In one of the first visible changes at the Academy of Natural Sciences, new president George W. Gephart Jr. has made two significant new hires: an experienced fund-raiser and a library director who was head of the nation's oldest library consortium.

Sara Hertz, 49, of Ambler, will be the museum's new vice president for strategic initiatives.

Cathy Wilt, 56, of Drexel Hill, will bring digitization and other new technologies to the academy's vast and historic library.

"I believe we must grow," Gephart said in an interview Wednesday. Although the academy has typically been led by scientists, he is a regional business and nonprofit leader who has been on the job for four months.

The academy, founded in 1812, is the oldest natural history museum and research institution in the Americas. Its scientists have made significant discoveries in the worlds of dinosaurs, stream ecology, and other sciences.

Some of its collections are world renowned for their size and diversity. The academy has priceless John James Audubon artifacts and plants collected by Lewis and Clark on their 1804-06 expedition.

Yet in recent years its endowment has declined - although it has rebounded somewhat from $43 million in 2007 to $48 million. In 2009, much of the staff had to take a 5 percent salary cut.

Gephart said Hertz would work on strategic planning and board development. "We will lean heavily on Sara for driving our bicentennial effort, for the eventual capital campaign, and also strengthening our visibility in the community," he said.

Most recently, Hertz was vice president of development at the Philadelphia Zoo. She led the planning for the zoo's 150th anniversary celebration.

She also was instrumental in the creation of the zoo's Global Conservation Prize, perhaps the world's largest award for international conservation. In March, the zoo pledged $500,000 to a Brazilian conservation organization working to save the golden lion tamarin, a small primate.

Hertz also has done fund-raising for the Nature Conservancy and the University of Pennsylvania. In Britain, she worked for the World Wildlife Fund, Queen Elizabeth's Foundation for Disabled People, and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Hertz said she wanted to "remagnetize" the academy. "I want there to be so many kids here I have to fight my way to my office."

She said part of her fund-raising role would be to "push from the inside" to make the academy a better place, and thus attract more funding, grants, and endowments.

Wilt will head the academy's library. Founded at the academy's first meeting, it is internationally recognized for its rare and historic books and journals.

Its more than 200,000 books and serials date to the 1500s. It has more than a million manuscripts, including field notes, diaries, drawings, and letters. The collection also includes thousands of photographs, maps, and artifacts, from a buckskin jacket belonging to Audubon to a pith helmet worn by Ruth Patrick, the founder of the academy's stream ecology center, which bears her name.

"When you consider the depth and breadth of our library, it may be preeminent in the country for its field," Gephart said.

He said one of Wilt's missions would be to digitize or bring other technological advances to the collection, making it more accessible to other researchers and the public.

This has been considered such an important goal that a previous president was willing to sell off an important academy mineral collection to fund the work - a plan later abandoned.

Gephart said Wilt was "highly regarded for her vision of the future for libraries and cultural heritage organizations."

She has a 30-year career in libraries that included positions at Drexel University and Ursinus College and with national and international library organizations.

Most recently, Wilt was president of Lyrasis, a consortium serving 2,000 libraries.

Wilt said digitization was only one of her goals. "Enhanced access" is her byword for the library. "We have these amazing historic collections that we need to preserve, conserve, and provide access to," she said.

Contact staff writer Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147 or sbauers@phillynews.com Visit her blog at http://go.philly.com/greenspace