Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How's your fern and bird coverage, BHL?

By Becca Greenstein
Smithsonian Libraries Professional Development Intern

“Every one knows what a bird is,” asserts an early 20th century book that I found while browsing the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL).

As I’ve learned during my Professional Development Internship with Jacqueline Chapman at Smithsonian Libraries this summer, it’s not always that simple. Taxonomy is ever-changing, especially at the granular level needed by subject specialists around the world who use BHL to conduct research on organisms ranging from mosses to turtles to fungi.

BHL is a consortial digital library whose member libraries digitize works in natural history and botany based on both user requests and subject librarians’ selections. My project for this summer was to refine a collection assessment methodology for BHL using both taxonomic and bibliographic analyses. Along the way, I’ve learned valuable lessons in using library tools, troubleshooting in Python (a computer programming language), and understanding the thought processes of 19th century ornithologists and pteridologists.

Becca Greenstein

Last year, Jacqueline worked with Robin Everly, the Smithsonian’s Botany and Horticulture Librarian, to conduct a taxonomic and bibliographic analysis to assess the depth of the BHL’s fern and lycophyte literature. They presented their results at an international conference on ferns, Next Generation Pteridology, and had the unique ability to talk with many subject-specialist users from around the world. Jacqueline later shared this proof-of-concept with researchers at TDWG in Nairobi, Kenya.

For the bibliographic portion of the project, Fern Books and Related Items in English before 1900 was used to create a list that could be referenced to determine whether a book was available on BHL, and if not, if we had access to it. A year later, I furthered this analysis by seeing what has changed in the past year and making requests for partner libraries to scan items to add to the collection. I enjoyed gathering data for books with titles such as Greenhouse Ferns and the Romance of Plant Life, Rambles in Search of Ferns, and The Fern Paradise: A Plea for the Culture of Ferns (2nd edition in BHL).

As the bibliography used included all editions of a particular work, regardless of whether the content had changed, I decided to not digitize the 53 works on the list whose content was already in BHL in another edition of the same work. As you can see in the graphs below, the number of fern books on BHL from this list has increased by 36% over the past year. The 112 titles from the list that are not yet in BHL but that we have access to via partner libraries will be in BHL after they are digitized. We lack access to only 37 of the titles on the list that would add content to BHL, and it will be interesting to follow up with this study to see if current partners acquire new resources or if new partners that possess these materials join the BHL Consortium.

2015 Bibliographic Analysis: Graph presents percentage of books from the list generated using Fern Books and Related Items in English before 1900 that are in BHL, are not in BHL but are held by a BHL partner, and are neither in BHL nor held by a BHL partner.
2016 Bibliographic Analysis, showing that the BHL collection of fern books has increased from 2015 to 2016. 

For the taxonomic portion of the project, BHL’s coverage of a particular taxonomic grouping using scientific names was analyzed. The digitized material on BHL is in the form of images, which the computer does not recognize as text. Using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), the images are converted to machine-readable text. Taxonomic Name Recognition (TNR) then searches the OCR to find scientific names using multiple recognized lists of scientific names.

To use this powerful analytical tool to analyze BHL’s literature on birds, I upgraded the Python 2 code used for last year’s analysis to Python 3, the newest version of the programming language. Using my code, I counted the number of mentions in BHL of each genus of birds that appear in Catalogue of Life, as determined by TNR, to identify potential gaps in the BHL collection.

Of the 2234 genera analyzed, 99.6% of them are mentioned in the BHL corpus, 131 individual genera had more than 10,000 mentions in BHL, and 88% of them had more than 100 mentions.

I conducted an in-depth analysis of the 37 genera with fewer than ten mentions in BHL to figure out possible reasons for the paucity of literature. I determined that this lack of literature could be attributed to such things as the more-recent description of some of the genera, such as within the past 20 years, to the locality of some genera, as in some birds being endemic to far-away (to 19th century European ornithologists) places like New Guinea and Mozambique, and to taxonomic changes to the genera over the years. I then looked for the first mention of each of the 37 genera in books and journal articles online and in print, in addition to submitting scan requests for the books we have access to that weren’t already in BHL. There was something surreal about trekking up to the Birds Library, which is tucked away on the sixth floor of the National Museum of Natural History, finding Ornithologische Berichte on the shelf (and no, I don’t speak German), and opening to page 118 to find Wilhelm Meise’s initial description of Stresemannia bougainvillea.

Meise’s initial description of Stresemannia bougainvillea is next to my thumb.

My internship lasted six weeks, but it did not feel like that long. I hope that BHL will use my code to analyze larger sets of data and/or data at a higher level (for example, how is BHL doing at collecting literature on Kingdom Animalia?).

Through conducting my project, I’ve learned that things you learn in library school really do apply to the real world, how an academic library at an institution without students functions, and the workflow behind digitizing materials that appear in BHL and on the Smithsonian Digital Library. I’ve learned that library tools we take for granted can be unreliable, but aren’t usually, and that getting help from people who do research on ferns and those who do speak German can be very beneficial. I hope to bring the things I’ve learned back to my final two semesters of library school, as well as into my hoped-for career as a science librarian after I graduate.


About the Author

Becca Greenstein is getting her Master’s in Library Science at UNC-Chapel Hill. For her Bachelor’s degree, she went to Carleton College, where she majored in Biology and minored in Chinese. After graduating from Carleton, she worked as a lab technician at the University of Minnesota before starting library school. After she graduates, she hopes to continue honing these skills while working in an academic or special library as a science librarian.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Visual Delight: Natural History Illustrations from BHL on Instagram

BHL is now on Instagram!

Embracing the visually-driven nature of Instagram, our feed focuses on sharing the stunning historic illustrations in BHL's collection. From birds of paradise to boxing kangaroos, charming bookplates, and artworks by some of history's most renowned illustrators, there's a wealth of visual delight waiting for you on our Instagram.

Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is a nomadic bird of prey found in the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. #SciArt by Louis Agassiz Fuertes in the Album of Abyssinian Birds and Mammals (1930). Contributed by University Library, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Posted to Instagram by Michelle Marshall.

Plus, thanks to citizen science taxon tagging activities for BHL's Flickr, the species in each illustration have been conveniently identified in the post description. Translation: you'll always be able to identify what species you're looking at, even if you've never seen it before.

And Flickr taxon tagging isn't the only way that citizen science has benefited our Instagram. The feed itself is curated by BHL citizen scientist Michelle Marshall.

Night-blooming cactus (Hylocereus lemairei). By Walter Hood Fitch. Curtis's Botanical Magazine, Vol. 54 (1827). Contributed by Missouri Botanical Garden. Posted to Instagram by Michelle Marshall.

Michelle first became involved in citizen science through the Smithsonian Transcription Center, which she discovered while looking for ways to volunteer in her free time during her STEM studies. Through those activities, Michelle discovered BHL and our Flickr tagging opportunities. She now focuses on researching taxonomy to add to our images - an activity that she finds deeply rewarding.

"My favorite thing about volunteering for BHL is that I am always learning through research," says Michelle. "I am able to connect with scientists and libraries to learn more, and I know more about biodiversity, geography, and even scientific art than I have ever learned in formal study. Just browsing the images on Flickr leads to new discoveries that I am excited to learn about and share with others on social media."

Michelle first began sharing her finds through her own Twitter account. The posts were so well-received that she decided to create @HistSciArt, devoted specifically to sharing BHL illustrations and her related taxonomic research.

"I knew that BHL has been working on making the images more accessible for everyone, in particular the scientific community, so I thought that creating an account devoted specifically to sharing these images on Twitter would help with that effort," explains Michelle. "Most of the images that I tweet I have researched the taxonomy for, and I try to share more information than just the illustration."

We were so impressed by Michelle's account and the quality of her research and posts that, when she expressed interest in expanding her efforts to Instagram, we invited her to do so by curating an account for BHL.

African Chameleon (Chamaeleo africanus) for #WorldLizardDay. Alfred Edmund Brehm, Brehm's Tierleben, Bd. 2 (1913). Contributed by Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Posted to Instagram by Michelle Marshall.

"Instagram is an enormously popular social media platform, so I was truly honored when I was asked to curate BHL’s Instagram account," says Michelle. "Because I believe in the great work that BHL is doing to support science and research, I felt that this would be another way that I could help share the wealth of knowledge in BHL’s collection. The great thing about sharing BHL’s collections on Instagram is that I am able to provide more information about the book and image as well as to connect with more people and institutions. Because I share different content on Instagram, any followers of HistSciArt and BHL on Twitter will have more great works to view and explore."

And it seems people do indeed love exploring BHL illustrations on Instagram (we're not surprised!). BHL's Instagram has grown to over 400 followers in just over two weeks. This success is due not only to the quality of BHL's collections, but also to the caliber of Michelle's research and posts, which not only provide taxonomic and bibliographic information, but also identify the contributing libraries and include timely and engaging hashtags. We've also started posting one of each day's Instagram posts to BHL's Facebook as #BHLDailySciArt.

Gladiolus orphée and Gladiolus horace. Botanical #SciArt by Worthington George Smith. The Floral Magazine, Vol. 9 (1870). Contributed by the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of The New York Botanical Garden. Posted to Instagram by Michelle Marshall.

We're so grateful to Michelle for all of her contributions to help increase awareness of and access to BHL's collections. We believe this partnership is a testament to the power and benefits of citizen science, and with that we also extend a huge thanks to each and every volunteer that dedicates their time and resources to improving BHL collections. You can learn more about all of our citizen science opportunities here.

So, you might be wondering (as we were!), for someone who's explored as many books and researched as many illustrations as Michelle has, which title would she pick as her favorite? It turned out to be an easy question for her to answer.

"When I discovered Catesby's The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, I think I literally leapt out of my chair!" exclaims Michelle. "I grew up in Florida and South Carolina, and here was a spectacular natural history work all about the native flora and fauna of my area. Catesby spent lots of time in the Southern Colonies during the 1720s, which is the same time that part of my family came to what was then called Carolina. I like to think that what he saw and experienced was the same as what my ancestors knew. I am so pleased to have access to all three editions of his work through BHL and to have taxon tagged all of them!"

Green tree frog (Hyla cinerea) about to snack on a Green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) while hanging onto Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). Mark Catesby, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, Vol.2, 1st Ed. (1743). Contributed by Smithsonian Libraries. Posted to Instagram by Michelle Marshall.

You can explore the illustrations from all three editions of Catesby's monumental work (it's the first major illustrated publication on the flora and fauna of North America and was chosen by Smithsonian Libraries as their BHL@10 Notable Book Contribution) in Flickr, all of which have been taxon tagged by Michelle.

Be sure to check out more of the beautiful illustrations in our collection by following us on Instagram. A world of art and science (made possible thanks to citizen science) awaits you!

Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis). Although it resembles a squirrel, this mammal is a marsupial native to Australia. #SciArt by Henry Constantine Richter and John Gould for Gould's Mammals of Australia, Vol. 1 (1863). Contributed by Smithsonian Libraries. Posted to Instagram by Michelle Marshall.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Raptor Research Foundation

This year, the Raptor Research Foundation (RRF) celebrates its 50th year of promoting scientific understanding of birds of prey. Last month, the RRF gave BHL permission to add its newsletter and the first 38 years of its journal to the collectiona wealth of information about hawks, eagles, falcons, owls, and their relativesas part of the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature (EABL) project. 


Following a precipitous decline in the population of Peregrine Falcons in the mid-1960s, and before the effects of agricultural chemicals like DDT were well understood, experts identified a correlation between the crisis and an increase in cereal farming in Great Britain. A handful of those experts convened to tackle the problem, and thus was born the Raptor Research Foundation in February of 1966. 

In the years since its founding, the RRF has gained a robust international membership and expanded its scope to cover all aspects of raptor science. Writing to commemorate the RRF's 50th anniversary in the March, 2016 issue of the Journal of Raptor Research (v.50, no.1), W. Grainger Huntone of RRF's original membersnotes that the Foundation's early activities all progressed to "a satisfying endpointfrom field biology to chemistry and physiology, from experimentation to population ecology and advocacy, and ultimately, to restoration." He goes on to mention several important contributions of RRF members, including the discovery that the drug diclofenac was responsible for decimating Asian vulture populations. 

Today, the RRF remains at the forefront of raptor conservation, harnessing the power of volunteers to address the myriad threats to raptor populations around the world: its Conservation Committee releases Position Statements that engage, challenge, and influence policymakers; its annual conference is a gathering place for the raptor community to present original research and participate in training workshops; and its publications disseminate the latest findings in raptor science to the broader scientific community. 


A frame-by-frame capture of a Peregrine Falcon attacking a Bald Eagle, in
 "Field Techniques in a Study of the Behavior of Peregrine Falcons," p.93
by R. Wayne Nelson, Raptor Research v.7 no.3 (1973) 
The journal of the RRF began publication in 1967 as Raptor Research News, which doubled as an organizational newsletter and a vehicle for scholarship. Starting with volume 6 in 1972, the title was shortened to Raptor Research, which reflected its broader scope. It was also organized into three sections: formal, peer-reviewed Scientific Papers; Reports, Reviews, and Opinion, which contained meeting reports, book reviews, and other secondary material receiving less editorial scrutiny; and Notes, News, and Queries, which contained items typically found in a newsletter. 

Beginning with volume 21 in 1987, the journal was renamed The Journal of Raptor Research, its current title. Like the preceding title, it is published quarterly and organized into Research Articles, Short Communications, and Letters, followed by secondary material such as book reviews. Within the next several weeks, The Journal of Raptor Research will be available on BHL through volume 39 (2005). 

The inaugural issue of Wingspan, v.1, no.1 (1992)
In 1992, recognizing the need for a separate publication that was less labor-intensive than the journal and more appropriate for informal news items relevant to the raptor community, the RRF established a newsletter called Wingspan. Wingspan is published twice a year and contains news about Foundation leadership and elections, member profiles, conference summaries, short features about individuals and organizations involved in raptor conservation, and other brief news items. Or, as then-president Richard J. Clark summarized in his introduction to the first issue of Wingspan in 1992, "Journal articles tend to be more about raptors and Newsletter articles about raptor people." Look for additional issues of Wingspan in BHL in the coming weeks.

The EABL staff is grateful to the RRF for so generously allowing its publications to appear in BHL, and we wish them success in their ongoing efforts to promote understanding and conservation of raptors.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Supporting Historical Paleontological Research

World's first large mounted Camptosaurus skeleton at the National Museum of Natural History. Proceedings of the United States National Museum. v. 41 (1912). Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

In 1911, the Smithsonian Institution debuted the world's first large mounted Camptosaurus skeleton at its newly-opened Natural History building. The display featured two specimens erected side-by-side, one identified as Camptosaurus nanus and the other as Camptosaurus browni.

Camptosaurus, whose name means "flexible lizard," was a plant-eating, beaked dinosaur that lived during the Late Jurassic period. Both Smithsonian specimens were uncovered at a quarry near Como Bluff, Wyoming. The smaller of the specimens, dubbed C. nanus, was collected in 1882 by William Reed as part of a collecting expedition funded by the United States Geological Survey and under the technical direction of famous paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh.

Marsh is well-renowned for his many contributions to the field of paleontology, which include discovering a plethora of fossil animals and naming a multitude of dinosaur genera including Camptosaurus. He is also notoriously remembered for his longstanding conflict with fellow paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope - a conflict that came to be known as the Bone Wars. The intense rivalry between the two men spanned decades as each undermined, ridiculed, and even sabotaged the work of the other in a struggle for scientific dominance.

The C. nanus fossil was originally accessioned into the collection of the Yale Peabody Natural History Museum, where Marsh was the Curator of Paleontology, until, after Marsh's death in 1899, it was transferred to the Smithsonian in compliance with legislation regarding objects collected for, or whose collection was funded by, the US government. The fossil, which was cataloged as USNM 2210, was then prepared and mounted by Norman H. Boss in 1911 alongside the larger C. browni specimen. The mounts are detailed in a 1912 publication by Charles W. Gilmore. Interestingly, the specimens are now known to represent the juvenile (previously C. nanus) and mature (previously C. browni) stages of a single species, C. disbar.

C. nanus, as mounted at the National Museum of Natural History. Proceedings of the United States National Museum. v. 41 (1912). Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Between 2004 and 2008, the Camptosaurus fossils were taken off display to allow for repairs and the creation of casts that may be re-exhibited with the reopening of the Smithsonian's Deep Time Hall in 2019. The authentic fossils will be placed in the museum's collections for research and conservation reasons.

The fascinating history of USNM 2210's journey from rock to museum is detailed by National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) volunteer Mark Lay in the article A Brief History of Camptosaurus, U.S. National Museum Specimen 2210.

Mark Lay with Camptosaurus cast at the National Museum of Natural History.

Trained as a physicist and nuclear engineer, Mark began volunteering in the Vertebrate Paleontology Preparation Lab at NMNH in 2007 after retirement provided him more time to pursue personal interests like paleontology.

Mark's early volunteer activities in the Preparation Lab involved making molds and casts, primarily of USNM 2210. Since then, after moving to work with Department of Paleobiology Information Officer Tom Jorstad, he has transitioned to providing research support for requests from the public and outside researchers, as well as organizing and developing “who, what, when, where” metadata for paleontology-related photographic images in both Department and Smithsonian Institution Archives files. He also writes articles on various aspects of the Department's history and currently is researching the first 100 years of vertebrate fossil preparation in the Smithsonian.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library has proven to be an important resource for Mark's research, providing information both about items in the collection and historical documents regarding the history of the NMNH and other natural history museums around the US.

"I am a big fan of BHL," lauds Mark, who uses BHL up to 4-5 times a week. "I am able to spend only roughly one day per week in the NMNH. This means I can spend only a limited amount of time examining actual hard copy documents in the museum libraries. The fact that I can access many of the same documents via BHL means that I can also work from home – greatly increasing the amount of time that I can devote to my volunteer research. In addition, BHL’s inclusion of documents from other museums and universities enables me to access documents that otherwise would be extremely difficult for me to obtain. BHL doesn’t have everything I want, but I would be hard-pressed to do my research without it."

This image, SIA 2011-1418, shows USNM Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Charles Gilmore’s camp site near North Horn Mountain, Utah during his 1937 expedition. It appears as Figure 1 in Gilmore’s 1938 publication, “Fossil Hunting in Utah and Arizona”, Explorations and Field-work of the Smithsonian Institution in 1937, pp 1-4, available in BHL here: (Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries).

Currently, Mark is working on a series of glass lantern slides dating from the mid-1890s through the late 1930s, now being digitized by the Archives and possessing limited metadata. BHL has been a valuable resource for obtaining more information about the slides.

"Some of these slide images were originally used in various Smithsonian publications from that era, making positive identification of the people, fossil localities, and dates much easier," explains Mark. "More challenging have been the slides sent to the Smithsonian from a variety of museums around the U.S. So, our identification process has first concentrated on determining an initial 'guesstimate' of the curator, specimen, or collecting locality involved, then backtracking through relevant Smithsonian publications to see if the image appears. If not, we backtrack our guesstimate to publications from other 'most likely' museums. If all that fails, we dig deeper into the view or geology portrayed to see if we can find something similar and broaden the search to include relevant publications from other sources. Having so many of the Smithsonian and other museum publications from that time period in BHL has greatly sped up this process."

Before using BHL, Mark scoured the physical copies of these publications to find this information - a time consuming and sometimes frustrating process. This all changed when Martha Rosen, a librarian in the NMNH Smithsonian Libraries, introduced him to BHL.

"I discovered BHL 5 or 6 years ago when I was sitting in the museum reference collection reading through some old United States National Museum annual reports, and complaining that my eyes were getting ready to drop out from going through so much text all at once," recalls Mark. "Martha mentioned that I could get the documents on-line and gave me the BHL link. I downloaded a searchable PDF of the documents and went through them that evening, actually finding relevant information faster than I could with the hard copy."

This image, SIA 2011-1429, shows Quarry 6 in the Freezeout Mountains of Wyoming, as worked by the Field Columbian Museum expedition of 1899. It was used as Plate XXX in the Field Columbian Reports, Volume 1, October 1899, included in the Annual Report of the Director to the Board of Trustees for the Years 1894-1900, available in BHL here: (Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries).

Mark's volunteer work with the Smithsonian has allowed him to pursue his passions, enhance collection information, and share wonderful insights into the history of the museum and fossil preparation.

"Paleontology has been a long-standing interest," Mark asserts. "To me, there is a fascination with bringing a fossil out of the rock encasing it and learning more about it. My interest in paleontological history is more recent, but the research has turned out to be no less rewarding."

Mark's articles, published through the Department of Paleobiology's website, provide him a means to share the wonderful knowledge and history he is uncovering. For instance, Mark's Camptosaurus article highlights the sometimes tangled path of a fossil from field to museum and provides insight into the changing philosophy of fossil preparation.

As Mark explains in his article, in the early 1900s, "preparators mounted a specimen and expected it to stay mounted forever – no provision was made for repair or reconstruction." So when preparing USNM 2210 back in 1911, "heavy copper wire and iron strapping were used as a support armature, with thinner copper wire used to secure the manus and pes elements. In general, these supports have held up well, with only slight corrosion damage, but some of the bolts and rivets securing the skeleton were drilled through real bone and secured with glue. As we have dismantled the specimen, this mounting technique has occasionally necessitated our cracking bones in order to remove them from the armature, and then making appropriate repairs."

Modern techniques accommodate the possible future need to dismantle specimens and allow for a more-realistic presentation of specimens. "The hard plaster we have used for the casts allows for support connections to be made through the simulated bone, reducing the amount of armature seen by the public and providing a more natural looking display. The philosophy is to make all changes reversible, while also ensuring repairs are both state of the art and long lasting," explains Mark in his article.

We're excited to see the ways that BHL has helped support Mark's valuable work at the Smithsonian. It's a great example of one of the many ways that BHL inspires discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge.


This post may contain the personal opinions of BHL users or affiliated staff and does not necessarily represent the official Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) position on these matters.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Renard's Book of Fantastical Fish

Renard, Louis. Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes. 1754. Digitized by the Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

You may not recognize all (or even many) of the East Indian marine species portrayed in the first known book on fish to be published in color. Don't worry. It's not a lack of ichthyological proficiency on your part. Rather, it's because all of the species depicted in Louis Renard's Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes received some level of artistic embellishment - and approximately 9% are completely fantastical.

If that's not strange enough, the work is produced by a man who identified himself as a "secret agent on behalf of the British Crown" and contains a portrait of a mermaid.

Renard, Louis. Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes. 1754. Digitized by the Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

These facts might lead you to conclude that Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes, de diverses couleurs et figures extraordinaires, que l'on trouve autour des isles Moluques et sur les côtes des terres Australes has little scientific value. But in that assumption, you'd be wrong.

Besides being the first published book in color about fish, in a 2012 article published in Natural Histories, Mai Reitmeyer, Research Services Librarian at the American Museum of Natural History, writes that this work is "an important part of the scientific literature of the eighteenth century, the new Age of Enlightenment" (Reitmeyer, 33).

According to Theodore W. Pietsch, an ichthyologist who conducted an examination of the title in the late twentieth century and whom Reitmeyer quotes in her article, Renard's publication "gives us an intriguing glimpse of what science was like in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries" and thus "to cast the work off as being without scientific merit is to greatly underestimate its value" (Reitmeyer, 34). What's more, since the waters surrounding Ambon Island in Indonesia, where many of the depicted species were found, is now a heavily polluted ecosystem, it's likely that the biodiversity in the area has changed since Renard's publication. Thus, the fauna depicted in Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes, around 90% of which, according to Pietsch, can be identified down to the species, genus, or family level, can offer an important historical perspective on marine diversity in the region (Barley, 2010).

Renard, Louis. Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes. 1754. Digitized by the Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

As Reitmeyer recounts in her article, Renard was born in France sometime around 1678 but, to escape religious persecution, immigrated to the Netherlands with his family around the turn of the century and eventually became a citizen of Amsterdam. Encouraged by his father-in-law, Renard became a book dealer and publisher and, in 1718 or 1719, produced the first volume of the first edition of his most famous work, Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes, the full title of which translates to "Fishes, crayfishes and crabs, of diverse colors and extraordinary forms, which are found around the islands of the Moluccan and on the coasts of southern lands."

While the work may depict over 450 fish and crustacean species from the East Indies, Renard published the work without ever leaving the Netherlands. Instead, he copied drawings by other artists to create the 100 plates, representing 460 hand-colored copper engravings, for his publication.

Renard, Louis. Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes. 1754. Digitized by the Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

Dutch artist Samuel Fallours, a soldier stationed in Ambon with the Dutch East India Company, painted a great many of the drawings that Renard copied for this work. During his time in Ambon, Fallours created many drawings of East Indian marine life that later appeared in several eighteenth century publications, including Renard's.

According to Pietsch, Fallours likely included elements of the fantastical in his drawings in order to attract the European collectors who purchased his works (Barley, 2010). These embellishments ranged from artificially bright and randomly applied colors to total fabrications, including a portrait of a mermaid, which also appeared amongst an arrangement of exotic East Indian biodiversity published in Francois Valentijn's Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien (1724−1726).

Portrait of a mermaid by Samuel Fallours. Renard, Louis. Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes. 1754. Digitized by the Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes was published in three different editions. Only sixteen copies of the first, published in 1718 or 1719, are known to exist. Thirty-four copies are known of the second edition, published in 1754. The rarest edition, with only six known copies, is the third, published in 1782 but never completed (Reitmeyer, 33).

Thanks to Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, you can view the second edition of Renard's work for free in BHL. And if this article hasn't piqued your curiosity quite enough to click on the link, let's not forget the "secret agent" aspect mentioned earlier!

In what was likely a marketing ploy to boost sales, the dedication statement within Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes identifies Renard as a "secret agent on behalf of the British Crown." What's the story behind this claim? According to Reitmeyer, Renard was employed by George I and George II to search "ships leaving Amsterdam to prevent arms from reaching James Stuart, the Roman Catholic 'Old Pretender' to the British throne" (Reitmeyer, 33).

Fantasy, intrigue, and science. What's not to love about Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes?

Renard, Louis. Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes. 1754. Digitized by the Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

You can view the images from this work in Flickr. You can also find products featuring images from this title in our CafePress store. 100% of the proceeds will be used to digitize more books for BHL. Start shopping today!

Selection of products in the BHL CafePress featuring images from Renard's Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes.  100% of proceeds will be used to digitize more books for BHL.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) Job Postings

We're hiring!

The vacancies for the five National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) cohort positions have been posted through Harvard University. These five residents will work on projects related to the Biodiversity Heritage Library at BHL partner institutions in Cambridge, MA, Washington, DC, Chicago, IL, St. Louis , MO or Los Angeles, CA from January 2017 to December 2017. Learn more about the NDSR program, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as part of the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program.

For more information, visit the vacancies posting page here. To apply, click here.

Qualification requirements and information about each of the five projects (as provided on the Harvard University posting page above) are listed below. Residents will each be assigned one of the five available projects and corresponding host institution(s). Applicants should specify their top three choices of institutions and projects from the list below in the cover letter included in their application. Application review will begin immediately and will continue until the positions are filled.


Applicants must be U. S. citizens who have graduated from an accredited degree-granting Master’s or Doctoral program between Summer 2014 and January 2017. Applicants must be US citizens or permanent residents.


  • Possess a master or doctoral degree with graduation between spring 2014 and January 2017 in one of the following fields (or other discipline engaged in the stewardship of digital materials): 
    • Library Science 
    • Information Science 
    • Archival Science 
    • Records Management 
    • Computer Sciences 
    • Museum Studies 
    • Art History 
    • Engineering 
    • Digital Media 
    • Master of Fine Arts in New Media 
  • Must be available to work on-site for the entire one-year period (relocation expenses are not offered). 
  • Must be a US citizen or permanent resident.


Content Analysis. 
This project will be an analysis of the quantity of literature underpinning the field of biodiversity, the amount of that literature in the public domain, the representation of each discipline (delineated by taxon group) within BHL, an exploration of methodologies to scope the collections, and areas where BHL may target development to better serve the research population. Host: BHL Chicago partners (The Field Museum of Natural History and the Chicago Botanic Garden) with mentors Library Directors Christine Giannoni and Leora Siegel.

Import of Crowdsourced Data Corrections and Enhancements. 
Building on the IMLS grant received by the Missouri Botanical Garden, Purposeful Gaming and BHL, in which BHL worked with Mary Flannagan and Tiltfactor , the mentors for this project will work with the resident to develop methodologies and propose tools for integration of crowdsourced data corrections and enhancements back into the BHL portal. Best practices will be documented for verification, trust, and multi-tier review. Host: Harvard University: MCZ, mentors Library Managers Constance Rinaldo and Joseph deVeer.

Enabling image discovery within the Biodiversity Heritage Library. 
Building on the successful NEH Art of Life grant, crowdsourced metadata around BHL images hosted on Flickr and Zooniverse would be integrated back into the BHL through user interface modifications to the BHL portal to enable image searching, browsing and display. The resident will work with the BHL technical team to propose best practices for integration of this data into BHL as well as sustainable methodologies for augmenting image tagging for BHL content. Host: Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT), mentors Library Director Douglas Holland and Data Projects Coordinator, Trish Rose-Sandler.

Digital Library Best Practices Analysis. 
The mentor will work with the resident to consult with BHL partners such as DPLA and Europeana to determine how BHL data works in these large scale national and pan-national digital libraries. The resident will propose analyses of other large-scale digital libraries (HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, National Digital Library of New Zealand, Trove, for example) to categorize high value tools and services that can be built into the next version of BHL or developed with existing APIs from partners. Host: Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, mentor Chief Librarian and Curator Richard Hulser. NHM Research Library.

User Needs and Usability Analysis. 
The mentor will work with the resident to identify members of the larger taxonomic and biodiversity informatics community to determine user needs and services for providing increased value to BHL content. Building on a ten year relationship with this community, BHL staff will introduce the resident to relevant initiatives hosted at the Smithsonian, such as Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBoL) and Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) and to partners such as Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). The resident will analyze input gathered to define recommendations and requirements for expanding the BHL digital library functionality. Host: BHL Secretariat/Smithsonian Libraries, mentor Carolyn Sheffield, BHL Program Manager.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Celebrating the Birds of South America

By Gretchen Rings 
Reference & Interlibrary Loan Librarian 
Gantz Family Collections Center, Science & Education 
The Field Museum

Plate 31: Le Cotinga pacapaca, male. Le Vaillant, François. Histoire naturelle d'une partie d'oiseaux nouveaux et rares de l'Amerique et des Indes. 1801. Digitized by The Field Museum of Natural History Library. Description on pages 66-69.
In honor of the first Olympics to take place in Brazil, we are highlighting a book contributed by The Field Museum featuring birds of South America, Le Vaillant’s Histoire naturelle d'une partie d'oiseaux nouveaux et rares de l'Amerique et des Indes (1801). Among several titles chosen for digitization from the Field Museum Library’s impressive Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library, housed in the collections of the Mary W. Runnells Rare Book Room, the entry for the volume in Catalogue of the Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library characterizes it as “a work intended to supplement his Hist. Nat. des Oiseaux d’Afrique (q.v.) by describing and figuring birds not properly included in that work.”

Published in eight parts, Histoire naturelle d'une partie d'oiseaux nouveaux et rares de l'Amerique et des Indes was available as a folio with both colored and uncolored plates; large quarto with colored plates only; and quarto, with uncolored plates only. Originally 240 plates were proposed, but ultimately only 49 were produced of species of Bucerotidae from Malay Archipelago and Cotingidae from South America. The Field Museum’s copy is a folio with both colored and uncolored plates.

Plate 37, color: Le Continga ouette, male. Le Vaillant, François. Histoire naturelle d'une partie d'oiseaux nouveaux et rares de l'Amerique et des Indes. 1801. Digitized by The Field Museum of Natural History Library. Descriptions on pages 81-83.

Plate 38, uncolored: Le Continga ouette, male. Le Vaillant, François. Histoire naturelle d'une partie d'oiseaux nouveaux et rares de l'Amerique et des Indes. 1801. Digitized by The Field Museum of Natural History Library. Description on pages 81-83.

Born to French naturalists in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana (Suriname), François Le Vaillant (1753-1824) began collecting bird specimens and building his own “cabinet” (or collection of specimens) before the age of ten. The family returned to France in 1763, where Le Vaillant would eventually make connections with ornithologists, collectors, and patrons who would become supporters of his work.

Le Vaillant was one of the first naturalists to independently embark on long voyages to study subjects in the wild. Previous naturalists had generally conducted such fieldwork as part of larger scientific expeditions. Not an illustrator in his own right, Le Vaillant relied on renowned artist Jacques Barraband (1768-1890) and emerging technologies of the day to produce his books. As authors Sitwell and Buchanan point out: “One interesting and sometimes confusing point is that some famous books are known by the author’s name and not the artist. Le Vaillant...whose name appears on most of the great French bird books of that same period, was a naturalist who travelled far, but never drew any of the pictures for his books…”

Barraband painted the birds that Le Vaillant secured on his voyages in watercolors, which were then assembled using an “elaborate mixture of processes - engraving, etching, colour printing and hand-finishing” (Lambourne). Le Vaillant was fortunate in that Napoléon Bonaparte had imitated a policy of Louis XIV to create a series of publications that were then “sent as presents to crowned heads, men of science, and learned bodies, in evidence of the splendours of the this manner many glorious books came into being...The works of Le Vaillant owe their sumptuous character to the same impetus” (Sitwell and Buchanan).

Le Vaillant’s travel memoirs contributed as much to his fame in his lifetime as his illustrated bird books: due to its popularity, Travels into the interior parts of Africa : by the way of the Cape of Good Hope in the years 1780, 8l, 82, 83, 84, and 85 (contributed by Smithsonian Libraries) was translated into English and German. Feeling pressured to write a sequel, New travels into the interior parts of Africa : by the way of the Cape of Good Hope, in the years 1783, 84 and 85 (also contributed by Smithsonian Libraries), contains “an entirely fabricated account of a journey from the Orange River to the Tropic of Capricorn,” though this was not discovered until after his death (Pasquier and Farrand). Ultimately, despite any embellishments, Le Vaillant will be remembered for having produced some of the finest bird books ever created.

Map, Foldout: Map of M. Le Vaillant’s Two Journies in the Southern Part of Africa. New travels into the interior parts of Africa : by the way of the Cape of Good Hope, in the years 1783, 84 and 85. Digitized by The Smithsonian Libraries.

The images from Histoire naturelle d'une partie d'oiseaux nouveaux et rares de l'Amerique et des Indes are available in BHL's Flickr. Nearly all of them have been taxon tagged by volunteers with the scientific name of the species depicted, allowing you to easily determine the species in the image as well as search Flickr for one of the included species and find the image. Learn more about our citizen science Flickr tagging efforts.

Example of a taxon-tagged image from La Vaillant's Histoire naturelle d'une partie d'oiseaux nouveaux et rares de l'Amerique et des Indes in BHL's Flickr


  • Elphick, Jonathan. (2004). Birds. London: Scriptum Editions.
  • Lambourne, Maureen. (1990). The Art of Bird Illustration. London: Collins. 
  • Martin, H. Bradley. (1989). The Library of H. Bradley Martin : Magnificent Color-Plate Ornithology. Sotheby’s Catalogue of Sale. New York, NY: Sotheby’s. 
  • Pasquier, Roger F. and John Farrand. (1991). Masterpieces of Bird Art: 700 Years of Ornithological Illustration. New York: Abbeville Press. 
  • Sitwell, Sacheverell, Handasyde Buchanan, and James Fisher. (1990). Fine Bird Books: 1700-1900. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. 
  • Stresemann, Erwin and G. William Cottrell. (1975). Ornithology from Aristotle to the Present. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.