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The Institute has an extensive library of primarily scientific works collected by the founder, and over the course of its history. Dating from the late 17th to the early 20th century, the collection covers the natural and physical sciences, education, medicine, archaeology and anthropology, the pseudo-sciences, instrument building, and engineering. The Library contains monographs, serials, archives, manuscripts, maps, prints, photographs, drawings, and glass lantern slides. The collection reflects the Institute’s curriculum as well as the research interests of its faculty, fellows, and museum staff.
The Library is especially rich in early 19th century English and American works devoted to the history and teaching of science and technology. The extensive journal collection includes research done by most major European and Asian scientific societies and many publications from smaller (and for the most part defunct) scientific societies. The scientific revolution, intellectual and social history, and the history of science can be explored through material on philosophy, religion, science, and educational reform.
The archives and manuscripts collection includes the personal and business records of the founder William Wagner (1796-1885) dating from 1810 and the records of the Institute from its inception in 1855. These include records pertaining to the establishment and administration of the First Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia called the Wagner Branch (1890-1962), and records and documentation of the Institute’s participation in the national and local University Extension movement. Research papers and correspondence of many of the Institute’s distinguished faculty and staff, including Joseph Leidy, Edward Drinker Cope, and William Berryman Scott are also part of the archives, as well as drawings, teaching charts, and over 3500 glass lantern slides used to illustrate lectures.
In keeping with Wagner’s mission, the Library remains in active use today supporting scholarly research and public education programs for children and adults. The Library, a member of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) and the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science (PACHS), has a growing on-line catalog and participates in OCLC’s interlibrary loan program.