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London, United Kingdom
DoneFri, Jun 10, 2005 11:00 AM GMT

Ornithological Library of S. Dillon Ripley

When S.Dillon Ripley ended his 20 year tenure as Secretary of the Smithsonian in 1984 he left behind an institution which had tripled its annual visitor numbers to over 30 million and which had opened eight new museums (including the capital's most popular, the Air and Space Museum) and seven new research facilities. On his retirement he returned to his first and greatest passion - ornithology - joining the Museum of Natural History, where he worked until his death in March 2001.

Ripley wrote extensively but is perhaps best remembered for Handbook of the Birds of India, 1968-74, which he co-authored with Salim Ali and the important monograph Rails of the World, 1977. He created the magazine Smithsonian and changed the museum from a dusty and rather soulless research facility to a vibrant, child-friendly, accessible centre of learning for scholars and public alike - he installed the carousel on the Mall and introduced the life-size fibreglass triceratops (Uncle Beazley) to grace the front of the Natural History building and for kids to play on.

But it is the love of and association with all aspects of bird life for which he was revered. His ornithological collection reflects his passion and his scholarship. On his library and study shelves next to the visually appealing colour plate highspots such as the 8vo edition of Audubon's The Birds of America, 1840 might sit a pamphlet on a rare species of Asian gamebird or an important monograph on the birds of a certain area of the world. This is truly a working library with many books bearing notes and annotations; it is rich in obscure offprints and long runs of ornithological journals and periodicals - there are for example a complete 27 volume set of the British Museum Catalogue of Birds, edited by Richard Bowdler Sharpe and a complete set from vol.1 to date of the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, each profusely illustrated with hand-coloured plates and full of essays and research.