Thursday, March 22, 2018

Exploring the Birds of Canada

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis). Illustration by F.C. Hennessey. Birds of Canada (1934) by Percy Algernon Taverner. Digitized in BHL by Canadian Museum of Nature Library.

Did someone say Spring?!

In Ottawa, we start to see the Canada Geese returning to their summer nesting grounds around this time of year. Large flocks of them fly overhead in the same v-shaped formations we saw months ago when they left in the late fall.

Various subspecies of the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis). Birds of Canada (1934) by Percy Algernon Taverner. Digitized in BHL by Canadian Museum of Nature Library.

Aren’t migratory birds fascinating? Along with so many other Canadian bird species.

Birds of Canada by Percy Algernon Taverner remains one of the best accounts of the kinds of birds that occur in Canada. And the first thirty-six pages holds just the right amount of information to open the science of ornithology to bird lovers, yet still enough information to satisfy research needs.

The pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator). Illustration by Allan Brooks. Birds of Canada (1934) by Percy Algernon Taverner. Digitized in BHL by Canadian Museum of Nature Library.

Further on, the book is beautifully illustrated with the works of Allan Brooks, a distinguished bird artist, and there is an abundance of illustrations imbedded throughout, contributing visual explanations. A well-illustrated book was still a rarer occurrence in 1934 when this title was published. This was undoubtedly a key factor in its popularity at the time.

The upland plover or sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda). Illustration by Allan Brooks. Birds of Canada (1934) by Percy Algernon Taverner. Digitized in BHL by Canadian Museum of Nature Library.

Percy Algernon Taverner compiled over 330 publications about birds, but Birds of Canada was amongst his three best-sellers. Thanks to the Canadian Museum of Nature Library, you can read a copy of Birds of Canada on BHL.

The rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). Illustration by Allan Brooks. Birds of Canada (1934) by Percy Algernon Taverner. Digitized in BHL by Canadian Museum of Nature Library.

Taverner built from scratch the Ornithology department of the National Museum of Canada (now Canadian Museum of Nature). Fast forward from then to now (1911 to 2018), a public Bird Gallery at the Canadian Museum of Nature's Victoria Memorial Museum Building in downtown Ottawa is the largest and most modern bird gallery in Canada with nearly 500 specimens of Canadian birds.

Percy Algernon Taverner.

In 2015, Percy Taverner Park was named in his honour. This park is at Woodbine Place, in Ottawa Ontario, where three imaginative bike racks border the entrance to the park. They are stylized Northern Cardinals and reputed to be Percy Taverner’s favourite birds.

Bike racks stylized as Northern Cardinals at the entrance to Percy Taverner Park. Image source: Old Ottawa South Community Association.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). Birds of Canada (1934) by Percy Algernon Taverner. Digitized in BHL by Canadian Museum of Nature Library.

For a thoughtfully and nicely written biography, A Life with Birds: Percy A. Taverner, Canadian Ornithologist, 1875-1947 by John L. Cranmer-Byng, a special issue of the Canadian Field-Naturalist, 1996, volume 110, number 1, is also available to read on BHL.

The hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus or Leuconotopicus villosus). Taxonomy varies by taxonomic authority. Illustration by Allan Brooks. Birds of Canada (1934) by Percy Algernon Taverner. Digitized in BHL by Canadian Museum of Nature Library.

In the words of Taverner himself, “ornithology is one of the problems of nature that may be successfully attacked from so many points of view and in so many ways that there is interesting and valuable work for all to accomplish according to individual taste or opportunity”.

Quote from the introduction of Birds of Canada (1934) by Percy Algernon Taverner. Digitized in BHL by Canadian Museum of Nature Library.
The eastern screech owl (Megascops asio). Illustration by Allan Brooks. Birds of Canada (1934) by Percy Algernon Taverner. Digitized in BHL by Canadian Museum of Nature Library.

Post by:
Elizabeth Smith
Acquisitions and Cataloguing Officer
Canadian Museum of Nature Library

Elizabeth Smith joined the Canadian Museum of Nature in 2014 as Acquisitions and Cataloguing Officer. She is responsible for the library’s daily operations, including the selection and purchase of materials and resources as well as providing access to resources and reference services. She also plays a lead role in the library’s digitization initiatives. Prior to this Elizabeth served as Document Delivery & Research Services Technician at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Explore Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum on BHL

The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University has contributed a century of their publications to BHL as a part of the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project, including: Bulletin of Popular Information (1915-1940) and Arnoldia (1942-2016).

Nancy Rose, an arborist with a background in woody plant research and horticulture extension, served as Arnoldia’s editor from 2008 to February 2018. Before retiring, she shared with us some reflections on the their contributions to BHL (and recommended some good reads for us to dig into).

“The Arnold Arboretum’s first serial publication, started in 1911, was the Bulletin of Popular Information, a newsletter published during the growing season that provided visitors with information on plants with current ornamental interest (e.g., flowers, fruit, fall foliage). It evolved into a magazine with longer articles on a wide range of topics, published regularly throughout the year, and was renamed Arnoldia in 1941. These publications contain a vast wealth of information on topics such as botany, horticulture, forestry, ecology, and landscape history, as well as details about the Arboretum’s history and functions including plant exploration, plant propagation, and collections management. 
“In 2007, digitization of all past Bulletin and Arnoldia issues was completed and the issues were made available free of charge through the Arboretum’s website. Several years ago, with the desire to expand access to a wider audience, we signed an agreement with BHL and these publications are now available on this wonderful publicly accessible platform.  
“The Bulletin and Arnoldia are a great resource for researchers in many fields. Some of the information is timeless, for example, the previous praises of royal azalea (Rhododendron schlippenbachii) that I referenced in a 2011 profile of the species. Other articles clearly show how times have changed – recommendations in 1950s articles for using DDT in the landscape now seem horrifying. An interesting narrative on how a plant once promoted in Arboretum publications turned out to be incredibly invasive is told in the article 'Untangling the Twisted Tale of Oriental Bittersweet'. (It’s worth noting that scientific names sometimes change over the decades, so plant names in older issues may need to be cross checked with currently accepted nomenclature.)  
The introduced invasive plant oriental bittersweet on the cover of Arnoldia, 2014 (v. 71 no. 3). Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.
Arnoldia is an eclectic publication and we don’t have a rigid format, but for me an ideal Arnoldia article is informative, engaging, and firmly science based yet accessible to a broad audience. Just a few of our interesting stories: what happened to tree species when their megafaunal seed dispersers (think mastadons) went extinct? ('Anachronistic Fruits and the Ghosts who haunt them'); everything you ever wanted to know about bark ('Bark: From Abstract Art to Aspirin'); and how the great man-made environmental changes in the nineteenth century can be seen in art from that era ('Seeing the Landscape in Landscape Art').” 
A landscape painting from "Seeing the Landscape in Landscape Art" (Arnoldia 2015, v. 73 no. 2). The caption reads: ‘Deforestation is evident in George Inness’s The Lackawanna Valley, circa 1856.’ Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Illustratrions make the physics of tree growth accessible to a wider audience in the 2001 article ‘The Shape of Trees: A Matter of Compromise’ (Arnoldia v. 61 no. 1). Digitized by Harvard University Botany Libraries.

About the Arnold Arboretum 

The Arnold Arboretum is both a living botanical research collection of Harvard University and a public park for the City of Boston. In its design, the Arboretum’s first director, Charles Sprague Sargent, partnered with landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (who is known for designing New York City’s Central Park and Boston’s Emerald Necklace, a seven-mile network of parks and parkways that includes the Arnold Arboretum).

Although land for the project was granted by James Arnold, a New Bedford whaling merchant, and by agriculturalist Benjamin Bussey, the high cost of building infrastructure for the park was a barrier. Sargent found a creative way to solve that problem: in December of 1883, after four years of negotiations, Harvard sold the land to the City of Boston and then signed a 1000-year lease on the property. As a result of this arrangement, the city maintains the park’s infrastructure and surveillance, while the University maintains the tree collection and keeps the park open to the general public for free, sunrise to sunset. (The blog of the Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library has a great post, Maps tell a story, tracking the development of the Arboretum through maps from their archives.)

The Arnold Arboretum’s first director, Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927), had studied as an apprentice under Harvard botanist Asa Gray, who is known as the “father of modern botany” for his work in taxonomic botany and his defense of Darwinism. (A fun side note: you can read Darwin’s copy of Gray’s Manual of the botany of the northern United States on BHL.) In 1872, Sargent was appointed Director of Harvard Botanic Garden, which included working as administrator and professor at the Bussey Institution (an undergraduate school of agriculture and horticulture). The following year he became the director of the Arnold Arboretum, which he would lead for 54 years. 

(A number of Sargent’s published works are available on BHL, including: The Silva of North America, 14 volumes published from 1890-1902, contributed to BHL by Missouri Botanical Garden; The Manual of the Trees of North America, first edition, 1905 and second edition, 1922, contributed to BHL by University of California Libraries /; and Garden and forest; a journal of horticulture, landscape art and forestry, published weekly 1888-1897, contributed to BHL by Smithsonian Libraries.)

An established 60-year old cherry tree is carefully moved by forklift to a new location in the Arboretum, to join the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Collection of Rosaceous Plants. (Arnoldia 2001, v. 61 no. 1.). Digitized by Harvard University Botany Libraries.

Extensive planting of the Arboretum’s trees and shrubs began in 1886. The living collection is organized by family and genus (according to Bentham and Hooker classification system for seed plants) over 281 acres of land. As of June 2015, it includes 14,760 accessioned plants representing 3,800 botanical and horticultural taxa, particularly focused on woody species of North America and eastern Asia. These trees are not only enjoyed by the public, but are also used for research in areas ranging from evolutionary biology to horticultural practice and invasive species management.

The Arboretum’s collection also includes preserved specimens (1.3 million, which fall under the collection of 5 million held at the Harvard University Herbaria) and library holdings (over 40,000 volumes, located in both Jamaica Plain and at the Harvard University Herbaria in Cambridge).

Many thanks to the Arnold Arboretum for contributing these resources with BHL, and to Nancy Rose for sharing insights!

By Elizabeth Meyer 
Library Project Assistant 
Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University


Thursday, March 8, 2018

From BHL User to BHL Ambassador: Becca Greenstein Helps Spread the Word about BHL

Becca Greenstein, STEM Librarian at Northwestern University Libraries.

A BHL User Story by Becca Greenstein

During the summer of 2016, I had the privilege of working on a collection development project for the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) for a Professional Development Internship with Jacqueline Chapman at Smithsonian Libraries. My task was to refine a collection assessment methodology for BHL using both taxonomic and bibliographic analyses. BHL’s unique features made certain aspects of my project significantly easier to conduct: taxonomic name recognition which pulls scientific names from each page of text, data exports which contain all of the scientific names in the BHL corpus, and searching by scientific name to see if BHL has the initial mentions of various species [1].

Fast forward to November 2017, when I had been working at the Northwestern University Libraries as a STEM Librarian for four months. I attended a Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) webinar about BHL, presented by Grace Costantino and Bianca Crowley, in order to reacquaint myself with BHL (and have the excuse to search their Flickr collection for a good image so I could tweet about the webinar later). Afterwards, I was telling my colleagues about the webinar, and a number expressed interest in learning more about BHL. In addition to being a valuable resource for library staff, we thought a one-shot library class on BHL would be a good opportunity for outreach to various academic departments. To promote the class, I designed a poster, wrote a post on our Libraries' blog, and made plenty of announcements to get the word out to interested library staff and departments.

Poster promoting Becca Greenstein's BHL class at Northwestern University Libraries. Poster by Becca Greenstein and Clare Roccaforte (Director of Marketing and Communication, Northwestern University Libraries).

During the class, I used the content from the FDLP webinar to talk about BHL’s history, collections, users, social media presence, citizen science projects, and grant-funded projects. I also did a demonstration of the BHL website, conducted a number of searches, and highlighted the features that had helped me during my internship. Participation numbers were lower than I’d hoped, but attendees did ask a lot of good questions. They were relieved to know that one can export BHL item records into EndNote, Zotero, and Mendeley, the three reference management tools we support at the Libraries. They asked how it was used by researchers, and I described the natural history and botany research conducted by subject specialists worldwide on organisms ranging from mosses to turtles to fungi. I also mentioned Vargapupa biheli, the snail species named in honor of BHL, which they were very interested to hear about. They also loved the cards that feature illustrations from the BHL collection, the BHL link, and social media information (images can be found here).

Looking forward, I’ll be presenting a webinar on BHL for the Illinois chapter of the Special Libraries Association in May. Our Life Sciences Librarian told me that researchers in Northwestern’s Plant Biology and Conservation program would also be interested in learning about BHL. Lastly, I’ll hopefully do a presentation about BHL at our orientation for new graduate students next fall. I’d like to continue to spread the word about this collection that has revolutionized natural history and botany research.

[1] More information on my internship can be found in my post on the BHL blog.


Becca Greenstein is the STEM Librarian at Northwestern University Libraries. She conducted a collection development project for BHL during the summer of 2016 and is very glad to have found a way to share the BHL collection with researchers and librarians in Illinois. She is interested in open access, creating inclusive library environments, research metrics, and information access for everyone: library users and non-users alike.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Planned BHL Downtime: 0900 GMT on 3/5/18

BHL will be unavailable due to network maintenance starting 0900 GMT on Monday March 5, 2018. This downtime may last up to a few hours. During this time you may access our collection via the Internet Archive.

Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

POBPS, how they did it : when science meets military interest

In the middle of the Cold War, the Smithsonian Institution embarked on the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program (POBSP) to survey U.S. territory islands and atolls dotting the central Pacific Ocean. From 1963 to 1969, researchers sought to inventory the plants and animals present on the islands, observe seasonal variations in numbers and reproduction, and the distribution of pelagic birds. Over the course of the survey, researchers observed approximately 150,000 pelagic birds at sea, banded 1,800,000 birds, and surveyed the flora and fauna of the islands, the most comprehensive study at the time. An incredible amount of data was collected during the POBSP, drastically increasing information available about the ecology of the small islands. Although it resulted in an incredible amount of data, the survey only spanned three years in part due to questions about the funder's intentions.

Puffinus newelli (Newell's shearwater), 1965.

The Smithsonian received grant funds from the Department of Defense for the POBSP. In exchange, the DOD requested basic information about the movements of birds and several thousand blood samples. While the request was unorthodox, it was seen as justified since migratory birds were damaging aircrafts and communications equipment in the Pacific. Smithsonian agreed to the request and embarked on the first stretch of the POBSP in 1963.

Once the survey began, it became clear Smithsonian wasn't completely aware of what it had signed up for. The military would complete exercises without explanation and kept the Smithsonian staff on a "need to know" basis. There is evidence that some of the researchers tried to get more information on why the military was so interested in the data but didn't succeed. In the end, the staff accepted requests for secrecy, seeing it as a fair trade for the work they had the opportunity to complete, a task inaccessible to other groups.

Venus was bright on this particular September night in 1965.
Tordoff, Jeffrey P. 1965.

We now know that the military conducted germ warfare tests in the Pacific in the 1960s, including The Pacific Project which exposed military personnel and biologists to chemical cleansers and bacteria which have been linked to debilitating conditions. There's no official connection between the POBSP samples and these tests, and researchers from the Survey have not reported similar health effects as military personnel who were part of the Pacific Project. But the Department of Defense's interest in the blood samples and migration patterns sparked suspicion which ultimately ended funding for the Survey in 1969.

Considering the political climate at the time, the Smithsonian was perhaps naïve in not considering the implications of the exchange in funds and information with the Department of Defense. The Institution's researchers were offered the opportunity to complete research in remote areas that were expensive to study and required military cooperation to even get to. The younger biologists were particularly thrilled at the chance to be out in the field for weeks at a time like the biologists before them. What they all saw was a godsend.

List of blood samples collected in 1966.
Laysan Island, October 1966, Blood.

The history of the POBSP and its connection to American military interests of the 1960s is incomplete, and parts of it will likely remain unknown. Despite this dark side to the survey, it is undeniable that Smithsonian's researchers were able to collect an impressive amount of information during their expeditions to the Pacific. As part of the BHL Field Notes Project, the Smithsonian Institution Archives has taken on the task of digitizing field notes from the POBSP. Considering the shear amount of data collected, it should be no surprise that there are over 1000 field notebooks in the collection, making this SIA's largest undertaking for the Field Notes Project.

Mus autopsy data, 1966.

To date, nearly 300 field notes from the collection are readily available in BHL, and many more are in the final post-processing stages in preparation for BHL. Stay tuned for the complete set of notes in the upcoming months.

Written by:
Adriana Marroquin, Project Manager 
BHL Field Notes Project and Smithsonian Field Book Project

The BHL Field Notes Project is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). 

Finding Aid for "Record Unit 245, National Museum of Natural History, Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, Records, circa 1961-1973, with data from 1923"

MacLeod, R. (2001). "Strictly for the Birds": Science, the Military and the Smithsonian's Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, 1963-1970. Journal of the History of Biology, 34(2), 315-352.

Rauzon, M J. (2006). "Live Ammo: Testing of Biochemical Agents on U.S. Sailors." The Asia -Pacific Journal : Japan Focus, 4 (12). 

Further Reading
Hunter, E. (2011). "Life in the Field: a Reflection on Cataloging Field Notes in the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program." Smithsonian Field Book Project Blog.

Lamb, J. (2016).  “TheStrange Tale of the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program.” JSTOR Daily.

Parilla, L. (2013). "I Found It in a Field Book: Hawaiian Monk Seal Family Images." Smithsonian Field Book Project Blog.

Tennis, A. (2016). "Invasive Pests of the Pacific." Smithsonian Field Book Project Blog.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

When Writing in a 15th Century Rare Book is a Good Thing: Exploring the Incredible Marginalia in the Smithsonian’s Naturalis Historia

This post is derived from an article published on the Smithsonian Libraries’ blog. View the original post

Pliny, the Elder. Naturalis Historia. 1491. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

“Do your reading!” and “Don’t write in your books!” are two oft-echoed directions from schoolteachers. A 1491 edition of Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia, housed in the Smithsonian Libraries’ Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History and recently digitized for the Biodiversity Heritage Library, challenges both of those commands: not only did Pliny write it in such a way that doesn’t necessitate reading it cover to cover, but readers in centuries past have added notes, reactions, and even corrections to every page of the book!

These reader-made notes and symbols are known as marginalia, and in this copy of the Historia, many of them were made in order to make navigating the text as efficient as possible. But the density and the variety of marginalia indicates that at least eight different annotators have added their thoughts to the Cullman’s copy over the course of several centuries, from about 1500-1700. 

Unfortunately, due to the loss of evidence resulting from the Historia’s rebinding, the annotators’ identities and relationship to the book remain vague. But understanding—and, in some cases, not understanding—what these annotators were hoping to accomplish in their note-taking offers us some clues to who they were and how they used the book. This, in conjunction with understanding how Pliny intended the Historia to be used, illuminates a period when people didn’t just read books—they interacted with them.

The Summarium. Pliny, the Elder. Naturalis Historia. 1491. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

In most ways other than its name, the Historia is the first attempt at creating an encyclopedia in the western world—it aspires to be a comprehensive summary of knowledge about a particular subject (the natural world), organized into easily-navigable headings which are laid out in the summarium (a sort of proto-index) at the beginning of the work. In his dedication to the future Roman emperor Titus, Pliny states that he included the summarium “so you [Titus] don’t have to go to the trouble of reading [all thirty-seven books]. And so you will have provided everyone else with the means not to read it through either, instead everyone will look for the particular thing they want and know where to find it.”[1]

But even with all this thinking ahead, the Historia couldn’t please everyone.

In centuries past, attitudes toward books were quite different, both on the part of the author and the reader. Rather than a disruption of authorial intent, many of these reader additions were seen as part of a collaboration over time, resulting in “the production of the best text.”[2]

Marginalia madness: in some places, the notes in the margins are incredibly dense.

Each annotator in the Smithsonian’s copy of the Historia seems to have had their own agenda for their note-making, which shows up in the form and content of their marginalia; this, along with their handwriting and the different inks they used, leads me to surmise that there were eight or more of them. Despite the differences in their marginal styles that make them identifiable as discrete individuals, they employ similar methods of note-making and drawing attention to relevant passages. For example, the annotators used underlining and brackets to highlight passages they saw to be important, or that they wished to discuss further in a longer marginal note. Manicules (Latin for “little hands”) and other symbols of a variety of styles pop up throughout the Historia, and are used in almost the same way that readers use sticky flags in their books today.

Little hands: manicules pointing out important passages.

The nature and content of the marginal notes, indexes, and glosses are what really establish the different annotators as individuals. Although their identities remain unclear at best, they reveal themselves in what they chose to make note of and how they do it; this information has been used to give them nicknames that, while not terribly creative, serve to trace their actions through the text.

For example, the Red Indexer acts exactly as their nickname implies: they have thoroughly indexed the book, pulling out more granular subject headings that are not mentioned in the chapter titles. Following in the Red Indexer’s footsteps is the German, who glosses many—but not all—of the index words as their German equivalent. Understanding that the German glossed the Red Indexer, rather than vice versa, situates the German after the Red Indexer on a time line.

Two other annotators, Faded Red and Sloppy Hand, act as beginning and end points of this timeline: Faded Red’s notes are situated at the extreme edges of the page and have, in some cases, been trimmed away when the book was rebound, while the style of the Sloppy Hand indicates that the annotator was probably working in the early 18th century.

Bracket at work.

Four other annotators occupy the rest of the timeline, but two in particular stand out: Bracket and the Editor. Bracket is responsible for the longest marginal notes, which run the gamut from cross-referencing other works that Pliny has cited, to adding detail about subjects mentioned, and even to drawing diagrams of concepts that Pliny describes. This annotator tends to enclose one side of these notes in a bracket that points back towards the passage being referenced—hence the name. The Editor’s name is self-explanatory too: they have peppered every page of the text with spelling corrections, some of which are so small that they are barely visible.

The Editor reminds you to mind your P’s and Q’s.

But what is interesting about these two annotators is not what we understand about them, but what we do not. Bracket is responsible for the most befuddling note in the text: a grim line from Horace’s Epistles, which when translated reads “the unhoped for hour will be a welcome surprise.”

This is in reference to the inevitability and acceptance of death, which is a heavy topic to refer to in the margin of a chapter about caring for grapes and the diseases of trees. Pliny does not even reference Horace in this chapter, which rules out Bracket’s usual practice of cross-referencing sources. Although its purpose remains mysterious, the fact that Bracket included it gives us a glimpse of other works that they may have been reading at the time, which in turn bolsters our understanding of what texts were available to and being used by literate people.

The Editor’s goal, which at first seems relatively clear, is in fact nearly as ambiguous as Bracket’s reference to Horace: what is the point of being so thorough in making corrections to the text, aside from pedantry? The Cullman’s copy of the Historia was clearly not a working copy, which would have been used for editing purposes in the printing process—the fact that the text is embellished with colorful, hand-finished initials indicates that it was in fact a top-of-the-line book, and not something to be corrected and discarded on the print shop floor.

One correction, though, points to preparation rather than pedantry: a simple suggestion of using an abbreviation rather than the full Latin word quae. It is possible that the Editor was using the Cullman’s Historia to prepare a new edition of the work sometime in the 16th or 17th centuries, and the multitudinous corrections represent their efforts to iron out any mistakes made in this 1491 edition. The suggestion of an abbreviation amongst numerous spelling corrections points to a person who is concerned not only with accurate spelling, but with brevity. Comparing the corrections in this copy to later editions may reinforce this theory, although since the Historia has only rarely been out of print since the 15th century, there will be a lot of material to work through.

Unfortunately, we may never be certain of why the Cullman’s Historia was annotated by so many different people. As it has been rebound at least twice, it has lost a great deal of provenance information, such as bookplates, shelfmarks, or ownership inscriptions. This is one of the reasons why historians treasure marginalia: not only does it reflect the knowledge and interests of the readers making it, it adds precious detail to this book’s individual history. And while we might not know the annotators’ names, their marks, notes, and corrections reveal so much more about them as people than a simple ownership inscription would. Continued research will enable this book, and its annotators, to tell even more of its story.

To facilitate ongoing research and provide greater access to this unique work, the Smithsonian Libraries has digitized the Cullman’s copy of the Historia and made it freely available in the Biodiversity Heritage Library. While digitization allows readers everywhere to study the work's fascinating marginalia, these annotations also presented quite a digitization challenge.

Smithsonian Libraries' Digital Imaging Technician Daniel Euphrat had to take special care to avoid losing portions of notations that sometimes trailed into the tightly-bound gutters or extreme edges of a page. Since some marginalia had previously been physically trimmed away, likely during rebinding, staff were careful to avoid any further "trimming" through cropping of pages.

Example of an uncropped image for a page from Naturalis Historia. Notice the marginalia running into the gutter, necessitating careful manual cropping in the post-digitization process to minimize text loss. 

During digitization, the book had to be carefully positioned and monitored on a page-by-page basis to make sure that as much text as possible was being captured. Additionally, during the post-digitization process (called “republishing”), the crop-box for each image had to be manually adjusted so that none of the captured text would be accidentally cropped out. Cropping near the gutter was especially difficult because there was very little space between text on the relevant page that needed to be kept in and text from the opposing page that needed to be cropped out for the sake of readability. To fully appreciate the amount of manual processing involved in the post-digitization of this work, take a look at the uncropped image files available on Internet Archive by downloading the “Singe page original jp2 tar” file.

Get a glimpse of the manual processing involved in the post-digitization of Naturalis Historia by downloading the uncropped "single page original JP2 tar" files from Internet Archive.

While manual post-processing work is employed during the digitization of any book, the proliferation of marginalia in this volume added an extra layer of complexity to the digitization of Naturalis Historia. Thanks to the patience and tireless dedication of the staff at Smithsonian Libraries, anyone can now freely access and marvel at the incredible history represented in this natural history treasure.

Alexandra K. Newman
Library Technician | Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History
Smithsonian Libraries

With Contributions from:
Daniel Euphrat
Digital Imaging Technician
Smithsonian Libraries


[1] Naturalis Historia, Book 1.
[2] Whitaker, Elaine E. “A Collaboration of Readers: Categorization of the Annotations in Copies of Caxton’s Royal Book 234.” Text Volume 7. (1994): 233-242. P. 234.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

BHL Gains Works on the Diverse Plant Genus ‘Hoya’

Hoya fetuana on cover of Hoya New, v.6: issue 4, 2017. Photo by Robert Dale Kloppenburg.

Robert Dale Kloppenburg is definitely a dedicated botanist. As of January 2018 - when he celebrated his 97th birthday - he has named 234 plant species, mainly in the flowering genus Hoya, which has been his focus for close to forty years since his retirement.

Kloppenburg and the International Hoya Association, of which he is president, have made some generous contributions to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, with funding of the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project. Currently available on BHL are:
Fraterna provides a wealth of information on Hoya species and hybrids, for botanists and horticulturalists, as well as the association’s news updates.

Hoya New presents new species descriptions with photos and identification keys.

Also currently available on BHL are Kloppenburg’s titles:

Hoya andalensis on cover of Fraterna v.18: no. 1, 2005. Photo by Kim F. Yap. Contributed by International Hoya Association and digitized by The New York Botanical Garden.

The International Hoya Association originated in 1988 as a USA west coast interest group which published a newsletter, first bi-monthly and then quarterly. By the end of their second year, international interest had allowed the group to expand to a non-profit with global membership. An affiliated group, ‘Svenska Hoya Sõllskapet’ based in Borlõnge, Sweden, also publishes a quarterly magazine about hoyas.

What are these plants? The association’s website describes the diverse genus:

"The genus Hoya is found in South East Asia through Australia. They are adaptable plants found everywhere from true rain forests through the slopes of the Himalayas, from semi-arid niches in Australia to damp forests. They range from vines, the most common form, to shrub-like growth. Most are epiphytic [growing on other plants]. Hoyas are in the family commonly known as milkweeds."

Parts of Hoya bebsguevarre described in Hoya New, v.1: no.4, 2013.

“What interests me most about hoyas is the vast diversity, the genetic differences and their possible evolutionary significance,” Kloppenburg shared in an interview in Fraterna. “I am of the opinion that we have collected and identified less than 1% of the wild hoya species.”

As an opening message for Hoya New, Kloppenburg explains how the work of horticultural professionals and hobbyists can contribute to the conservation of biodiversity:

"When a species is collected from the wild, I feel it is wise to identify it, propagate it, and name it. In this way it will eventually get into the commercial channels, be distributed to all those interested in the genus and thus be preserved. If in the future the species is lost through natural causes or forest destruction it will still be here on earth in your collection."

Kloppenburg began studying the genus Hoya in the Philippines in 1981. He had graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, shortly after WWII and worked as a plant breeder research agronomist. Since his retirement in 1986, he has continued to study hoyas, traveling extensively in the South Pacific. His data has been donated to UC Berkeley. In 2016, he reached out to Smithsonian Libraries to offer publications, and agreed to contribute the material to Biodiversity Heritage Library. His assistant, Karen Case, assisted with the permissions process.

“It has been a most exciting journey to be hosted with such a prestigious organization as the Biodiversity Heritage Library, for which I will be eternally grateful,” Kloppenburg says. “I hope my work will help others to become interested in hoyas, and that they will carry on the discovery of new species in the future.”

Meanwhile, he’s still studying plants in the genera Hoya, Dischidia and Eriostemma. “I no longer travel, so I depend on others, mainly in the Philippines, to send me material,” he says.

Many thanks to the International Hoya Association and to Robert ‘Dale’ Kloppenburg for their commitment to sharing biodiversity research, and to Karen Case for helping to facilitate the process.

By: Elizabeth Meyer 
Library Project Assistant 
Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University