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Friday, December 17, 2010

Yes, BHL has gone Global!



A summary from the 1st Global BHL Technical Meeting

by William Ulate, Global BHL Project Coordinator

September 22 to 24, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, took place the Global BHL Technical Meeting, it was the very first time all signed and prospective BHL partners were going to be together at such meeting. There were representatives from all over the world, including Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Europe and the US; unfortunately our colleagues from China were unable to make it. We had a very productive meeting to know each other and present each other’s work in order to describe priorities and requirements for a Global BHL.

Through out this exchange participants achieved a high-level description of software and hardware components and were able to agree on milestones and deliverables for a global timeline, while at the same time, sketch the definition of global governance & policies for collaboration in the project.

On Wed. Sep. 22nd morning, after all participants had arrived and enjoyed a delicious breakfast (everyone recognized the Food Catering throughout the whole meeting was outstanding), a warm welcome from our hosts by Cathy Norton, MBL Director, followed by our BHL Director, Tom Garnett and our BHL Executive Committee Chair, Graham Higley, followed by a brief introduction from each participant, provided the perfect setting for a picturesque multimedia display of a brief Taking Measure of the Biodiversity Heritage Library: 2003- 2010 by Martin Kalfatovic, our BHL Deputy Director, and Chris Freeland, Global BHL Technical Director, talking about the BHL-US role in the Global BHL. The first section of the meeting was rounded up by Phil Cryer and Anthony Goddard presenting their lessons learned while setting up the Clustered and distributed Storage with commodity hardware and open source software to mirror BHL information.

After a comfort break each regional node was given the opportunity to share, before the rest of the group, the details of their specific projects, why and how it connects to the whole BHL and other projects, the work already done, the digitized content available or planned including dates of major milestones & deliverables, the resources available, their funding status, and their regional requirements, among other things.

The first partner to present was BHL Europe. Henning Scholz, Project Coordinator for BHL-E, gave an overview of their principles, objectives and partners, their work plan with dates for deliverables and how BHL Europe can integrate into different networks like this Global BHL initiative. Then, Melita Birthälmer, also from Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, presented the project’s activities related to Content Management, starting with the available and planned numbers of volumes from different providers and the quality of that content and explaining in greater detail about the Global Reference Index to Biodiversity, GRIB, a bibliographic database with content management and deduplication functionalities being developed in collaboration with the EDIT project. Even when the GRIB is still in a prototype phase (see http://grib.gbv.de/), it has been suggested as an option for a worldwide bibliographic database for a Global Biodiversity Heritage Library. Finally, Adrian Smales, from the Natural History Museum, talked about the technical implementation, dealing with topics like different metadata views and formats used by BHL-E content providers, their current infrastructure status, some considerations with an Open Archive Information System (OAIS) and a Preservation Archive System (PAS), the GRIB and a general Work Plan for the Technical implementation deliverables.

The next partner to present was Australia. Elycia Wallis from Museum Victoria showed the comprehensive work that the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) has been carrying out and the context where the BHL-Australia (BHL-Au) project is being developed as one of its Rich Data Stores component projects (see presentation here) . Then she presented their worked starting at mid-2010 with the BHL-Au and BHL kickoff meetings at Museum Victoria in Melbourne and ALA HQ in Camberra. Then she explained the achievements setting up the infrastructure, including development and testing environments, assessing workflows to scan and adapting them to Australia conditions and developing a new user interface for BHL that should be ready by the end of 2010 with the existing functionality (test site can be accessed at http://bhl-test.ala.org.au) Following the topics proposed, Ely talked about human and other resources they have available and then explained the plan and timing ahead. The mirroring, ingestion and uploading processes should be ready by March 2011. She also mentioned Australian copyright laws allows to scan documents up to 1955, but they might concentrate on particularly scanning rare books by mid 2011 and they feel confident they will be able to apply for further funds to perform maintenance after that. Additionally, Ely mentioned other very interesting projects going on to BHL-Au like supporting annotations, scanning field notes and correcting OCR through volunteers work (crowd sourcing).

Abel Packer, presented afterwards about the BHL Brazil/ BHL SciELO Network of national and thematic collections of quality journals, funded by the Federal Government and the state of Sao Paulo government, the research community and the libraries (see his presentation here). The network governance formalization should be in place by the end of 2010, start of 2011. Their slow but fully sustainable technical work has focused on procedures and criteria for content to be digitized and the open technology used in the portal development, OAI metadata exchange services implementation and VHL-provided search engine functions. SciELO Network had a Kick-off Workshop on Essential Rare Works Collection in Biodiversity on February 2010; in close collaboration with BHL Advisory Committee it plans to validate the selection criteria and choose the 200 first journal/ bulletins titles and books to scan. Its plans are to be operational and launched with 100 initial books by December 2010, expand to Latin America and the Caribbean countries starting in 2011 and have more than 2000 books scanned, digitized and exposed through BHL by 2013.

Finally, our colleague from Egypt, Dr. Noha Adly, presented their progress in Bibliotheca Alexandrina (www.bibalex.org), a "center of excellence in the production and dissemination of knowledge" (see her presentation here) whose objectives fit perfectly with BHL’s and has been involved in digital libraries and projects for quite some time now, developing technical infrastructure, long-established mass digitization and OCR workflows, mirroring Internet Archive and massive data sets, training specialists for their workflow, and more recently working with the Arabic version of Encyclopedia Of Life. Bibliotheca Alexandrina has come a long way since it started with 1 scanner in 2003, it now has 120 trained specialists working using their 10 scanners, 7 days a week on two shifts, digitizing and doing the OCR of 167,000 Arabic books, photos, negatives, slides and maps to include into joint projects like Description de L’Egypte and the World Digital Library. They have also developed their own projects like Digital Assets Repository (composed of Digital Assets Factory, Digital Assets Metadata using Fedora to manage only metadata, Digital Assets Keeper and Digital Assets Publishers) and the Science Supercourse, a PowerPoint repository for health, agriculture, environment and computer engineering. Bibliotheca Alexandrina is interested in becoming a BHL partner, holding a mirror site and working on infrastructure. It has also offered to organize our next Technical Global BHL Meeting, (which everyone happily took note of).

In the afternoon, after a comfort break, Bianca Crowley, BHL Collections Manager, presented the analysis of the BHL User Survey 2010. A total of 16 reusable questions were developed and for this first time, an average of 1020 successful responses per question were analysed, to understand how current user groups are using BHL services and what new development are groups expecting in the future.

Chris Freeland, BHL Technical Director, lead us in two interesting discussions about the Names finding process in BHL and what can be done to improve it, given an existing 35% error rate on the species names when the OCR is performed. Here, it was noted how two subprocesses are been carried out: the string finding and the name reconciliation. While some of the existing services take on both processes (UBIO, for example), it was concluded we have no mechanism in place to validate the 5.1 million names, so we should concentrate on working on OCR correction and let the specialists handle the name reconciliation. We will make random sample data available for potential partners, so nomenclators, for example, could provide feedback on ratio of good names.

Finally to round up the first day, the group reviewed the implications of the Global Open Access and BHL standpoint on it. It’s no secret for anyone that the global world of copyright is very complex. The group commented on the several copyright issues and distribution limitations will encounter in sharing materials globally. BHL is not assuming any copyright responsibility on its own, moreover BHL doesn't own any copyright. A small group of colleagues was defined to take all input about this topic and develop a suitable statement; taking into account that the user might get confused and frustrated if we end up with different categories of access and the system would have to be rebuilt to support it.

The second day the group was divided into an Administration subgroup, in charge of Policies & procedures needed for a global collaboration and another Technology subgroup to work on components needed for a Global BHL. The Administrative group was to deal with topics like Organization of each BHL node, Global BHL Collaboration and Governance and Communication Models for project leaders of each BHL node. On the other hand, the Technology group was set to discuss topics like the Content Ingest process in existing BHL, the Content Replication, making particular reference to preservation (LOCKSS) and mirror sites, the Localization, taking in consideration if he had to deal and share materials that couldn’t be openly distributed; and finally, the topic of Global Identifiers within the whole project.

Other more technical topics were covered during the rest of the meeting, from "Branding & Identity of the project itself" to funding opportunities, to data mining, OCR & Text correction experiences, and improvement of existing and new services required for integration at the APIs & User Interfaces levels. Even some birds-of-a-feather sessions on Content and Data Synch were included. Finally, a set of Action Items was sketched to follow up (see it here).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book of the Week: Salad and...Snails?

Are those snails in your salad?

Apparently this is the question that our book of the week, The Field and Garden Vegetables of America, suggests that dinner guests will ask their host or hostess should Medicago obicularis be playfully added to the plate. However, rest assured, Medicago obicularis, more commonly known as Button Clover or Button Medick, will not threaten to ooze snail slime all over the salad greens. It is a harmless plant species of the genus Medicago found throughout the Mediterranean basin, though it can also now be found in southern parts of the United States. This "hardy, annual plant has reclining stems, compound or winged leaves, and yellow flowers." However, the "pods, or seed vessels," according to our book of the week, "are smooth, and coiled in a singular and remarkably regular manner," suggesting in their appearance the shell of a snail.

Interestingly, this species forms a symbiotic relationship with the bacterium Sinorhizobium medicae, which is capable of nitrogen fixation. Nitrogen fixation is the process by which "nitrogen in the atmosphere is converted to ammonia," a process crucial for life because "fixed nitrogen is required to biosynthesize the basic building blocks of life." In a study by the U.S. Department of Energy, "the amount of nitrogen fixed annually by the Sinorhizobium-Medicago symbioses is estimated to be worth $250 million."

So, as the holiday season approaches and you begin planning your extravagant dinner parties, consider throwing a little fun into the mix with Medicago obicularis. As our book tells us, the pods can be "placed on dishes of salad for the purpose of exciting curiosity, or for pleasantly surprising the guests at table."

Book of the Week: The field and garden vegetables of America: containing full descriptions of nearly eleven hundred species and varieties; with directions for propagation, culture, and use (1863), by Fearing Burr.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

BHL in London!

It is no secret that the Biodiversity Heritage Library project has grown on a global scale, with BHL projects springing up in Europe, China, Australia, Brazil, and Egypt. Many of our new partners rely of the experience of BHL-US, as the original BHL project has come to be known, for insight and suggestions. One such partner is BHL-Europe, and a recent BHL-EU meeting in London proved to be a valuable opportunity to not only allow our European partners to gather and discuss various technical and workflow issues, but also to allow representatives from BHL-US to provide input based on our experience. With this intent, Bianca Crowley, Grace Costantino, and Chris Freeland, BHL-US staff, traveled to London for the latest BHL-Europe meeting on December 1-3, 2010.

The main subjects comprising this recent meeting were workflow, technical issues and portal development, and the Global References Index to Biodiversity, also known as the GRIB. The intent of the GRIB is to serve as a single point of access to all biodiversity bibliographic records held within the library catalogues of the BHL-EU partners, which will in turn link to digitized versions of the content. The GRIB will also function as a selection and de-duplication tool for all BHL partners, allowing institutions to indicate which items they wish to scan while also providing digitization status information.

A wish to contribute to the development of the GRIB by providing insight into the workflow management tools currently in use on the project was a main purpose of BHL-US staff’s involvement in the meetings. By explaining how staff currently use the many tools necessary for scanning workflow in the US, and what specific tasks staff need a master workflow management tool to address, BHL-EU was able to understand the requirements of their partners across the Atlantic, and development of the GRIB was positively impacted by the conversations.

The meetings were a productive exercise in communication and collaboration, and served as an excellent opportunity to get to know colleagues that, until the meeting, were known only through emails and occasional Skype calls. As BHL continues to expand around the world, it is hoped that such cooperation will continue, and that we will all work together to share our experience, learn from our collective mistakes, and in general provide a better digital library to the users that depend so heavily on our resources for access to the biodiversity literature of the world.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Introducing BHL SciELO!



BHL "Classic" as we often refer to ourselves, is pleased to introduce our latest global partner, BHL SciELO, from Brazil. Launched December 1st, 2010 in a public event at the Museum of Zoology of the University of Sao Paulo, BHL Brazil is implemented by the Scientific Electronic Library (SciELO) Program. Sharing BHL's open access practices, they maintain an online multidisciplinary collection of quality journals which will total more than 700 titles by the end of this year.

The BHL-SciELO lauching event included scientific programming that shared information and experiences regarding challenges and next-steps for the BHL-SciELO Network Project. Abel L. Packer, Biodiversity Research Program Coordinater, spoke in depth about advancements already achieved and laid foundations for the next 3 years of work. Prominent Brazilian biodiversity related libraries will digitize their collections in the coming years according the principles, methodologies and procedures of the BHL and SciELO network.
Please join staff at BHL as we echo BHL Director Tom Garnett's sentiments in the video posted above in warm welcome to our newest partners! :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Visit to BHL China

Chris Freeland, Martin Kalfatovic and Keri Thompson attended technical meetings related to the Biodiversity Heritage Library China node, November 15-17, 2010. The meetings, held at the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing) took place over three days and covered scanning workflow, operation of the Internet Archive Scribe machine, technical standards for ingesting BHL-China materials into the BHL portal site, and replicating BHL data on IB/CAS servers.

BHL China program director Dr. Jinzhong Cui led the meetings. Also attending from BHL China were Fenghong Liu (project coordinator and Director of the Institute of Botany Library), Zheping Xu (technical director), and Shao Qing representing the Institute of Botany.

Additional presentations from the Institute of Botany staff included Chen Bin discussing the building the Chinese Field Herbarium, Li Min, project director for the Plant Photo Bank of China (PPBC), and a detailed presentation on the data storage systems in place at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The BHL team also received a tour of the Institute of Botany Library, source of materials for the initial scanning project.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Sun Parakeet and the World Checklist of Threatened Birds

The concept of threatened and endangered species is not a new idea for most of the world. Most are now well aware of the shadow that looms over so much of the magnificent life on our planet. While many efforts are underway around the globe to protect the species that are threatened, it is important to continue to raise awareness of the plight faced by so many of the creatures that share our planet. So, in an effort to do so, we highlight this week the Sun Parakeet, or the Aratinga solstitialis, one of the many species of threatened birds listed in this week's book of the week, The World Checklist of Threatened Birds (1990).

The Sun Parakeet is native to northeastern South America, particularly in "the north Brazilian state of Roraima, Southern Guyana, extreme southern Suriname, and southern French Guiana." Recent surveys revealing that the species may now be extirpated from Southern Guyana and rare in Roraima have excited recent discussions over the threatened status of this bird, and it is now listed as "Endangered" in the 2008 IUCN Red List. Deforestation, hunting, poaching, and capture for sale in the pet trade are the greatest threats facing this species.

The taxanomic history of this bird is interesting, beginning with its first description by Linnaeus in volume 1 of his 1758 work Systema Naturae. In this publication, Linnaeus situated the Sun Parakeet in the genus Psittacus. However, this genus is now reserved solely for the type species with which it is associated, the African Grey Parrot, and Aratinga solstitialis is now found in the genus Aratinga. Besides being known by the common name of Sun Parakeet, Aratinga solstitialis is also called the Sun Conure.

Aratinga solstitialis is a complex species, containing what have long been considered three sub-species: the Jandaya Parakeet, the Golden-capped Parakeet, and the Sulphur-breasted Parakeet. Recent discussions, however, have suggested that these sub-species are in fact separate species, or that the "Sun Parakeet and the Sulphur-breasted Parakeet represent one species, while the Jandaya Parakeet and Golden-capped Parakeet represent a second." However, these species will interbreed in captivity (with the exception of the Sulphur-breasted Parakeet, of which, since it was only recently discovered in 2005, it is suspected but not confirmed that successful interbreeding with the three other mentioned species can occur).

The Sun Parakeet is among those bird species listed in The World Checklist of Threatened Birds (1990). Take a few moments to examine this species on EOL, and discover this species, along with many others, in this week's book of the week. Think about what you can do to help ensure that these species are around for many generations to come.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thank you, Society for the History of Natural History!

Staff of BHL are humbled to announce that we have been recognized by the Society for the History of Natural History for the past three years of efforts on behalf of our digital repository. The John Thackray Medal is especially rewarding to receive because it appreciates the comprehensive nature of our work. BHL is here to support the work of plant, animal and earth scientists alike and the John Thackray Medal is likewise an advocate for the broadest sense of natural history. We sincerely thank the Society for their work as well.

The Society for the History of Natural History also awards best original, unpublished, essay in the field of history of natural history. The winner of the 2010 essay is Nils Petter Hellström, who has recently completed his M.Phil. in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. 'The tree as evolutionary icon: Tania Kovats's TREE in the Natural History Museum'. It will be published in Archives of natural history volume 38 in 2011.

Previous winners include:
  • 2009 Stephanie Pfennigwerth, School of English, Journalism and European Languages, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia. 'The mighty cassowary': the discovery and demise of the King Island emu. Published in Archives of natural history 37 (1): 74-90. doi 10.3366/E0260954109001661
  • 2008 Ross Brooks, Department of History, Oxford Brooks University, Oxford, UK. All too human: responses to same-sex copulation in the common cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha (L.), 1834-1900. Published in Archives of natural history 36 (1): 146-159. doi: 10.3366/E0260954108000703
  • 2007 Heather Brink-Roby, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Siren canora: the mermaid and the mythical in late nineteenth-century science. Published in Archives of natural history 35 (1): 1-14. doi: 10.3366/E0260954108000041
Additionally, The Society for the History of Natural History publishes an informal Newsletter that is produced three times a year and distributed free to members. It contains details of forthcoming meetings, news of other events, a lively Notes & Queries section, members’ news and new publications.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New features for "discovered bibliography"

BHL has used name finding algorithms that analyze all of the scanned pages in BHL and extract out the scientific names within. This functionality was released in 2007 and has received minor enhancements in usability. To date more than 81 million potential name strings have been identified by the TaxonFinder algorithm, representing 1.6 million unique names.

A new interface to these data has been moved into production, giving users enhanced functionality in using BHL's names-based bibliography. Users can now sort records within the results returned, and the results can be exported into a variety of popular reference manager formats including BibTex, EndNote, and a simple CSV file.

You can navigate to the new interface by clicking on Browse By: "Names" or by visiting this link:
http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/browse/names

You can also view a sample bibliography of the Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) by following this link:
http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/name/carcharodon+carcharias

Please leave comments or questions on this post. Sincerely,

Chris Freeland

Monday, October 18, 2010

Book of the Week: Halloween Special


So, Halloween's just around the corner, so we at BHL thought it might be appropriate to highlight a species, and a book, appropriate for the season. Most likely, if you had to associate a single species from the animal kingdom with the spine-tingling glee of the Halloween experience, it would be the spider (unless you are a fan of the recent vampire craze, in which case you'll likely choose a bat). Most people, when they think of a Halloween spider, probably draw to mind images of Black Widows, or simply enormous, generic, black, eight-legged beasts. However, did you ever think to imagine a spider with horns on its body? If not, well, you're in luck.

Meet the Spined Micrathena, or Micrathena gracilis (Walckenaer, 1805), formerly known as Acrosoma gracile. This member of the orb-weaver family inhabits the regions east of the Rocky Mountain states in North America. The females reach a length of about 10mm, while the males grow to be only about half that size. They vary widely in color, apparently, according to this week's book of the week, according to age.

So by now you're getting excited about the prospect of a new costume design specifically catered to frighten all the little children that come knocking on your door for trick-or-treat goodies. And where might you get a comprehensive description of this most appropriate eight-legged All Hallows' Eve muse? In this week's book of the week, volume 3 of American spiders and their spinningwork. A natural history of the orbweaving spiders of the United States, with special regard to their industry and habits, by Henry C. McCook (Spined Micrathena description starting page 212).

And, even if the Spined Micrathena doesn't quite strike your fancy, or you're simply worried about inadvertently poking out the eye of an unsuspecting child with your spiky costume adornments, there are plenty of other arachnid species highlighted in this book to choose from. So, in preparation for all your ghastly Halloween needs, let BHL give you a hand. After all, the natural world has much more terrifying imagery than any ghost or goblin story could ever hope to offer! So, from all of us at BHL, have a positively ghastly Halloween. Mwahhha!

This week's book of the week, volume 3 of American spiders and their spinningwork. A natural history of the orbweaving spiders of the United States, with special regard to their industry and habits (1893), by Henry C. McCook, is contributed by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sample pages & books for OCR analysis

As has been previously discussed, BHL has uncorrected text generated by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software for each of its scanned volumes, and that uncorrected text has implications for data mining and accurate search. OCR results are notoriously poor because the technology hasn't improved much since it was "solved" for forms processing in the mid-1980's, which doesn't really help BHL at all with our challenge of getting accurate text for our heterogeneous digital library spanning more than 500 years of printed publications.

Luckily some new work is happening around OCR and text correction from various projects, including:
The BHL development team and other stakeholders recently highlighted "improvements to OCR text" as an emerging priority for BHL to pursue. Now that we have a sizable repository we'd like to turn development efforts towards enhancing our texts and making them as accurate as possible for our users and data consumers. A subset of BHL is required for various tests and experiments, and that list has begun forming at:
BHL Sample Texts for Retrieval and Evaluation
If you encounter other texts that pose a unique challenge, please indicate them either via BHL's Feedback form or on a comment below.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

IYB 2010 Supports Young Artists


As we know, 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. Programming throughout the year in support of all things biodiverse has been wide-ranging. Activities for scientific explorations of climate change and habitat preservation abound as well as opportunities for local involvement and youth directed campaigns, like the 2010 International Biodiversity Art Competition.

On behalf of Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and Bioversity International, The Green Wave received over 3000 drawings from children and youth ages 6-20. Illustrating the themes and concerns surrounding biodiversity and the future of inter-connected life on this planet, the competition educates and engages young people in the ongoing discussions surounding the impact of biodiversity. The winning entries will be used as Biodiversity Challenge Badges throughout various educational campaigns.

Pictured above is the entry from 4th place winner in the 6-10 year old category, 9 year old Nethmini Ashinsana Wattetenna from Sri Lanka. Click the image to view winning entries from each age bracket.
--And stay tuned for more reports from the International Year of Biodiversity!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Using an iPad to Demo BHL

On Saturday October 2nd and Sunday October 3rd, 2010, Smithsonian Institution Libraries staff members Polly Lasker and Gil Taylor, plus volunteer John Hejna (Polly’s husband), promoted the Libraries’ services at a booth during the annual Autumn Conservation Festival at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) near Front Royal, Virginia: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ActivitiesAndEvents/Celebrations/ACF/default.cfm

The one BHL-scanned book we pre-loaded to an iPad and brought along was big hit with the crowd, “Curiosities of Entomology” http://biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/8174 . It was a revelation how well the iPad works for demoing BHL in a face-to-face setting, and the book we selected seemed to work very well with the app, iBooks (Polly and Gil, pictured above, demonstrating BHL book on iPad). Young people, in particular, intuitively knew how to navigate to view the book with the device. Needless to say, we distributed many BHL cards to the nearly 150 people who visited us that weekend.

For photos from the event, please see this Flickr link.

-Polly Lasker and Gil Taylor, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Monday, October 4, 2010

Book of the Week: More with Darwin


So, our last book of the week took a look at Darwin's voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle through the eyes of a child. We thought it fitting this week to continue with the theme of the H.M.S Beagle, wrapping it together with one of the featured species on EOL this week, the Sphoeroides angusticeps, or the Narrow-Headed Puffer.

The Narrow-Headed Puffer is endemic to the Galapagos Islands, and indeed was first described in part 4 of The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle ... during the years 1832-1836, page 154. Upon returning home, Darwin gave his collection of about 137 species of fish gathered during the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle to his friend, avid beetle collector Rev. Leonard Jenyns, for keeping. While Jenyns worked through this collection to describe it, he "had the most difficult time with the fish, as he knew next to nothing about their anatomy."

Jenyns, transcribing Darwin's own description of the specimen, described the Narrow-Headed Puffer fish as "above dull green, base of Pectorals and Dorsal black, a white patch beneath the Pectorals." However, he noted that "The colors must have very much altered from the action of the spirit, as it now appears of a nearly uniform reddish brown, only paler beneath." Interestingly, Jenyns originally misidentified the species, calling it Tetrodon aerostaticus. This was corrected to Tetrodon angusticeps, and is now known as
Sphoeroides angusticeps.

Take a moment to check out the first descripton of the Narrow-Headed Puffer fish in this week's book of the week, and be sure to take a look at this species on EOL to find more information.

This week's book of the week, The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle ... during the years 1832-1836, part 4 (1842), was contributed by the MBLWHOI library.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book of the Week: Darwin for Children


The great scientific discoveries that have been made during the many incredible exploring expeditions throughout history have long interested both scientists and laymen alike, and perhaps none more so than the voyages undertaken by Charles Darwin himself on the H.M.S. Beagle. While the appeal of the narratives of these expeditions to adults may seem obvious, engaging children in such works is not always simple. The concern with "interest[ing] children in the study of natural history, and of physical and political geography"so that they might exhibit enthusiasm for nature throughout their lives is the chief concern of this week's book of the week, What Mr. Darwin saw in his voyage round the world in the ship "Beagle" (1880), compiled from Darwin's Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by H. M. S. Beagle.

In a preface directed towards parents, the author writes,

"The compiler has thought it an advantage to connect stories about a great variety of animals with one person, and he an observer of such credibility and authority that little if anything that was learned of him would have to be unlearned. Mr. Darwin is, of course, pre-eminently such an observer. On the other hand, by carefully connecting these stories with the places on the earth's surface where the animals were studied, a correct notion will be had of the distribution of the animal kingdom, with a corresponding insight into the geography of the globe in its broadest sense."

What Mr. Darwin Saw is divided into four parts: Animals, Man (describing the people and cultures encountered on the voyage), Geography (describing the cities, rivers, mountains, valleys, plains, etc. seen on the expedition), and Nature (discussing the "grander terrestrial processes and phemonena" encountered). The original text comes from Darwin's writings, though some small alterations have been made for the publication to take into account audience and overall organization. Since the changes are so minimal, the work is still attributed to Charles Darwin.

Before beginning the main narrative of What Mr. Darwin Saw, children are given a short biography of Charles Darwin and a description of the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle. Children are then urged to test their own powers of observation by counting how many animals they can find in an accompanying woodcut by Thomas Bewick.

The description of the animals, people, geography and nature in the following sections of text are rich and inviting, as they are presented in a highly conversational tone produced from Darwin's own observations. Children would be highly entertained to read Darwin's description of the Guanaco, or Wild Llama's, reactions around strange behavior in humans. They would likewise be thrilled to read of the dangerous encounter Darwin and his team experienced with an ice cliff, and their imaginations would be stimulated by Darwin's description of the coral and coral architects around the visited lagoon islands. And while these writings may have been directed at children, they are nevertheless singularly engrossing for adults as well. So, whether child or adult, take a few minutes to look through Darwin's narrative of the biodiversity, cultures and geography encountered on that monumental voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle.

This week's book of the week, What Mr. Darwin saw in his voyage round the world in the ship "Beagle" (1880), by Charles Darwin, was contributed by the University of California Libraries.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Book of the Week: The Peregrine and Modern Aviation

While it's no secret that birds are amazing creatures, what may not be common knowledge is the role that some birds have played in the development of human technology. Specifically, the role Peregrine Falcons played in the development of jets.

The general description of the Falco peregrinus on EOL describes the relationship between the Peregrine Falcon and modern aviation:

"Falcons are known for their high speed flight, and the Peregrine is thought to be the fastest bird, accurately clocked at 90 meters per second...in the making of airplanes, especially jets, humans came onto a problem. As planes got faster and faster, the engines started choking out at a certain speed. It seems that the air, instead of going into the cowl of the engine, encountered a wall of still air and engine cowl and so split and went around the engine. Puzzled, the researchers wondered how the falcons could still breathe at such incredible speeds. Looking at the falcon's nostrils, they found the answer. In the opening of the nostril is a small cone that protrudes a bit. Fashioning a similar cone in the opening of the jet engine, they discovered that the air could pass into the engine even at great speed. Once again a human invention is preceded by an animal adaptation." (Chaffee Zoo 2007)

While the role the Peregrine Falcon played in the development of the airplane may be unknown to most, the role that humans played in the survival of this species is perhaps more commonly understood. The conservation status of the Peregrine Falcon was, until recently, decidedly grim, as the use of a variety of chemicals threatened the well-being of this bird. The use of pesticides resulted in an accumulation of small quantities in the tissues of small birds and mammals, of which the Peregrine Falcon's diet consists. These accumulations "become concentrated enough in predatory birds, such as falcons, to kill them or render them incapable of producing offspring. Organochlorine pesticides (DDT and dieldrin) have been proven to reduce the birds' ability to produce eggshells with sufficient calcium content, making the egg shells thin and more likely to break. Peregrine falcon populations dropped precipitously in the middle of the 20th century. All breeding pairs vanished in the eastern United States."

Fortunately, the story ends well for this species. "A successful captive breeding and reintroduction program, combined with restrictions in pesticide use, has been the basis of an amazing recovery by peregrine falcons. Now the use of many of the chemicals most harmful to these birds is restricted." As a result of these combined efforts, after over twenty years' time on the federal list of endangered species, the Falco peregrinus was finally taken off of the list in the 1990s. Thus, the "incredible recovery of peregrine falcons has become a perfect example of how effective human conservation can be."

This week's book of the week, A Dictionary of Birds, by Alfred Newton (1893-96), takes a historical and descriptive look at the Peregrine Falcon, discussing first how the term "Falcon," over the course of nomenclatural history, was commonly applied quite liberally to birds of the Linnean genus Falco (containing many un-related birds of prey) , but later came to be separated into five distinct groups, of which the "typical" falcon is "by common consent" the Peregrine. The author then takes the time to go into a detailed description of the Peregrine Falcon.

Take a few moments to investigate the Peregrine Falcon, both within this week's book of the week and on EOL. And take a moment to reflect that, just as the Peregrine Falcon influenced the development of modern aviation, so too have many other species enabled further advancement for humans throughout history. Indeed, humans have much still to learn from nature.

This week's book of the week, A Dictionary of Birds, by Alfred Newton (1893-96), was contributed by the MBLWHOI library.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book of the Week: The Bittern and Bird Identification for the Ornithological Novice


If you find yourself in the mid-United States to northern Canada this time of year, you may be witness to the final days of occupation in this area for Botaurus lentiginosus, the American Bittern. From early May through the summer, the American Bittern spends its breeding months in the Mid-US to northern Canada, occupying nest sites chosen and constructed by the female Bittern of the mating pair. For the duration of the egg-laying period, the female Bittern will lay one egg each morning, with the incubation period lasting 24 to 28 days. Once the mating season ends, the American Bitterns find their way to the south Atlantic coast across the Gulf coast and west to southern California for the duration of the wintering months, although some populations living in regions with milder temperatures appear to actually be non-migratory.

So, if you happen to find yourself in the mid-US this time of year observing a bird that may or may not be the American Bittern, how to you determine, with little to no ornithological training, whether or not what you see is Botaurus lentiginosus? Such a question was of great concern for Reginald Heber Howe, a naturalist focusing on lichens, birds, and dragonflies. With this week's book of the week, "Every bird;" a guide to the identification of the birds of woodland, beach and ocean (1896), Howe hoped to present a resource that would be both efficient and useful to beginners in the field of Ornithology. Howe makes this desire perfectly clear in his preface, writing,

"Having long felt that the identification of a bird would be much less difficult to beginners in the Study of Ornithology, if they could have a book in which every genus was illustrated by an accurate outline drawing of the head and foot, with a description of the general plumage void entirely of technical terms, I offer this volume to the bird lover."

And, indeed, on page 116, Howe succinctly describes the key features of the American Bittern, accompanied by a line drawing of the head and foot of the bird. With such a companion, the casual naturalist might have no difficulties identifying this species, or any other bird species, that crosses his or her path. So, take a look at this week's book of the week, "Every bird;" a guide to the identification of the birds of woodland, beach and ocean (1896), by Reginald Heber Howe, and if you happen to find yourself crossing paths with an unknown bird species, bring up the title on your mobile device and put your ornithological skills to the test!

Click here to see a list of other titles in the Biodiversity Heritage Library by Reginald Heber Howe.

This week's book of the week, "Every bird;" a guide to the identification of the birds of woodland, beach and ocean (1896), by Reginald Heber Howe, was contributed by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Book of the Week: Deadly Fungi

It is one of the most poisonous of all known toadstools, and it is responsible for a majority of human deaths involving its type - mushrooms. It is the Amanita phalloides, more commonly known as the Death Cap. This innocent-looking fungi has been blamed for the deaths of Roman Emperor Claudius and Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. It causes, often fatal, damage to the kidneys and liver, and there is no known antidote.

Amanita phalloides is widely distributed throughout Europe, particularly in the southern parts of the continent. However, with the cultivation of non-native species of oak, chestnut, and pine, the Death Cap has been accidentally introduced to other regions, including New Zealand, North America and South Africa.

The Death Cap is a topic of much discussion in this week's book of the week, A Manual of Poisonous Plants: chiefly of eastern North America, with brief notes on economic and medicinal plants, and numerous illustrations (1910-11), by L. H. Pammel. The reader is warned in no uncertain terms about the danger this species poses to humans. Quoting a "Professor Peck," the text reads,

"The Poison amanita is very variable in the color of the cap, and yet is so definite in its structural characters' that only the most careless observer would be likely to confuse it with any other species. There is, however, a sort of deceptive character about it. It is very neat and attractive in its appearance and looks as if it might be good enough to eat. This appearance is fortified by the absence of any decidedly unpleasant odor or taste, but let him who would eat it beware, for probably there is not a more poisonous or dangerous species in our mycological flora. To eat it is to invite death."


Take a closer look at this species within this week's book of the week, and read more to find tips on how to identify this species and avoid misidentification that could prove, well, fatal. And, once you're finished with Amanita phalloides, feel free to read on about more poisonous plants found throughout Eastern North America.

This week's book of the week, A Manual of Poisonous Plants: chiefly of eastern North America, with brief notes on economic and medicinal plants, and numerous illustrations (1910-11), by L. H. Pammel, was contributed by the New York Botanical Garden.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Good Neighbors: Modern Ecology

The modern ecological movement* can be traced back to the 1970 observance of Earth Day. Now a global celebration, the first Earth Day was conceived by a United States Senator from Wisconsin and called for nationally coordinated educational programming to raise consciousness about increasing environmental degradation. Forty years later, "Earth Day is everyday" and the UN has named 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity in an effort that mirrors Sen. Gaylord Nelson's hopeful vision.

But there are distinctions between earlier environmental campaigns and current thinking; it's no longer sufficient to organize efforts around the "wilderness" or far-away habitats of endangered species. The flora and fauna of your back-yard could be just as susceptible to extinction as the inhabitants of the rain forests. And unless you live under the sea, saving the whales might not be your first priority. Popularized by Michael Rosenzweig, a University of Arizona ecologist, reconciliation ecology acknowledges that "nothing influences species' diversities more than the amount of area available to life." And as cities continue to grow, area available to local species becomes increasingly sought-after, a veritable arena for biological competition. Traditional wisdom tells us winners and losers are functions of competition. Period. Conversely, reconciliation ecology accepts the reality of competition for finite space while insisting a win-win outcome is still possible--provided we adjust human activities in accordance with local species' requirements for survival.

Click here for more information about reconciliation ecology and here for a look at BHL content about species in your neighborhood.

*oh, and of course, we should remember the galvanizing effect of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Image credit: WiscMel@en.wikipedia

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ingest Criteria Revised

In November 2009, the BHL started ingesting biodiversity related content from the Internet Archive. Since then, the BHL collection has grown significantly. Each week, the BHL brings in new content from the Internet Archive based on a criteria of selected Library of Congress Subject Headings and call numbers, with the aim of bringing in content related to the literature of biological diversity.

As described by the Convention on Biodiversity,
Biological diversity - or biodiversity - is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms.…This diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms.…Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species - for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock. Chromosomes, genes, and DNA-the building blocks of life-determine the uniqueness of each individual and each species. Yet another aspect of biodiversity is the variety of ecosystems such as those that occur in deserts, forests, wetlands, mountains, lakes, rivers, and agricultural landscapes. In each ecosystem, living creatures, including humans, form a community, interacting with one another and with the air, water, and soil around them. http://www.cbd.int/convention/guide/

The BHL collection reflects this wide interdisciplinary spectrum. When ingesting content from the Internet Archive, the criteria of LCSH and LC call numbers are used to target as much relevant biodiversity literature as possible, but it is not fool proof.

Recently, the Ingest Criteria was reviewed by the BHL Collections Committee to identify subject terms and call numbers that were missing the mark. We noticed books were being brought in that were clearly not relevant to the BHL mission such as books about human anatomy, taxation, and hockey. The Ingest Criteria have since been revised to better target biodiversity relevant materials and most of the irrelevant content has been removed from our collection. Users should not have to weed through irrelevant materials in the BHL collection when access to this content remains available via other open access digital collections. For example, access to Mary Louise Serafine's Measure of meter conservation in music based on Piaget's theory will be via the Internet Archive website rather than through the BHL.

For more information about BHL’s de-accession policy, please see our documentation on our wiki http://biodivlib.wikispaces.com/Deaccession+Policy. Should you feel that any content has been removed from BHL unnecessarily, please feel free to send us your comments to our feedback form.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book of the Week: Another Peek at Conservation


One of the most endangered species on the planet is Diceros bicornis, commonly known as the Black Rhinoceros. Distributed throughout Africa, south of the Sahara, the "current range of black rhinoceroses is bounded by Cameroon, Kenya, and South Africa but their distribution within those limits is fragmented." The threat to the Rhino population is largely due to a demand for the species' horns, "both for use in Chinese traditional medicine and for traditional dagger handles in Yemen." The demand for these horns increased significantly in the 1970s as the "oil-rich Gulf States" experienced increased income. "It is estimated that between 1970 and 1992, around 96 percent of the black rhinoceros population was lost." Three subspecies of the Black Rhinoceros - the eastern, southwestern and southern central subspecies - are listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List. The fourth subspecies of the Black Rhinoceros - the western subspecies - is listed as Probably Extinct. The total population of Black Rhinoceros today is approximately 3,725 individuals.

Fortunately, there are ongoing efforts to protect this species, and it now looks as though most black rhino populations are increasing. Nevertheless, populations still comprise only a fraction of what they were only fifty years ago. "Conservation efforts to preserve black rhinos include establishing a ban against the horn trade, creating fenced sanctuaries for black rhinos to better protect them from poachers, and dehorning black rhinos to decrease incentive for poaching."

The Black Rhinoceros was first described by Carl von Linné in volume 1 of Systema naturae per regna tria naturae :secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (1758), this week's book of the week. Volume 1 of this work describes the Animal Kingdom, while volume 2 describes the Plant Kingdom. Linné, also commonly known as Carl Linnaeus, the famous Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist, is best known for laying the schema for binomial nomenclature, the naming convention used to identify species. His numerous works include the first descriptions of many, many species, and serve as the foundation by which modern scientists describe life as they continue to increase our knowledge about it.

For more information about the conservation of the Black Rhinoceros, and what you can do to help, see the Black Rhinoceros page at the World Wildlife Fund website.

To find more information about the Black Rhinoceros species, take a look at the species page on EOL.

For a look at the listing of the Black Rhinoceros on the endangered species list in BHL, see page 25 of the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals.

And finally, take a look at this week's book of the week, Systema naturae per regna tria naturae :secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (1758), volume 1, by Carl von Linné, in which you can see the first description of both the Black Rhinoceros and many other species.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book of the Week: The Green Anole and Cuvier

If you ever owned a lizard as a pet growing up, chances are good that you owned one of EOL's featured species, an Anolis carolinensis, or Green Anole, also sometimes called the American Chameleon, although it is not a type of chameleon. This misnomer comes from this species' ability to turn from green to brown. This species is the only Anole species native to North America, and is found primarily in the southeastern United States.

The Green Anole has played a very important role in scientific research, particularly as it relates to studying neurological disorders, drug delivery systems and biochemical pathways as they relate to humans. Furthermore, "in 2005, the scientific community overwhelmingly chose the green anole lizard as its first target species for reptilian genome sequencing" due to "the repeated convergent pattern of adaptive radiation on islands of the Greater Antilles, producing on each island essentially the same set of habitat specialists adapted to use different parts of the environment."

The Green Anole, or Anolis carolinensis, was first described in this week's book of the week, Das Thierreich, geordnet nach seiner Organisation : als Grundlage der Naturgeschichte der Thiere und Einleitung in die vergleichende Anatomie, volume 2 (1832), by Friedrich Siegmund Voight. The book itself is attributed to both Voight and the well-known Baron Georges Cuvier. Cuvier was a French naturalist and zoologist, well known for his work helping to establish the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology. Furthermore, he is well remembered as establishing extinction as a fact.

Das Thierreich, geordnet nach seiner Organisation : als Grundlage der Naturgeschichte der Thiere und Einleitung in die vergleichende Anatomie is a work of six volumes, published between 1831 and 1843. The volumes describe species from all across the Animal Kingdom, ranging from birds to reptiles and fish, mollusks, crustacea, insects and more. Take a few moments to take a look at the first description of our friend, the Green Anole, as well as the many other descriptions contained within the pages of these volumes. It is amazing to think that a species that was first introduced to the scientific community in a short, one sentence description would become one of the most important species in the study of human illness and animal physiology and behavior.

This week's Book of the Week, Das Thierreich, geordnet nach seiner Organisation : als Grundlage der Naturgeschichte der Thiere und Einleitung in die vergleichende Anatomie, volume 2 (1832), by Cuvier and Voight, was contributed by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Biodiversity Heritage Library receives the ALCTS Collaboration Award


Originally uploaded by Smithsonian Libraries
Staff from the Biodiversity Heritage Library received the Outstanding Collaboration award from ALCTS on June 27, 2010.

The text of the citation read:

The Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS) is awarding the ALCTS Outstanding Collaboration Citation to two distinguished libraries. This year’s recipients, in recognition of their outstanding collaborative partnerships are: the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the digitization component of the Encyclopedia of Life, which is a consortium of 12 major natural history museum libraries, botanical libraries and research institutions organized to digitize, serve and preserve the legacy literature of biodiversity; and the Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning N.Y.
Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), in a noteworthy collaborative effort, has fulfilled a scholarly need by providing open access to a large corpus of historical materials on biodiversity within the biological, ecological and environmental sciences. BHL has grown into an international collaborative digitization project by working with 12 major natural history museum libraries, botanical libraries and research institutions in the United States and United Kingdom. Through digitization and preservation, materials are made available, over an open access platform to scholars and researchers globally. The ability to locate, identify, retrieve the materials and, most importantly, to locate and identify specific organisms by their scientific names is seamless yet shows a high level of sophistication within BHL’s digital interface.
Pictured above, left to right are: Mary Case (President, ALCTS), Nancy E. Gwinn (Smithsonian Libraries), Tom Garnett (BHL/Smithsonian Libraries), Chris Freeland (BHL/Missouri Botanical Garden), Connie Rinaldo (Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University), Diana Duncan (The Field Museum, Chicago), Jane Smith (Natural History Museum, London), Matthew Person (Marine Biological Laboratory Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Library), Cynthia Whitacre (President Elect, ALCTS)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Feature: User-Submitted Requests for Scanning!

So, many of you participated in our BHL User Survey 2010, and we greatly appreciate your contributions! One of the most prevalent themes throughout the range of responses that we received was that our users want to be able to submit requests for scanning. So, you spoke; we listened.

Introducing the new scanning request form on BHL!


You as a user can now submit requests for items to be scanned and added to the BHL collection, free of charge to you, no less! The process is easy, too. Simply access the "Feedback" form on the BHL website (located in the upper right hand corner of the header through the "Feedback" link, or at the title and item level in BHL by clicking on the "Report an Error" link on the right hand side of the title screen or above the scan images in the book viewer) and choose the option "Scanning Request." You can then fill out and submit the form indicating your request for scanning.

We do ask that you keep a few things in mind. First, due to copyright restrictions, requests for scanning are limited to items published before 1923. Secondly, our ability to scan a request is limited both to the collections of our BHL member institutions and the condition of the volumes they might hold. If we don't have it, we can't scan it. If it's falling apart, we probably won't be able to scan it. Finally, we scan requests in the order they are received, and depending on certain circumstances, such as the rarity or fragility of the item in question, it may take longer to scan certain requests. Nevertheless, we are excited about this new feature and the opportunity it gives you, the user, to contribute to the building of our ever-increasing digital collection. So, pull out those lists of items you wished BHL had and start submitting your requests! We're waiting...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book of the Week: Spiders, Spiders and More Spiders


If you've been outside gardening lately, or even simply taking a closer look at the greenery around you, you probably noticed that you were not quite alone. Indeed, the coming of the warm weather also sparks the coming of a plethora of new life, among them insects and spiders. And if you live in the lower 48 states, Mexico or Central America, you may have seen one of the featured species on EOL - Argiope aurantia - the Black and Yellow Argiope.

Argiope aurantia is one of the "largest and most colorful orbweaving spiders from northeastern to southwestern North American." As orbweavers, Argiope aurantia build spiral, wheel-shaped webs, the round shape of which gives this spider and those with similar webs their "orbweaver" name. The life expectancy of Argiope aurantia in temperate climates is a mere year, with life lasting from birth in the fall to the "first harsh frost in the following year." In warmer climates and captivity, however, the outlook is slightly better for the females, which may live several years. Unfortunately for the males, they probably die after mating in their first year. Nevertheless, the conservation status for this species is good, as their commonality and widespread distribution currently ensures that they are in no danger of going extinct anytime soon.

Argiope aurantia is one of the many species of spiders and other invertebrates featured in this week's book of the week, A Manual of the Common Invertebrate Animals, Exclusive of Insects, by Henry Sherring Pratt (1923), contributed by the Marine Biological Laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Within this volume, Argiope aurantia is described as,

"Body large and conspicuous, being often 25mm. long, with long legs; abdomen black and 2 bright yellow or orange bands underneath; cephalothorax gray above and yellow underneath; the web is sometimes 2 feet in diameter and has a zigzag band of silk across the middle; the male has a small, irregular web nearby; [found] in grass and bushes; in open fields, especially near water."

Take a moment to look more closely at this colorful species on EOL and within this week's book of the week. And if you're out and about this summer, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for "zigzag bands of silk" in the grass and bushes, for you might just find that the spash of bright orange or yellow in the middle of the web is indeed Argiope aurantia, the Black and Yellow Argiope.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book of the Week: Species Highlight - The Eastern Painted Turtle


Imagine that you are strolling through the forest on a fine summer morning. The birds are chirping merrily above your head, and an occasional squirrel scurries across the path in front of you. Suddenly, you reach a clearing, in the midst of which is a large pond. As you take a moment to look around, you suddenly notice a log floating carelessly through the water. Except, this is no ordinary log! Indeed, it appears to be moving! On closer inspection, you realize that this is not just a log, but a log covered with as many as 50 painted turtles, all basking in the warm summer sun. While you may never have experienced this yourself, this is indeed a sight which you might see should you find yourself around freshwater anywhere in North America from Southern Canada to northern Mexico. It is the sight of Chrysemys picta, also known as the Eastern Painted Turtle - the most common turtle in North America and one of the featured species this week on EOL.

Chrysemys picta is brightly marked, with a "relatively flat upper shell with red and yellow markings on a black or greenish brown background." Capable of living several decades, they "prefer living in freshwater that is quiet, shallow, and has a thick layer of mud." While relatively common and abundant, some populations are "threatened by the destruction of their habitat," and "in Canada, painted turtles have been placed on the federal blue list, which identifies animals considered vulnerable to human activities or natural events, but not immediately threatened."

Chrysemys picta is very descriptively discussed in this week's book of the week, Amphibia and reptiles (1901), by Hans Gadow. As of 1901, the Eastern Painted Turtle was "one of the few species of which, thanks to L. Agassiz, complete data of growth from the new born to the old age are known." Here, Gadow refers to L. Agassiz's work Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America, volume 1 (1857), which articulates the growth of this species over time.

Take a moment to peruse Gadow's description of this turtle, as well as many other amphibians and reptiles, in
Amphibia and reptiles. And remember, if you're ever out strolling through the forest and come across a pond with a "moving log," be sure to take a closer look, for it might just prove to be a hoard of Eastern Painted Turtles basking in the sun.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

BHL and Vienna! BHL-Global Updates

So, as many of you may already know, BHL has gone global - way global, with BHL-Europe and BHL-China well underway, and a memorandum of understanding has just been signed with Australia. BHL and the Bibliotecha Alexandrina (for an Arab-language BHL) have had some preliminary discussions. Many of our BHL staff are currently in Vienna, Austria working with the BHL-Europe team to discuss project details and developments. Here's a short update from one of our own, Constance Rinaldo of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard; Ernst Mayr Library, regarding the exciting developments of BHL on a global scale:

"BHL staff have just completed several days of our first BHL meeting: BHL-Europe that is. The weather in Vienna has been warm and humid with rain for part of most days. Our BHL-Europe colleagues are productive, energetic and committed, including working through lunch on Sunday May 30! Over the course of the week, we spent many hours discussing PR, communication and dissemination, GUIDs, the GRIB (a tool used by the BHL staff to articulate which books each institution will scan), use cases scenarios for workflow and user survey. Our BHL-Europe colleagues seemed pleased with the help and discussion we offered, and we also gathered new ideas. Europeana has coordinated logos among the partners and they have a model which may serve BHL-global well. Several of us had an amazing tour of the libraries of the Natural History Museum in Vienna where most of the book collections are still tied to the specimen collections. The tour ended with viewing Vienna from the roof of the Natural History Museum and an impromptu lunch provided by Andrea Kourgli, the Librarian."
Photos:
Top: General library collections, Natural History Museum in Vienna.
Bottom: BHL staff Martin Kalfatovic (back left) and Suzanne Pilsk (back right) having lunch in museum librarian Andrea Kourgli's (front left) office.