see primary resources they can’t find elsewhere. We’ve had writers and scholars from England and the Netherlands, and even a Thai princess, come to see the Rare Book Collection. Everyone is welcome.”

Don’t be surprised if you come to see one specific book in the collection and end up seeing many more. It will be a visit you won’t forget!

Rare book viewings are by appointment only during the hours of 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, subject to availability. For an appointment, call (847) 835-8201.

The Orchid Show is open through March 16, 2014. Click here to purchase tickets online.


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Garden Turns 40

Documenting our Past, Planning for the Future

Leora Siegel —  January 5, 2013 — 3 Comments

Chicago Botanic Garden visitors know that the Garden celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. In looking back over the Garden’s growth since 1972, Garden staff, members, and visitors appreciated the remarkable changes that had taken place. The 40th anniversary website includes a timeline of significant events, historical photos, and opportunities for community members to share their experiences at the Garden.

Fewer Garden visitors are aware of the early years of the Chicago Horticultural Society, which dates back to 1890. At a free talk about The Garden Turns 40: Documenting our Past, Planning for the Future exhibition last week, I shared some of this history with those who attended.

In 1890, the goal of the Horticultural Society of Chicago was “the encouragement and promotion of the practice of horticulture in all its branches and the fostering of an increased love of it among the people.” This is in perfect alignment with the City of Chicago’s motto of Urbs in Horto (Latin for city in a garden). The Society shared this message through flower shows. Currently on exhibition in the Lenhardt Library are a poster from a 1900 flower show and a pamphlet from the 1914 flower show.  Seeing the original, primary source documents from the Garden’s early history is inspiring.

PHOTO: The Garden Turns 40 Exhibition

Also on display as a part of the Garden Turns 40 exhibition is an original record book from 1890–1904. It includes all types of documents including board minutes (many of which were hand scribed), by-laws, financial records, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, meeting notifications, and other materials that were of interest to Society members. This is the only original document from the early period in the archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society.

The record book is open to the first page, which has a list of officers. You can see some names crossed off and others added. This is because it was a working document. As board members changed each year, the names were updated on the list. One civic leader who was involved with the Horticultural Society of Chicago and listed as an officer is Andrew McNally (from the Rand McNally family of maps and atlases).

See these items and more at the Lenhardt Library.  Feel free to ask library staff questions. If you have any family stories about how this Garden got started please share them with us; we’d love to hear from you.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org