The Cole Museum of Zoology holds over three thousand specimens from the animal kingdom: In 1939 the prestigious journal Nature recognised the collection as ‘being without a rival’ among its contemporaries of the day. Nowadays, somewhat rarely, the Cole collection remains intact, retaining its status as one of the most important and complete UK museums of comparative anatomy – the study of differences between animals. The Museum is complemented by Cole’s personal library, part of the University’s Special Collections.

The University’s herbarium (Herbarium RNG) houses around 400,000 specimens collected from all over the globe. These are both a source of research material and serve as an inspirational resource for teaching and learning. The herbarium not only puts Reading students directly in touch with ongoing research into the biodiversity of the planet, it also receives visitors and requests for identification help from all over the world.

The University’s Geology Collection is housed in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science and is available for teaching and research use – records of over 3000 specimens of minerals and rocks can be searched online.


The University of Reading has a long history of excellence in biological research. Today, understanding the natural world has never been more important. Researchers investigate the history of the living world at all scales: from genes to individuals, from populations to ecosystems. Through our research, we aim to change the way people think about, and study, ecology and evolution.

Our collections reflect the development of our research. Key moments include the establishment of the Herbarium in 1897 and the appointment of Francis Joseph Cole in 1906. From its foundation, the Herbarium has put Reading students directly in touch with ongoing research into the biodiversity of the planet. Cole was a passionate and creative collector of animal specimens he set to work on a museum collection using a variety of imaginative means.


Herbarium collection

With over 400,000 specimens, the Herbarium’s extensive collections of plants has particular strengths for the Mediterranean, temperate South America and the UK.

Cole Museum of Zoology

Established by Professor Francis Cole in 1906, the Museum represents a snapshot of animal diversity in the early 20th century and has always been used to teach zoology and comparative anatomy. The Museum is home to thousands of specimens of great zoological significance, including taxidermy, skeletons, histological preparations, fluid-preserved dissections, fossil material and casts.

Cole and his Library

A book collector and bibliophile from his schooldays until his death, Cole amassed a huge library of around 8000 volumes of books and scientific papers, from earliest times to the present day. As this online exhibition shows, the library covers the history of early medicine, zoology, comparative anatomy and reproductive physiology.