IACRL Member Spotlight Spring 2022: Leora Siegel

Illinois Association of College & Research Libraries Forum (IACRL)

March 19, 2022

Meet Leora Siegel and the Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden

by Elena Carrillo, University of Illinois, Chicago

Leora Siegel, Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Leora Siegel, Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Leora Siegel is Senior Director of the Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden, whose mission is to “cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life.” 

Leora, you have been at the Chicago Botanic Garden since 2007. From your extensive experience, tell us about the work of the library.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library, here’s a brief introduction. This research library has a collection of about 150,000 items encompassing resources on gardening, botany, plant conservation, native landscapes, landscape design, and all subjects that the Chicago Botanic Garden touches, in formats from rare books to e-books. The Library’s core user groups are Chicago Botanic Garden staff, members of the Garden, graduate students and faculty in the joint program in Plant Biology and Conservation with Northwestern University, and Garden visitors. With a unique circulating collection, items are loaned to universities and public libraries for their users through RAILS Inter-library loan program, and to staff and members onsite.

Interior of the Lenhardt Library

Interior of the Lenhardt Library

I'm sure everyone would love to know what your favorite part of the collections at the Lenhardt Library are. Is there a particular item, collection, or exhibit you are especially proud or fond of that you would like to highlight?

The Rare Book Collection is full of botanical treasures! Acquired in 2002, it’s always a joy to present instructional programs with primary sources, and to explore the collection in selecting volumes to display in rare book exhibitions.

Études de Fleurs de Fruits by Madame Vincent is one of my favorite books.

One of many beautiful full-color plates from Études de Fleurs de Fruits by Madame Vincent, which is in the public domain and available in its entirety at the link above.

One of many beautiful full-color plates from Études de Fleurs de Fruits, which is in the public domain and available in its entirety at the link provided in the article.

By Henriette Antoinette Vincent, 1786-1830

The stunning botanical illustrations of flowers and fruit include the occasional moth, dewdrop, or leaf spot for a true-to-life plant representation. Published in 1820 by a woman author & artist, this was unusual for the time-period and makes it even more compelling. Additional Lenhardt Library digitized volumes with related blog posts and stories are collected in a LibGuide.

You have a degree in History and a Certificate in Medieval Studies, and started out as an Agricultural Librarian--was it always your goal to work at someplace like the Chicago Botanic Garden or did you have something else in mind when you were pursuing your education?

I originally planned for a career in academic librarianship while pursuing my Library Science degree. I wanted to work in the plant sciences and started out as an Agricultural Librarian. I wasn’t aware of the opportunities in botanic gardens until I noticed a “library” sign on a door during a weekend visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden and went in to investigate. I was amazed to find a library devoted entirely to gardening resources! While working at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I’ve completed a subject Master’s in Plant Sciences, which has been extremely valuable to my job.

The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL) is the primary library organization for botanic garden libraries and academic libraries in this field.

Over the course of your career at Chicago Botanic, you worked from Technical Services to Reference, and then into a managerial position before becoming a director. What advice do you have for new career librarians who would also like to work their way up through the ranks?

My advice to new librarians is to be an asset to your institution. Join library organizations to stay current with trends in the field and bring new perspectives to your team. Look at the skills needed for the next step and take continuing education courses to be qualified for when an opening becomes available. Look for ways to add value for your stakeholders including students, faculty, and the development department. Become familiar with your institution beyond the library, and look for opportunities for collaboration with the library.

Can you recommend a book or library resource that you have enjoyed recently? What did you like about it?

I highly recommend the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) as a powerful library resource. The Lenhardt Library is an affiliate member of this digital library containing almost 60 million pages of natural history literature. Over 300,000 natural history images are in BHL’s Flickr account. https://www.flickr.com/photos/biodivlibrary/sets/

During COVID when many libraries had to close their doors, BHL was open 24/7 and a lifeline for researchers and librarians.

According to their website, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is "the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives....Headquartered at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives in Washington, D.C., BHL operates as a worldwide consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries working together to digitize the natural history literature held in their collections and make it freely available for open access as part of a global biodiversity community.”

Do you have a garden of your own at home? If so, what are your favorite things to grow?

I really enjoy my indoor garden (potted plants) during the gloomy winter months. I grow colorful orchids, spider plants, and cacti. My outdoor garden has perennials, native plants, and often cherry tomatoes.

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