Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Library

Sheila Campbell, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Librarian

“I’ll meet you by the pirate,” said Sheila Campbell, arranging our exciting and insightful tour of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium‘s library.


The pirate at the entrance of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Sheila was hired as the zoo’s first librarian in 1997.  At the time, the library was housed in a double-wide trailer near the entrance of the zoo.  Equipped with a computer and a small collection, she was responsible for creating and managing the library system for the large organization.

As we entered the education offices, where part of the library’s collection lives today, Sheila shared that her office has moved three times since she began.  Today, she has an office and maintains part of the zoo’s collection in the education building, as well as a larger library and workspace in the Polar Frontier building.  In the education building, we visited classrooms for preschoolers and summer camps, and we checked out Sheila’s office, a long, narrow room lined with children’s books that the education staff borrow for classes.  She showed us two large closets containing the biofacts and props collections.  These items include animal skulls and skins, stuffed animals and other materials that by zoo staff can borrow for presentations and programs.


Articles in the props collection


These guys are part of the biofacts collection.

Next, we visited the library space in the Polar Frontier building, which also houses Zoo School, a program for high school juniors and seniors interested in zoology.  Sheila often works with the students, offering access to the library’s collection, instruction on research and bibliographic citation and help with their presentations.


Books and displays in the zoo’s Polar library

As we walked around the zoo’s properties, Sheila greeted members of the zoo’s staff with a smile and by name.  We learned she often goes out of her way to meet with individuals face to face.  Building relationships and making herself accessible to the zoo staff has increased library information requests and the library’s impact across the institution and beyond.  Sheila enjoys being able to answer questions for keepers and other zoo workers.  She researches the zoo’s collections and leverages The Ohio State University’s veterinary collections, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ librarian list-serv and even reaches out directly to field researchers in order to answer tough reference questions.

A reference librarian by training, Sheila enjoys finding answers for her constituents.  In addition to assisting zoo staff, she also answers all incoming questions to the zoo.  She shared that she receives around 1,000 questions a year via email, phone, mail and in person via the docents.  We asked her the strangest questions she’s had to answer:

“Do turtles have lips?”, followed closely by “Can I have a monkey for a pet?”


The preschool classroom

Sheila offers a myriad of services to the zoo staff, beyond answering questions.  She manages 30 journal subscriptions, catalogs and keeps the collections, assists with projects and presentations and offers help to the education staff for their teaching and programming needs.  She teaches research courses and training for docents, volunteers and school teachers.  She also partners with outside organizations, such as the Fawcett Center for Sy Montgomery’s book tour for “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness,” the Upper Arlington Public Library for a zoo related display and the Delaware Arts Castle on an exhibit featuring the zoo’s art collection.

Our tour of the zoo’s library left us in awe of the work that Sheila does, though it’s no surprise that an amazing institution like the Columbus Zoo has an amazing librarian to help with their information needs.


Pieces like this penguin can be checked out from the biofacts collection by zoo staff.


Pieces of the biofacts collection; it also includes eggs and bones from animals


Animal Behaviour Journal collection


Books in the library collection


A bone sorting chart in the biofacts room


Sign in the Polar building of the zoo


“Library security”


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