Wednesday, December 7, 2016

BHL participates in meetings at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (Paris)

From left:
Bruno David, Martin R. Kalfatovic,
Laurence Bénichou, Nancy E. Gwinn, Gildas Illien.
Photo by Jean-Christophe Domenech
By Martin R. Kalfatovic
BHL Program Director

I was honored to participate in the signing ceremony on 2 December 2016 where Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle officially joined the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Accompanying Dr. Nancy E. Gwinn (Smithsonian Libraries Director and Chair of the BHL Members' Council), the ceremony was held in the amphitheater of the Galeries d'Anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie. Attending on behalf of the MNHN were Dr. Bruno David (Director), Gildas Illien (head of the MNHN library), and Laurence Bénichou (Head, Publications Scientifiques).

Immediately before the meeting, I gave a presentation ("Increasing Access, Promoting Progress: Empowering Global Research through the BHL") on BHL to representatives from a number of large natural history museums from around the world (including BHL partners American Museum of Natural History, The Field Museum of Natural History, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Natural History Museum (London), National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Libraries), Natural History Museum Los Angeles County, and Naturalis Biodiversity Center).

Earlier, on 30 November, I was treated to a tour of the MNHN library by M. Illien and had the opportunity to meet with key staff (Alice LeMaire, Anaïs Rameaux, Chloé Besombes, and Vincent Detienne) who will be participating in BHL. The following day, I met with Laurence Bénichou and the staff of the Publications Scientifiques. Topics included BHL metadata models and best practices to be reviewed for ingest of MNHN publications into BHL.

A tour of the Grand Hall of Evolution and the special exhibition, Espèces d’ours! was also arranged. The Grande Galerie de l'Évolution is an amazing four level exhibition that documents life on our planet. The installation is an outstanding re-envisioning of an older space for the 21st century. Of personal interest was the La salle des espèces menacées et disparues and a nice display of artifacts related to Raphus cucullatus.

On 2 December, before the signing ceremony, the Museum arranged for a tour of the Jardin des Plantes for me and Nancy E. Gwinn. Our host, Fabien Dupuis, Desk Officer from the office of International and European Affairs, provided an excellent tour of the gardens and greenhouses that are under the auspices of the Museum.

Herbarium (left) and Galeries d'Anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie (right)

Gwinn (left) and Illien (right)
My special thanks to the staff of the Museum for arranging our visit. Gildas Illien was a superb host who juggled multiple high-profile events during this brief visit. It was a pleasure to meet him in person after many emails and phone calls. All of us at BHL and the Smithsonian look forward to working with him in the years to come. And at last, I was able to meet with Laurence Bénichou in France after seeing her in many other places around the world. Seeing her office, located in the 18th century home of noted naturalist  Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, made one appreciate the over 200 year history of scientific publishing at the Museum.

And yes, good food was had by all ...

Raphus cucullatus

Monday, December 5, 2016

Biodiversity Heritage Library Welcomes Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle as a New Member

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is pleased to welcome the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (MNHN) as a new Member. As BHL’s 17th Member, MNHN will expand the breadth of BHL’s collection and service to the global scientific community.

The Muséum’s membership came into effect at a ceremony in Paris at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle on 2 December 2016. During the ceremony, Dr. Bruno David, President of the Muséum, signed a certificate of membership on behalf of MNHN, and Dr. Nancy E. Gwinn, Chair of the BHL Members’ Council and Director of Smithsonian Libraries, co-signed the certificate on behalf of the BHL consortium.

Ceremony and Certificate of Membership Signing at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle on 2 December 2016. From left to right: Dr. Bruno David (President of the Muséum), Martin R. Kalfatovic (BHL Program Director), Laurence Bénichou (Head and Publications Manager, Museum Science Press, MNHN), Dr. Nancy E. Gwinn (Chair of the BHL Members' Council and Director of Smithsonian Libraries), Gildas Illien (Director of Libraries and Documentation, MNHN). Image copyright: MNHN - JC Domenech.

Established in 1793, "le Muséum" - as it is simply known in France - is the national natural history Museum of France. The MNHN Library holds more than 2 million items reflecting the vast spectrum of the Muséum’s research activities. The library has been digitizing its collections for well over a decade, often in connection with European and international digital collaborations including BHL Europe. Over 500,000 pages of primarily natural science literature have been digitized to date.

“The Muséum is committed to facilitating its global service to research by developing international partnerships and enhancing its digital strategies. It has invested significant effort and resources into developing a comprehensive digitization program,” asserts Dr. Bruno David, President of the MNHN. “BHL has become a standard resource for natural scientists around the world and it provides services that are extremely popular within our own research communities in France. Participation in BHL will allow us to increase the visibility of our collections, contribute to the international dissemination of taxonomic research, and participate in a global effort to promote open access, open science, and open data.”

As a BHL Member, MNHN will enhance BHL’s collection by contributing rare and unique material from the Muséum’s library, including the entire collection of MNHN scientific publications from 1802 to 2000. (Materials published after 2000 are available through other portals.) The library will also contribute to the expansion of global collection development strategies and facilitate partnerships with other institutions in France and throughout Europe.

“We have had a relationship with Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle for many years through BHL Europe, and this year we are excited to see that relationship expand through membership,” affirms BHL Program Director Martin R. Kalfatovic. “For the past decade, we have been working diligently to build global partnerships that allow us to enhance the comprehensiveness of our collections and support research across the globe. We look forward to working with our MNHN colleagues to increase our impact on the European and international research communities.”

Explore the full BHL consortium here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Announcing the New Holiday Collection in the BHL Store!

Get ready for the holidays with the new Holiday Collection in the BHL store!

Shop the new Holiday Collection in the BHL store today and help support biodiversity research around the world. 100% of the proceeds will be used to digitize more books for BHL. SHOP NOW

The collection includes greeting cards, ornaments, mugs, and gifts featuring fun holiday-themed art from the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Not only are these products perfect for the holidays, but (just like with all of the products in the BHL store), 100% of the proceeds will be used to help us digitize more books for BHL. Researchers around the world rely on the information contained in books and archival materials to study and conserve biodiversity. Learn more about how BHL helps save biodiversity and how your purchase can have a lasting, positive impact on our planet.

You'll find this badge in our store and on our marketing materials. It means that your purchase will help support research around the world. SHOP TODAY and help save biodiversity!

Visit the BHL Holiday Collection today to do some shopping that's good for the planet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Holmes, Shells, and the Intersection of Art & Science

William Henry Holmes, about 1875. Random Records of a Lifetime. v. 1. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

From November 28th through December 9th, BHL is joining the Smithsonian Libraries, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Smithsonian Field Book Project, and Smithsonian Transcription Center in hosting the #ManyHatsofHolmes transcription event. This event challenges volunteers around the world to help us transcribe William Henry Holmes' archival materials. Learn more on the Smithsonian Libraries' blog.

As the hashtag implies, William Henry Holmes (1846-1933) studied a variety of topics throughout his distinguished career, including anthropology, archaeology, art, and geology. He spent much of his career affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. He studied art under Theodore Kauffman and went on to work as a scientific illustrator with Smithsonian staff. In 1872, he was appointed artist-topographer to the United States survey of the territories under Ferdinand V. Hayden and in 1874 was appointed assistant geologist. He went on to work with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) before returning to the Smithsonian's United States National Museum (USNM). Holmes eventually became head curator of the Smithsonian Institution's Department of Anthropology and Director of the National Gallery of Art.

Many of Holmes' field notes and personal records have been digitized by Smithsonian Libraries and Smithsonian Institution Archives as part of The Field Book Project. These are available in BHL. In addition to these archival materials, BHL also holds a number of publications by Holmes.

Top figure: Vessel made from a lightning whelk (Sinistrofulgur perversum) - synonym Busycon perversum - shell. Bottom figure: Earthen vessel made in imitation of a shell. Holmes, William Henry. Art in Shell of the Ancient Americans. 1883. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

One of those publications is Art in Shell of the Ancient Americans, which was published in 1883 as part of the second annual report of the Bureau of Ethnology.

Holmes intended this publication to be a preliminary study of the ways in which Native Americans in the distant past used shells as a medium for artistic expression and how this artwork represents a phase in the evolution of human culture. It discusses the use of shells as implements, utensils, and objects of ornamentation (such as jewelry).

Most of the objects presented in the publication were obtained from graves and tumuli (ancient burial mounds), which explains how such delicate pieces survived throughout the centuries. But, while these pieces can be deemed ancient, Holmes did not have enough data to provide a reliable estimation of age.

At this point, you might be wondering why a book about shell art would be relevant for a biodiversity library and what bearing it might have on scientific research. The simple answer is that these shells are remnants of living creatures - mollusks that died long ago but still left behind a legacy in shell. However, Art in Shell has relevance for scientific research beyond this vague connection with the natural world.

Shell spoons made from Lampsilis ovata (synonym Unio ovatus) - top and center - and Potamilus alatus (synonym Unio alatus) - bottom. Holmes, William Henry. Art in Shell of the Ancient Americans. 1883. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

In the publication, Holmes attempts to identify the species (or most-specific taxa possible) to which the shell used for the object belongs. This information provides a valuable record of human interaction with various mollusk species and helps document the diversity of species present in ancient America. The presence of shells in various regions, when coupled with species distribution data that demonstrates the transport of these shells from their source, can also provide insight into historic Native American migration paths, tribal contacts, and trade.

Thus, this book is not just a book about art. It represents a beautiful union of art and science. And considering the many disciplinary hats that Holmes wore throughout his career, it's no surprise that his publication would bridge these two worlds. Art in Shell is therefore not only a very fitting book to highlight as a representation of the union of Holmes' many interests, but the insights it provides into Native American culture also make it particularly relevant this month as we celebrate Native American Heritage Month.

Implements made from Unio vericosus (figs. 1 and 2), Cyclonaias tuberculata (synonym Unio tuberculosus, figs. 3-5) and Pecten (fig. 6). Holmes, William Henry. Art in Shell of the Ancient Americans. 1883. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

So, can we tie this publication back to the Random Records of a Lifetime series that is the subject of our #ManyHatsofHolmes transcription event? Holmes' discussion about his work with shell art in these records seems to be fairly limited, but in his biographical sketch in volume I, Holmes does report that, "The years 1882-3-4 and 5 were devoted largely to Museum work and the study of primitive art in its various branches." As Art in Shell was published in 1883, this account is likely a reference in part to his work on this publication (as well as the many others on ancient American art that he produced during this time period).

As you participate in the challenge, can you find additional references in the Random Records that can be linked back to Art in Shell? If you do, share them on social media with #ManyHatsofHolmes.

Additionally, if you need a break from transcription or want another challenge, try taxon tagging the illustrations from Holmes' Art in Shell on Flickr. By tagging the shell art with the taxonomic name of the species to which the shell belongs, you can help researchers more easily discover which species ancient Americans were using to create these objects. Learn more about taxon tagging in this article and see our detailed instructions here. Find the Art in Shell images in Flickr here.

See this video for basic instructions on how to tag the illustrations in Art in Shell:

Holmes was truly a man of many trades and talents. As you dig deeper into his work during the #ManyHatsofHolmes event, be sure to share your findings on social media with the hashtag. Thanks so much for participating in our Holmes extravaganza!

Beads and pearls. Figs. 1, 7, 12, and 9: Sinistrofulgur perversum (synonym Busycon perversum); Fig. 2: Crassadoma gigantea (synonym Hinnites giganteus); Fig. 3 and 13: pearls, latter from Haliotis californianus; Fig. 4: unknown univalve; Fig. 5: ivory?; Figs. 6 and 11: unknown dextral whorled shell; Fig. 14: Strombus or BusyconHolmes, William Henry. Art in Shell of the Ancient Americans. 1883. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Black Friday Sale Nov. 23-27! Save 10% Off in the BHL Store

Are you planning to do some shopping for Black Friday? Do you want your purchase to make an impact on biodiversity conservation and research?

Then the BHL Black Friday Sale is perfect for you!

Save 10% off select products in the BHL store for our Black Friday Sale. 100% of the proceeds will be used to digitize more books for BHL. Hurry! Sale ends Sunday, Nov. 27.

From November 23-27, save 10% off select products in the BHL store. In our Black Friday Sale Collection, you'll find notebooks, greeting cards, mugs, home decor, and more great items featuring beautiful scientific illustrations from the BHL collection.

Not only are these products 10% off for our sale, but 100% of the proceeds will be used to digitize more books for BHL. Researchers around the world rely on the information contained in books and archival materials to study and conserve biodiversity. Learn more about how BHL helps save biodiversity and how your purchase can have a lasting, positive impact on our planet.

You'll find this badge in our store and on all of our marketing materials. It means that your purchase will help support research around the world. SHOP TODAY and help save biodiversity!

Shop today to find that perfect gift and help support biodiversity research around the world! Hurry! The sale ends Sunday!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Notes accompanying collection of useful plants made by W. J. Fisher at [Kodiak] in 1899

By: Lesley Parilla
Cataloger, The Field Book Project
Smithsonian Libraries

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we would like to highlight a field book that documents Native American knowledge of natural resources. The field book was created by William J. Fisher, who lived in southern Alaska from 1879 until his death in 1903.

Fisher's notebook documents his final years collecting and looks at the relationship between the Alutiiq (Aleut) and their plants by recording medicinal and food uses for 48 specimens. Only a handful of the specimen entries include the taxonomic names of plants; instead, entries focus on recording the Russian and Sugpiat/Alutiiq names of plants, how the plants were used, and plant distribution. Detail varies, as seen below in entries three and forty-seven.

Entry three describes Fritullaria kamschathensis [Fritillaria camschatcensis], also known as the Kamchatka Fritillary, and lists general use and preparation: "Used as an article of food by natives. The bulbs are boiled mashed and after a liberal supply of seal or whale oil has been thoroughly mixed therewith, it is put away for winter’s use.”

Specimen entry three from "Notes accompanying collection of useful plants made by W. J. Fisher at [Kodiak] in 1899," Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA Acc. 12-038. Digitized by Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Image of Fritillaria camschatcensis from Encyclopedia of Life, provided by Biopix.

Entry forty-seven for Ledum palustre [Rhododendron tomentosum], also known as Northern Labrador Tea (also pictured below), takes up an entire page describing the plant's habitat, the appearance of its flowers, and multiple local medicinal applications: "(1) As a tea it is freely drunk in alleviating the hacking cough of consumptives. (2) As a gargle in sore throat. (3) Administered as tea it is efficacious in relieving asthmatic complaints."

Specimen entry forty-seven, from "Notes accompanying collection of useful plants made by W. J. Fisher at [Kodiak] in 1899," Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA Acc. 12-038. Digitized by Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Image of Rhododendron tomentosum (Northern Labrador Tea), from Encyclopedia of Life. Image by Biopix.

Fisher's ethnographic focus while collecting plants is clear. The field book provides detailed information regarding local names and knowledge, but leaves out basic information often found in botany field books like date and detailed locality information. This lack of information may relate to a note Fisher wrote on the title page: "dried plants with Mr. Kearney, alcoholics in seed collection." "Mr. Kearney" was Thomas Henry Kearney (1874-1956), a botanist with the Bureau of Plant Industry at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Kearney was in Alaska to work with Frederick Coville from April 1898 - August 1899, and along the Northwest Coast from Puget Sound to the Bering Strait in 1899. He then served as a member of the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899.

It is unclear how the two men became acquainted. Fisher had a relationship with the Smithsonian Institution; Coville as a USDA employee worked with Smithsonian, and perhaps he introduced the two. Whatever the reason, Kearney's field notes for his work in Alaska are also available on BHL through the Smithsonian Field Book Project, and they provide a tantalizing overlap in content and geographical coverage.

A field book at the end of a collecting career 

Fisher's field book is also interesting because it document's his collecting focus and interests as they evolved over a lifetime. Fisher’s initial scientific interest was in marine biology. During the 1870’s he was a curator of conchology at the California Academy of Sciences and served as a marine biologist for the U.S. Fish Commission on several cruises in the Pacific headed by William Healey Dall.

In 1879, Fisher accepted a position as tidal recorder in St. Paul, now known as the city of Kodiak, Alaska. After accepting the position, he wrote to Dall, who was affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, and offered to collect natural history specimens. The offer was accepted, and Fisher was instructed that the museum was also interested in ethnographic artifacts from the region.

The town of St. Paul where Fisher settled was originally established by the Russians as a center for fur trading. By the time Fisher arrived, it was a town of approximately 500 residents, primarily of Russian and Native Alaskan heritage. According to an article in Arctic Anthropology (no. 1, 1992) the community was still significantly mixed regarding the adoption of European culture in terms of religion, language, and beliefs.

Fisher initially focused on collecting natural history specimens, but as he began to correspond with Smithsonian’s Secretary Spencer Baird, his interest and collecting shifted to ethnography. He even began to commission works by Native Alaskans. Fisher’s main source of income was his position as tidal recorder; Smithsonian was frequently unable to finance his work. This lack of funding apparently did not dim Fisher’s enthusiasm, but it did lead to financial hardship. During an extended collecting trip to Bristol Bay in the summer of 1885, his assistant successfully petitioned for Fisher’s job. Fisher’s collecting came to an end by the 1890’s; the ethnobotany field notes document the end of his work with the Smithsonian Institution.

Interested in learning more? We encourage you to learn about the William J. Fisher collection at the National Museum of Natural History, which was highlighted as part of a book Looking Both Ways: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People, in the online exhibit featuring artifacts created by the Alutiiq people and collected by Fisher during his years in Alaska.

Other resources include:

Aron L. Crowell, 1992, Postcontact Koniag Ceremonialism on Kodiak Island and the Alaska Peninsula: Evidence from the Fisher Collection. Arctic Anthropology 29(1):18-37. Retrieved on November 16, 2016 from

Highlights of the William J. Fisher collection at the National Museum of Natural History:

The field books of William Healey Dall, available on Biodiversity Heritage Library:

Field Book Project blog post by Sonoe Nakasone:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Kirtlandia and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Origins of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

The story of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) begins in the1830s, when a small group of men filled a two-room wooden building in Public Square, downtown Cleveland, with mounted animals. This building was known as the "Ark," and the men who gathered there, united in their passion for natural history, were called "Arkites."

The Arkites were led by William Case, who would later become mayor of Cleveland. He, his brother, and his father had used the Ark as a place to retreat from work, and in the absence of any other museums in the city, it became a hub for all kinds of collection and research.

Case Hall, engraving by William Payne,
courtesy of Special Collections,
Cleveland State University Library

In 1876, the Ark was relocated to Case Hall. It shared the space with other organizations, including the Kirtland Society (formerly the Cleveland Academy of Natural Sciences), named after renowned naturalist and fellow Arkite Jared Potter Kirtland, who died the following year. Case Hall remained the home of the Ark until 1916, when it was demolished to make way for the U.S. Post Office, Court House, and Custom House.

Kirtland's Warbler, namesake of Jared Potter Kirtland,
from C.J. Maynard's The Birds of Eastern North America, 1896,
Plate XXI. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

The collections of both the Ark and the Kirtland Society found a new home in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, founded in 1920. CMNH relocated several times as its collections grew, settling eventually at Wade Park, where it is today. William Case's bird collection can still be viewed there, as well as many of the specimens provided by the Kirtland Society. Other exhibits include Balto, the hero dog of Nome, Alaska; "Dunk," a large specimen of Dunkleosteus terrelli; and, most famous of all, "Lucy," discovered in 1974 by former CMNH curator Donald Johanson.

The collections and physical space of the museum continue to grow today; this spring, CMNH unveiled the Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center & Woods Garden, where visitors can view Ohio flora and fauna in their native habitat.


In 1972, CMNH began publishing Kirtlandia, a journal of original, peer-reviewed research by Museum staff. Wendy Wasman, Librarian and Archivist of the Harold T. Clark Library at CMNH, notes that Kirtlandia has a "long history of publishing cutting edge research in the natural sciences...Over the years, there have been articles on dinosaurs, fossil sharks, archaeology, botany, herpetology, mussels, moths, and even an entire issue devoted to paleontological research of the Kenya Rift Valley." 

Partial skeleton of "Lucy,"from Johanson, et al.,
"A New Species of the Genus Australopithecus...",
, no. 28, 1978. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Early on, Kirtlandia issues focused on a single topic. In the late 1970s, however, issues began to contain multiple articles, and the length of those articles increased. They also featured more photographs and diagrams, though they retained their simple, sparse design. 

Kirtlandia is supported by the Kirtlandia Society, founded in 1976 to advance research and education at the museum. Wasman says that because the CMNH library (named the Harold Terry Clark Library in 1972) had an active publications exchange program from the beginning, Kirtlandia can now be found in over 200 university and museum libraries worldwide, and that while publication is currently in hiatus, BHL has given it an even wider reach. 

Kirtlandia was digitized by the Smithsonian Libraries as a part of the IMLS-funded Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature (EABL) project. Susan Lynch, an EABL team member at the New York Botanical Garden, worked with Rod Page and BioStor, using metadata provided by Wendy Wasman, to define all of the articles in Kirtlandia. This allows users to search for and navigate to individual articles in the journal without having to scroll through an entire volume or set of volumes. 

In search results, Kirtlandia articles can be found under the Articles/Chapters/Treatments tab:

When browsing from the title page, articles can be found by clicking View Identified Parts:

Thank you to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Harold T. Clark Library for giving us permission to make Kirtlandia available in BHL!

Patrick Randall
Community Manager
Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature


"ARK." The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Last modified July 10, 1997. Accessed November 16, 2016.

"Case Hall." The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Last modified November 9, 2005. Accessed November 16, 2016.

"History." Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Accessed November 16, 2016.

"Kirtlandia Society." Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Accessed November 16, 2016. 

Splain, Emily. "Cleveland Museum of Natural History." Cleveland Historical. Accessed November 16, 2016.