Thursday, December 22, 2011

Celebrating the Life and Contributions of Charles Davies Sherborn

On October 28, 2011, the ICZN (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature), in collaboration with the Society for the History of Natural History and others, hosted a symposium at the Natural History Museum, London, "Anchoring Biodiversity Information: From Sherborn to the 21st century and beyond,” honoring the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Davies Sherborn. Sherborn, 1861-1942, played a critical role in the biodiversity world by being the first to successfully index every living or extinct animal discovered and documented between 1758 and 1850. His greatest work, Index Animalium, took over 43 years to complete but is still referred to by taxonomist around the world. The one-day event, held at the Flett Theatre at the Natural History Museum, London, celebrated the incredible achievements of Sherborn and the ramifications for taxonomic research yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Several BHL-affiliated staff members presented at the symposium, including BHL Technical Director Chris Freeland and Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ (SIL) staff member and BHL metadata guru Suzanne Pilsk. SIL staff members Grace Costantino (Digital Collections Librarian for BHL) and Leslie Overstreet (Curator of the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library at SIL, from which many BHL rare books have been scanned) also presented a poster at the event.

Chris Freeland’s presentation (pictured above) at the symposium, entitled “Approaches to preserving digitized taxonomic data: prints, manuscripts, specimens,” addressed methodologies for responsible curation of digitized prints, manuscripts, and specimens, and outlined best practices for safeguarding digitized taxonomic data to ensure longevity of resources. Such discussions are timely, as the availability of digitized taxonomic data has increased dramatically over the past twenty years as a result of increased support from national funding agencies and the declining cost of scanning devices. As such, natural history museums and libraries have taken on new responsibilities for managing electronic information as ways of providing enhanced opportunities for educational outreach and scholarly dissemination. Museums and libraries have to consider how best to create and care for electronic resources given a volatile technology landscape with rapidly changing file formats and display devices.

SIL’s Suzanne Pilsk explained the role Smithsonian Libraries has played in bringing the critical work Index Animalium out of the library and off the page with a talk titled “Unlocking the Index Animalium: From paper slips to bytes and bits” (pictured above). Pilsk represented the work done to date by SIL staff, interns and volunteers to create an online version of the work. Smithsonian Libraries’ goal was to provide better access to the Index than was previously available and connect the researcher to the level of information needed. Over the span of years, staff has evolved the project from the initial vision of discovering where the text was located within the library walls, to linking to the scanned text via BHL.

Finally, the poster presented by Grace Costantino and Leslie Overstreet, entitled “Online Synergy: Sherborn’s Index Animalium and the Biodiversity Heritage Library,” delved into the link between SIL’s online version of Index Animalium and the digitized volumes within BHL. SIL’s online version of the Index Animalium allows researchers to search the entire multi-volume work by name, epithet, or other keyword. With the citation thus provided, researchers can then access the cited text itself on BHL, finding not only the species citation but, in many cases, remarkable illustrations as well.

The talks and posters from the symposium can be viewed here, and to find out more about the incredible life of Charles Davies Sherborn, take a look at the feature on him and the symposium in The Telegraph. You can also view photos from the event on Flickr.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BHL and Our Users: Gil Taylor

Ever wondered how BHL decides what to scan? There are a variety of avenues that staff use to select titles for digitization, including scan requests submitted by users, BHL member publications and subject strengths, botany and zoology priority titles, in-copyright titles for which BHL has received permission to scan, and titles identified by BHL staff members as important biodiversity works. To accomplish the latter, the librarians at various BHL institutions play a key role. Their expertise and interaction with library patrons ideally situates them to inform collection development for the BHL project.

This week, we feature one of these individuals, Gil Taylor, librarian at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. He regularly uses day-to-day work within the library and conversations with patrons to suggest important works for BHL to digitize, and his enthusiasm for and promotion of the project ensures that anyone coming into contact with the Smithsonian Libraries is made aware of the wealth of information available within the BHL collection.

What is your title and institutional affiliation?
I’m assistant department head at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s Natural and Physical Sciences department. Recently I have been overseeing the Entomology and Invertebrate Zoology (IZ) libraries at the NMNH, along with Museum Support Center Library, in Suitland, MD. I have been at the SIL since 1990.
How long have you been working in a library environment?
Nearly 30 years. Before coming to SIL, I worked full time in a number of libraries and technical services at the University of Maryland, College Park, where I also received my MLS in 1989. I came aboard in the library world just as the OPAC was superseding the card catalog, and to me it was particularly interesting, especially as you could access the catalog remotely. I felt like I was cutting-edge back in the 1980’s as I was the only one in my library school cataloging class who typed up sample cards using an Apple II and a dot matrix printer instead of using a typewriter.
When did you first discover BHL?
I feel as if I witnessed its birth, as it grew out of SIL’s Biologia Centrali-Americana project.
What is your current level of involvement in BHL?
I serve on SIL’s BHL Task Force and try to identify needs BHL can fill for our researchers. I was very happy to be on board with BHL as the Entomology and IZ Libraries here were among the first SIL libraries to be “harvested” for BHL. But, I primarily I see myself as a BHL evangelist, taking every opportunity to expound on what a great, quality non-profit effort It is. I believe it’s utterly central to the librarian ethos to make every effort to share the knowledge you’re charged with curating.
What is your opinion of BHL and what impact has it had on your duties as a librarian?
From a front-line reference librarian perspective, it has been a real boon. Our staff members sometimes take particular delight in responding to ILL queries for our materials by pointing to their availability in BHL. Not having to painstakingly copy materials, sometimes from old volumes with fragile bindings, is a huge time-saver.
How often do you use BHL?
When doing reference work, almost every day.
What has been the reaction of your patrons to BHL?
I remember the initial skepticism from staff and users that the image quality of scans would not be good enough for serious taxonomic identification work. When users know they have access to original scans in a very lossless format, I have rarely come across a patron who was dissatisfied with what they have downloaded from BHL. For older curators and volunteers, their first time in utilizing BHL can seem almost magical in its instant gratification.
What services/features do you like most about BHL and which do you most like to point out to your patrons? Which services/features are your patrons most excited about/use the most often?
There is no one specific feature that I point out routinely, but I emphasize to patrons that because BHL is nearly a grass-roots effort, all suggestions and feedback for its improvement are taken seriously and can really make a difference. We can clearly see this, for example, as BHL continually tweaks its UI. Compare this to attempting to get the attention of a vast information services conglomerate.
If you could change one thing about BHL, what would it be, or what developmental aspect would you like the BHL team to focus on next?
I think some work needs to be done on correcting OCR, as this can be a problem when exporting content to mobile platforms. One researcher here recently inquired about how to access BHL content on an iPad while he is in a deep-sea submersible.
I think I (and others) would like to have the ability to upload a list of citations from a researcher and have BHL automatically link to corresponding content. This seems almost like a science fiction fantasy for a librarian, but I think it is within the reach of developers.
The BLE virtual exhibition of BHL content that BHL-Europe is experimenting with seems like a terrific way to package and serve content in literally spicy, creative ways. This is the customized library subject guide of the future.
As I also answer or direct public e-mail queries at SIL, I see a lot of requests for images. Further indexing of images through pattern recognition, etc. could dramatically widen the BHL’s audience.
Is there a specific item on BHL that is most often requested by your patrons/that you use more than any other to fulfill ILL requests?
For the public, but also from SI researchers, the mostly 19th century, legacy Smithsonian-published materials (annual reports/bulletins of the USNM, Bureau of Ethnology, etc.) are particularly popular.
Thank you, Gil, for all the work you do for BHL and for the critical contributions you make to the development and dissemination of the project. And we send a special thanks to all our librarian colleagues who make BHL run like such a well-oiled machine!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book of the Week: Big Cats Week!

This week is Big Cats Week, and to celebrate we're featuring a book in our collection that has some of the loveliest engravings of these majestic felines that we've ever seen. The book, Engravings of Lions, Tigers, Panthers, Leopards, Dogs, etc. (1853), by Thomas Landseer, contains 39 plates. The first twenty - of lions, tigers, panthers, and leopards - are engravings by Thomas Landseer after original works by Stubbs, Rubens, Spilsbury, Rembrant, Reydinger, and Edwin Landseer.

We hope you enjoy these marvelous works, and for each of the species depicted, we've included some interesting facts and links to the animals in EOL, where you can learn even more about them. Be sure to check out Big Cats Week on the National Geographic website, and you can follow the discussion on twitter (BHL account - @BioDivLibrary) with the hashtag #bigcatsweek. And remember, you can see all of the illustrations from this work on our Flickr account.

  • Second largest living cat
  • The tallest of all living cats
  • Until about 10,000 years ago, the lion was the most widespread mammal after humans, with ranges including Africa, Europe, Asia and even the Americas
  • Usually, eight subspecies of lions are recognized
  • Lions can be bred with tigers, leopards, and panthers, producing, respectively, ligers, leopons, and jaglions
  • The only member of the cat family to display obvious sexual dimorphism (with the manes on males)


  • The largest of all cat species
  • The longest canine teeth among living felids
  • Six living recognized subspecies
  • The subspecies of tigers are the most varied in size of any cat species. The Siberian, Bengal and Caspian are the largest living felids and some of the largest to ever live. While males of these varieties can weigh between 600-670 pounds, the smallest tiger subspecies, the Sumatran, weighs only 170-310 pounds.
  • The South China Tiger subspecies is listed as one of the 10 most critically endangered animals in the world, and indeed may already be extinct in the wild.

Panther (Jaguar or Cougar)

  • The panther may refer to the leopard in Africa and Asia, the cougar in North America, or the jaguar in Central and South America.
  • The jaguar resembles the leopard physically but is larger
  • The jaguar has an exceptionally powerful bite, crushing the skulls of prey to deliver a "death-bite" to the brain
  • The mountain lion, cougar, or puma, native to the Americas, has the largest range of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere
  • The cougar is closer genetically to the domestic cat than true lions


  • The smallest of the four big cats (lion, tiger, jaguar and leopard)
  • It is chiefly found in sub-Saharan Africa, though small populations can be found in Asia
  • Both leopards and jaguars that are completely black are known as black panthers
  • There are nine recognized subspecies of leopards
  • The Amur Leopard, one of the nine subspecies, is considered one of the rarest felids in the world, with only approximately 30-35 individuals in the wild
  • The Arabian Leopard is the smallest leopard subspecies
  • The Persian Leopard is the largest leopard subspecies

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Support BHL this Holiday Season

It's December, and the holiday season is upon us! Neighborhoods are basking in a many-colored glow cast by light strands hung by the mile, stores have stocked their shelves with every gift and festive item imaginable, and a general atmosphere of good cheer hangs in the air. As you think about buying gifts for your loved ones this season, consider giving a gift to BHL as well.

To date, we've scanned over 36 million pages for BHL, but that scanning doesn't happen by magic. It takes dozens of dedicated staff members and generous financial resources provided by grants, endowments, and donations contributed by the public. We believe in the work we do, and the success of our donations button and the continuous praise we receive for BHL shows us that you do too!

We have a dream to digitize all available taxonomic literature and make it freely available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. During an era in world history where three-quarters of climate change is manmade, it is vital that the critical knowledge held within the legacy literature be made available to scientists, researchers, conservationists, and the public at large so that we can make intelligent decisions to save global biodiversity for generations to come. Without the generous support of grants and donations, this dream will be very difficult to realize.

So, as you brave the malls, overcrowded parking lots, and perhaps over-zealous shoppers, keep BHL in your thoughts. Making a donation to BHL is much simpler than tackling the challenges of department store shopping. All you have to do is click on the "Donate" button located at the top of the BHL website. All donations are tax-deductible, and the easy donation interface allows your to contribute any amount you desire. No gift is too small, and all will contribute to the strengthening and expanding of BHL. Learn more about the BHL donate button in our previous blog post.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Book of the Week: Welcome to the Orchid Family, Bulbophyllum nocturnum!

While there are many species of plants that flower at night, and among those are many orchids, scientists researching in New Britain just discovered the only orchid species that flowers exclusively at night. Meet Bulbophyllum nocturnum, discovered by Ed de Vogel during a field trip to the lowland rainforest of the island, which is located near Papua New Guinea.

Dr. de Vogel, after taking a specimen of the plant home to the Netherlands with him, discovered that it only flowers a few hours after dusk and closes a few hours after sunrise. While this is a remarkable discovery, the purpose for the flower's nocturnal preference remains a mystery. According to Andre Schuiteman, a co-author of the paper detailing the find, which was published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, "related species are pollinated by tiny flies that think they are visiting fungi," with the smell and physical appearance of the flower appearing like fungus in the eyes of the insect. The insects visit the flower searching for a place to lay their eggs and unwittingly pollinate it. There is a strong possibility that a night-foraging fly species may thus be the pollinator of B. nocturnum and the reason for its unique behavior.

The authors of the paper stipulate that it will take much more research before some of the questions surrounding this species are answered. These are questions best answered in the field. However, as the BBC article (from which this information comes) articulates, examining the flower in the wild may be difficult in the future. The orchid was discovered in a previously-inaccessible portion of the island, which, thanks to recent roads constructed for the purposes of logging, has only lately been opened up for scientific discovery. While the logging thus made the find itself possible, it also threatens the long-term survival of the species. Schuiteman affirmed that it is necessary for the local government to protect the habitat of the species from the potential damages caused by logging.

To celebrate the discovery of our new orchid friend, for this week's book of the week we're featuring a book full of stunning orchid illustrations. Abbildungen der in Deutschland und den Angrenzenden Gebieten Vorkommenden Grundformen der Orchideenarten (1904), by Friedrich Kränzlin, features 60 gorgeous plates by Walter Müller. While of course Bulbophyllum nocturnum is too new to science to be included in this work, we're happy to know that future publications will highlight this species just as beautifully as this book does for the species included within its pages.

For our post, we're featuring some of our favorite illustrations from the work. You can enjoy all of the images from this title on our Flickr site, which now has over 21,000 natural history images. Hopefully one day we'll be able to pull in an illustration of Bulbophyllum nocturnum as well!

Left: Anacamptis laxiflora (Loose-Flowered Orchid; Green-winged Meadow Orchid)
Middle: Cypripedium calceolus (Lady's Slipper Orchid)
Right: Epipactis atrorubens (Dark Red Helleborine; Royal Helleborine)

Middle: Epipogium aphyllum (Ghost Orchid)
Right: Limodorum abortivum (Violet Limodore)

Abbildungen der in Deutschland und den Angrenzenden Gebieten Vorkommenden Grundformen der Orchideenarten (1904), by Friedrich Kränzlin and Walter Müller, was contributed by the New York Botanical Garden, LuEsther T. Mertz Library.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

BHL Staff Meeting Success

Just after the Life and Literature conference, on Wednesday November 16, members of the BHL Staff got together to talk about day-to-day BHL issues. It was a rare and wonderful opportunity for this highly distributed staff to meet in person. Staff members were present from most of the BHL Consortium Member Institutions, now 14 members strong!

If you missed the announcement from the Life and Literature Conference, BHL has welcomed two new members to its consortium, Cornell University Library and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Libraries. More information about BHL's newest members will be posted soon.

BHL Staff met to discuss the new ideas resulting from the Life and Literature conference as well as issues related to governance, social media, scanning workflow and technical development. Of note on the agenda was a discussion on how to solve the issue of integrating more "boutique" scanning projects into the current workflow. To date, the BHL has scanned and incorporated content into its collection mainly through two standard workflows, with scanning partners the Internet Archive and the Missouri Botanical Garden's Botanicus Digital Library project. Staff shared with each other about new processes under development to help tackle the not-so-insignificant issue of incorporating content into the collection scanned through alternate workflows.

The BHL Staff welcomed colleagues from BHL-Europe and BHL-Australia at the meeting, as well as colleagues from partner projects, the Field Book Project and the Connecting Content Grant.

With new BHL members, new workflows and new ideas resulting from the Life and Literature conference, BHL Staff activities are entering some very exciting and dynamic times ahead. Stay tuned for more updates as 2012 unfolds. Onward and upward we go!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

BHL and Our Users: Dr. Thomas Carefoot

After a short break during which we featured various posts related to the Life and Literature conference, we again resume our BHL and Our User series, kicking things off again with Dr. Thomas Carefoot, a marine biologist and the author of the delightful educational website on west-coast marine invertebrates, A Snail's Odyssey.

What is your title, institutional affiliation, and area of interest?

I am retired from a 35-year teaching and research position in marine biology at the University of British Columbia, Canada. My research specialties include the study of a group of marine snails known as sea hares, and I have sought them out in many tropical areas of the world. I am well versed on invertebrate marine life, most notably on the Pacific west coast, but also throughout the Caribbean, Indo- Pacific, and other tropical areas. I enjoy talking and lecturing about marine invertebrates, and a few years before retirement was awarded the University’s prestigious Master Teacher Award. I have written 2 books on marine ecology, authored some 90 research papers, and have recently produced a large educational website on west-coast marine invertebrates called A Snail's Odyssey. I am currently working on an equally large educational website called the Biology of Caribbean Coral Reefs.

How long have you been in your field of study?

For over 50 years, from commencement of an Honours BSc programme at the University of British Columbia (UBC), leading to an MSc degree at the same institution, and followed by a doctorate at the University of Wales, all in the field of marine biology. My first job was at the Marine Sciences Centre, McGill University, followed by an appointment to the Zoology Department at UBC in 1969. As part of the McGill experience was one year’s appointment as Director of the Bellairs Research Institute in Barbados. In total, I have spent about 3 years in the Caribbean, have visited all but a handful of the major islands, and have SCUBA-dived on most Caribbean reef systems.

When did you first discover BHL?

Several years ago when I first started researching scientific articles on west-coast marine invertebrates for my website A Snails' Odyssey.

What is your opinion of BHL and how has it impacted your research?

BHL provides an excellent service for studies of marine and other biodiversity. However, as my research interests are not in biodiversity per se, I use the service only for accessing pertinent literature on west-coast and coral-reef marine invertebrates for inclusion in my educational websites.

How often do you use BHL?

About once a week.

How do you usually use BHL (read the titles online/download whole PDFs/Selecting Pages to Download for a custom PDF/etc.)

For downloading articles from journals.

What are your favorite features/services on BHL?

The only one that I have regularly used is the PDF downloading privilege.

If you could change one thing about BHL, what would it be, or what developmental aspect would you like the BHL team to focus on next?

I would streamline the system for downloading PDFs. It is currently time-consuming and “out of synch” with similar accessing systems for other scientific journals. For example, the journal I most access at BHL is the Journal of Shellfish Research (JSR), which is presently most easily “downloadable” as entire volumes. It would be a relatively easy job to split each volume into its component research papers, format these as PDFs, and have an accessing system along the lines of other journal publishers. I realize that JSR is just one of the many journals in the BHL, but it would be a start.

Thank you, Dr. Carefoot, for sharing your experience and resources with us! Be sure to check out A Snails' Odyssey, which chronicles the whimsical story of an upper intertidal snail who, finding himself mistakenly cast into the deep waters of the ocean, slowly but steadily makes his way back home to shallower waters. Along the way he encounters many different marine species, which offer a plethora of opportunities for discovery for both the snail and the reader. For each species, there is a short cartoon animation meant to give a light-hearted introduction to the animal, and a scientific Learnabout, which offers more in-depth information, including summaries of a multitude of scientific papers written about the invertebrates. It's a fun, educational site for all ages.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Life and Literature Conference Attendee Interviews: Part 5

Today we feature the last 4 of 17 conference attendee interviews from the Life and Literature conference. We hope you've enjoyed this opportunity to see what those present at the conference had to say about it and BHL. You can see these and all other interviews on the Life and Literature website.

Don't forget to share your thoughts about Life and Literature via our Titan Pad discussion pages, and also take a look at conference notes and speaker presentations on the website.

We would like to extend a special thanks to Jennifer Rubin, Matthew Regan, and Bianca Crowley for conducting these interviews, and to all those who participated and shared their valuable thoughts with us.

Karen Baker:

Matthew Person:

Vladimir Blagoderov:

Mary Ochs:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Life and Literature Conference Attendee Interviews: Part 4

Continuing with our theme, here are the next 4 of 17 conference attendee interviews from the Life and Literature conference. The first three feature recipients of the JRS African digitization scholarship, which funded the expenses of nine visitors from Africa to both attend the conference and an additional meeting on Wednesday (Nov. 16th) with the express purpose of discussing biodiversity literature digitization in Africa (expect more information on this meeting in a future post). The fourth interview is that of Dr. Jinzhong Cui, the director of BHL-China. All interviews are available on the Life and Literature website.

Don't forget to share your thoughts about Life and Literature via our Titan Pad discussion pages, and also take a look at conference notes and speaker presentations on the website.

We would like to extend a special thanks to Jennifer Rubin, Matthew Regan, and Bianca Crowley for conducting these interviews, and to all those who participated and shared their valuable thoughts with us.

Dorothy Wanja Nyingi:

Ashah Owano:

Willem Coetzer:

Dr. Jinzhong Cui:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Life and Literature Conference Attendee Interviews: Part 3

Now we present the next 3 of 17 conference attendee interviews from the Life and Literature conference. All of these interviews are available on the Life and Literature website.

Don't forget to share your thoughts about Life and Literature via our Titan Pad discussion pages, and also take a look at conference notes and speaker presentations on the website. If you attended the Life and Literature conference, be sure to take the survey, which will be closing November 30th.

We would like to extend a special thanks to Jennifer Rubin, Matthew Regan, and Bianca Crowley for conducting these interviews, and to all those who participated and shared their valuable thoughts with us.

Natalia Zamora:

Alex Asase:

Marty Schlabach:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Life and Literature Conference Attendee Interviews: Part 2

Continuing with our posting of the Life and Literature conference attendee interviews, below you will find the next 3 out of the 17 interviews, all of which are available on the Life and Literature website.

Don't forget to share your thoughts about Life and Literature via our Titan Pad discussion pages, and also take a look at conference notes and speaker presentations on the website. If you attended the Life and Literature conference, be sure to take the survey, which will be closing November 30th.

We would like to extend a special thanks to Jennifer Rubin, Matthew Regan, and Bianca Crowley for conducting these interviews, and to all those who participated and shared their valuable thoughts with us.

Ely Wallis:

Sue Ann Gardner:

Chris Wildrick:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Life and Literature Conference Attendee Interviews: Part 1

As we continue to explore the various outcomes of the Life and Literature conference, two common questions we receive are, "Who was at the conference" and "What did they have to say about it or BHL?" If you are also asking yourself these questions, then you're in luck! While at the conference, we conducted interviews with several of the attendees, asking them these very things. And we've made these interviews available on the Life and Literature website.

This week on the BHL blog, we'll post a few of the 17 interviews each day, giving you the chance to get to know the thoughts and opinions of those at Life and Literature. And if these interviews stimulate ideas and opinions about the conference or BHL in you, be sure to share those on our Titan Pad discussion pages! Don't forget that conference notes and speaker presentations can also be found on the website. If you attended the Life and Literature conference, be sure to take the survey, which will be closing November 30th.

We would like to extend a special thanks to Jennifer Rubin, Matthew Regan, and Bianca Crowley for conducting these interviews, and to all those who participated and shared their valuable thoughts with us. Enjoy the first 3 of the 17 interviews below, and see them all on the Life and Literature website.

George Dyson:

Edward Valauskas:

Lucy Waruingi:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Book of the Week: Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! We wanted to celebrate the holiday with an appropriate item from our collection. What did we find? Five Hundred Questions and Answers! On Poultry Raising (1899), by James Wallace Darrow. It features everything you could possibly need to know about raising poultry, with categories structured around feeding and care, diseases, eggs, poultry buildings, incubators, and, as you might expect, an entire chapter devoted to turkeys, ducks and geese! For our post, in case you're considering raising your own turkey for next year, we thought we'd share some of our favorite tidbits of information from the book. Have a lovely, relaxing holiday and enjoy our holiday-themed Book of the Week!

Feeding and Care:

Onions and Eggs: "My fowls love onions, but it is said that onions give the eggs an onion flavor? Do they?"

"No; onions do not affect the flavor of the eggs. Onions have been fed for weeks at a time along with other food, with no taint perceptible in the eggs. It would be just as reasonable to say that chicks hatched from eggs laid by onion eating hens would smell and taste of onion!"


1) Apoplexy: "I have lost some chickens that acted as though they had a spasm. On examining them [I] found the skin had turned a dark red. They were taken suddenly, and tried to stand on their heads. I feed a warm feed in the morning, oats at noon, corn at night. What is it?"

"This was probably apoplexy - a sudden rush of blood to the head, and a rupture of a blood vessel there. The remedy is prevention. You have probably been overfeeding, and should give only two meals per day. Reduce the grain feed and give steamed clover or some such bulky feed instead. Above all make them work for their food by obliging them to scratch it up. Exercise is one of the best preventives of disease."


Should Eggs Rest: "Does it injure eggs to ship them long distances, and how long should they rest before being put in incubators?"

"There is a foolish notion prevailing among some fowl breeders, that eggs which have been shipped a distance should rest a day or two before being placed in an incubator. As soon as the hens are ready to set, or the incubator ready for work, place the eggs under or in at once; they will rest as comfortably in either place as elsewhere, in fact, better; for everybody knows that the fresher the eggs the more chicks they will yield, and the healthier the chicks."

Poultry Houses:

The Best Poultry House: "Which is the best plan for a poultry house?"

"A poultry house is like a dwelling house - no two persons will agree. Much depends on climate, lay of the land, soil, etc. The most potent factor is the 'pocket-book,' as no matter what the plan may be, it must correspond with the contemplated cost. Hence, we can only reply that there is no best poultry house."
Incubators and Broiler Raising:

Handling: "Does it do harm to handle the eggs, such as testing them, or changing them from one machine to another after they have been in the incubator for three days?"

"No. Not if they are handled carefully and not exposed to cold air too long. In testing eggs in a cool room it is well to warm a couple of blankets folded to be a little larger than the egg tray. Cover the untested eggs with one warm blanket and spread the other over another tray and slip the eggs under as fast as tested. In this way chilling the eggs can be avoided."


Highest Egg Record: "Please give me the highest egg record for a hen in one year?"

"In England 280 is claimed, but we have no records, and cannot state. Be satisfied with 150 or even 100."


Fattening Turkeys: "State the best feed to fatten turkeys."

"To fatten turkeys give them their accustomed range and all the cooked corn, meal and potatoes they will eat up clean twice a day; plenty of grain at night and milk to drink at all times. Mix a little pulverized charcoal in the food once a day. Three weeks of this feeding and your turkeys will be in the best possible condition for the table; that is, if they have been growing and in good condition from the start. Remember that no amount of stuffing for a few weeks just before killing will make a prime, extra-large, table or market bird out of a turkey that has been starved and stunted."

Happy Thanksgiving! :-)

(Image comes from: Bilder-atlas zur Wissenschaftlich-populären Naturgeschichte der Vögel in ihren sämmtlichen Hauptformen (1864), fig. 233)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Post Life & Literature: Themes and Outcomes

If you happened to be living under a rock for the past two weeks and missed our blog posts, tweets, and posts on Facebook, you might have missed the fact that last week was the Life and Literature Conference, an event hosted by BHL with the express purpose of generating conversations about the priorities for biodiversity literature digitization, particularly as it pertains to BHL, for the next 4-5 years. The conference, which took place November 14-15, 2011, in Chicago, IL, brought together interested parties in a variety of disciplines, including science, education, informatics, and the humanities. Lively discussions and insightful presentations ensued both days, with dozens of live tweets (hashtag #lifelit) constantly streaming for those who could not participate in person.

The conference was divided into four panel discussions, followed on the second day by break-out sessions that allowed attendees to delve deeply into the various topics discussed during panel sessions, ultimately leading to an outline of the various areas deemed most important for BHL to focus on in the next 4-5 years. The four panel sessions included "Research, Informatics, and the Published Record;" "Publishers, Aggregators, and Authors - New Models and Access;" "Learning and Education;" and "Building Collaborative Networks for Science and the Humanities through Scientific Literature." A synopsis of the four panels can be found on the Life and Literature site, as well as a list of each of the presenters and their biographies. Session presentations are being loaded to the BHL wiki and can be accessed on the Presentations page. Notes from the sessions can be found on the Life and Literature website. You can also view interviews of conference attendees on the website.

In order to facilitate a discussion with the audience during panel and breakout sessions, BHL staff used an application called Titan Pad, which provides a collaborative environment that allows anyone to access a document to view, edit, or make comments in real time. There were Titan Pad pages for each of the panels and breakouts, and live notes, as well as live discussion, occurred via those avenues. These pages remain live, and we encourage anyone interested to continue the discussion in the weeks to come!

While many ideas and themes resulted from the discussion generated at the conference, perhaps the most recurring topic involved the connection between science and the humanities. Presentations by speakers at the Humanities panel highlighted some of the possible intersections between art and science, and each breakout session touched upon the various ways that BHL could partner with the humanities and make the biodiversity illustrations already in BHL more accessible. The BHL Flickr site, which currently houses more than 20,000 images, was a huge success, and attendees discussed additional ideas about how BHL could further promote its illustrations and engage the arts and humanities communities. Such ideas as specific image searching interfaces, image-specific collections, and collaborations with artist communities were discussed, and BHL staff outlined some art-related grant projects currently in the works.

The winner of the Life and Literature Code Challenge was also presented at the conference. The Code Challenge asked users to create applications that would use, disseminate, or display BHL data in new and meaningful ways. The winner? Ryan Schenk, with his application Synynyms. Synynyms works as a taxonomic name aggregator, finding all of the different names given to a species over the years and displaying the frequency of each name variety throughout history. The names are provided by the Encyclopedia of Life, and the publications come from, you guessed it, BHL! Congratulations to Ryan, and thanks for sharing such an awesome tool with us!

Last, but certainly not least, two new members of the BHL family were announced, Cornell University Library and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Libraries. With these new members joining the fold the BHL consortium is now 14 members strong! Stay tuned for more information about BHL's newest members to come in future posts.

The Life and Literature conference was also surrounded by a variety of other important BHL meetings, including a BHL Global Meeting (see previous post on the event), a BHL Staff meeting, and a meeting devoted to a discussion on the digitization of biodiversity literature in Africa. Watch for posts on the latter two meetings in the days to come.

As we think about the outcomes of the conference, we are excited to explore the possibilities for the future and inform our development through user feedback. For BHL to serve its purpose, it must meet the needs of its user community, and events like Life and Literature allow us to gather and assess those needs. However, if you couldn't make it to Life and Literature, or if you did but still have more thoughts on BHL's future, you can still share them! Contribute your ideas through our Titan Pad discussions, by submitting feedback to our website, or posting your ideas via twitter (@biodivlibrary) and Facebook! We're waiting to hear from you, and thanks to everyone who made Life and Literature such an exciting and successful venture!

(Images: All images courtesy Martin Kalfatovic. Top: BHL Buttons presented at the Life and Literature Conference; Middle: George Dyson delivering the second plenary speech at Life and Literature; Bottom: SUE - the largest, most complete T-Rex skeleton ever discovered, on display at the Field Museum, the Life and Literature Conference venue)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life & Literature Future Framing for BHL

14-15 November, 2011, Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

A quick overview from Second Global BHL Planning Meeting...

We just had the Second Global BHL Planning Meeting in Chicago Field Museum this past November 13, 2011 with representatives of all BHL Programs, except our colleagues from Bibliotheca Alexandrina, who couldn’t attend this time. During the meeting, each of our BHL Programs shared their progress since our (last Global Meeting on September 2010) and it was definitely a year of new and valuable achievements for all.

For BHL-US/UK, beyond an increasing access to constantly growing content, an improved appearance that includes a whole new logo, and the novel Flickr account, now with more than 20,000 images, turned into a fundamental component of our outreach activities to new communities. Also, the election of a new Executive Committee and the incorporation of new library partners were part of the good news of this year. Our Australian colleagues launched their new appealing website) to contribute content about Australian species to the Atlas of Living Australia project and are now getting ready to start digitizing and sharing their content from BHL-Australia. Our colleagues from BHL-China have come a long way this past year integrating BHL-China with the numerous projects on biodiversity they have in all their country’s provinces. BHL-China node hosted colleagues from BHL-US/UK last year for (technical meetings), and continued digitalization of valuable Chinese material, now shared also through BHL-US/UK. BHL-Europe is ready to launch by the end of this year their new portal that will aggregate content from European libraries, increase support to species names and allow for a powerful new Advance Search interface. Likewise, our colleagues from SciELO-Brazil have been contributing their information to BHL's citation repository, Citebank and are now setting up the equipment and workflows to inaugurate their new digitization facilities by April next year.

We also discussed and reviewed the Vision of BHL as a global unified network where its member institutions share their leadership and coordinate within the nodes, engaging with other organizations related to our field to become the recognized reference tool for biodiversity literature. We all agreed on more and better communications between the nodes and defined ways to coordinate this. Also, as part of the review of the governance structure of BHL, it was decided to form a Coordinating Committee that would establish the by-laws and tackle some of the challenges and issues addressed during the meeting and support the implementation of the way forward. It was also decided to hold a Technical Meeting in conjunction with our Global BHL Meeting next year.

As the meeting came to an end, all participants were looking forward for another new exciting year, initiated with the Life and Literature Meeting the following two days, as a source of valuable input from colleagues, users and staff on the areas and activities that BHL should focus and prioritize for the following 5 to 7 years!

William Ulate, Global BHL Project Coordinator

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book of the Week: Burroughs and the Nature Essay

If you were asked who Henry David Thoreau is, chances are you'd have a least a general idea along the lines of an author who wrote, among other things, works centered around natural history themes. If we ask you who John Burroughs is, however, would you be able to confidently respond? The fact is, John Burroughs is recognized as "the most important practitioner after Thoreau of that especially American literary genre, the nature essay." Given the nickname "The Grand Old Man of Nature," Burroughs was a "virtual cultural institution" of the American Conservation Movement by the turn of the century. He authored many natural history titles that his biographer Edward Renehan described as the works of "a literary naturalist with a duty to record his own unique perceptions of the natural world." However, though his style perfectly harmonized with the cultural movement occurring during the time of his career, he has become relatively obscure in our present day.

Though Burroughs was first published in 1860, he worked as a clerk and federal bank examiner, writing only on the side, until the 1880s. It was not until 1871 that, encouraged by friend Walt Whitman, Burroughs published his first nature-oriented work entitled Wake-Robin. In 1874, Burroughs purchased a 9-acre farm in New York, where he grew many crops, including fancy table grapes, while he continued to write and work as a bank examiner. In 1895, he built a cabin near Riverby, where he grew celery and entertained visitors.

Burroughs wrote many popular nature works about such locales as the Catskills, Peekamoose Mountain, Mill Brook Ridge, and the Delaware River. He was very active in the debates of the "Nature Fakers Controversy," which "highlighted the conflict between science and sentiment in popular nature writing." A new style of nature writing took hold in the late nineteenth century in which "the natural world was depicted in a compassionate rather than realistic light." Burroughs was against "fantastical representations of wildlife," and published an article in 1903 entitled "Real and Sham Natural History" to express his views.

This week, we feature a book by John Burroughs all about squirrels and other "fur-bearers." Descriptively named Squirrels and Other Fur-Bearers (1900), this works contains fifteen illustrations completed after Audubon. Besides squirrels, it features chipmunks, skunks, raccoons, porcupines, and more. We selected some of our favorite illustrations from the book and included anecdotes from Burroughs about the species. You can see all of the illustrations from our Book of the Week on our Flickr account, and be sure to check out the book in BHL to learn more about the critters, including an enigmatic chapter entitled "A Life of Fear."

Red Squirrel: "The red Squirrel is more common and less dignified than the gray, and oftener guilty of petty larceny about the barns and grain-fields...At home, in the woods, he is very frolicsome and loquacious. The appearance of anything unusual, if, after contemplating it a moment, he concludes it not dangerous, excites his unbounded mirth and ridicule, and he snickers and chatters, hardly able to contain himself...There is something very human in this apparent mirth and mockery of the squirrels. It seems to be a sort of ironical laughter, and implies self-conscious pride and exultation in the laughter. 'What a ridiculous things you are, to be sure!' he seems to say; 'how clumsy and awkward, and what a poor show for a tail! Look at me, look at me!' - and he capers about in his best style."

Skunk: "The secretion upon which he relies for defense, and which is the chief source of his unpopularity, while it affords good reasons against cultivating him as a pet, and mars his attractiveness as game, is by no means the greatest indignity that can be offered to a nose. It is a rank, living smell, and has none of the sickening qualities of disease or putrefaction. Indeed, I think a good smeller will enjoy its most refined intensity. It approaches the sublime, and makes the nose tingle. It is tonic and bracing, and, I can readily believe, has rare medicinal qualities. I do not recommend its use as eye-water, though an old farmer assures me it has undoubted virtues when thus applied. Hearing, one night, a disturbance among his hens, he rushed out to catch the thief, when Sir Mephitis...discharged the vials of his wrath full in the farmer's face, and with such admirable effect that, for a few moments, he was completely blinded...But he declared that afterwards his eyes felt as if purged by fire, and his sight was much clearer."

Muskrat:"It sometimes looks as if the muskrat were weather-wise and could forecast the coming season. I doubt if a long series of observations would bear out the truth of this remark, yet I have noticed that in his nest-building he sometimes hits the mark with surprising accuracy...In the fall of 1880, while the weather-wise were wagging their heads, some forecasting a mild, some a severe winter, I watched with interest for a sign from my muskrats. About November 1, a month earlier than the previous year, they began their nest, and worked at it with a will...When the cold wave struck us, about November 20, my four-legged 'I told-you-so's' had nearly completed their dwelling...I approached their nest at this time, a white mound upon the white, deeply frozen surface of the pond, and wondered if there was any life in that apparent sepulchre. I thrust my walking-stick sharply into it, when there was a rustle and a splash into the water, as the occupant made his escape. What a damp basement that house has, I thought, and what a pity to rout a peaceful neighbor out of his bed in this weather, and into such a state of things as this!"

Porcupine: "One day my boy and I encountered a porcupine on the top of one of the Catskills, and we had a little circus with him; we wanted to wake him up, and make him show a little excitement, if possible. Without violence or injury to him, we succeeded to the extent of making his eyes fairly stand out from his head, but quicken his motion he would not, - probably could not.

"What astonished and alarmed him seemed to be that his quills had no effect upon his enemies; they laughed at his weapons. He stuck his head under a rock and left his back and tail exposed. This is the porcupine's favorite position of defense. 'Now come if you dare,' he seems to say...

"With a rotten stick we sprang the animal's tail again and again, till its supply of quills began to run low, and the creature grew uneasy. 'What does this mean?' he seemed to say, his excitement rising...When we finally drew him forth with a forked stick, his eyes were ready to burst from his head. In what a peevish, injured tone the creature did complain of our unfair tactics...His game after we led him forth was to keep himself as much as possible in the shape of a ball, but with two sticks and a cord we finally threw him over on his back and exposed his quill-less and vulnerable side, when he fairly surrendered and seem to say, 'Now you may do with me as you like.' Then we laughed in his face and went our way."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

BHL and Our Users: Robin Everly & the Smithsonian Institution Libraries

This week, we feature one of the librarians at BHL partner institution, the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Robin Everly, the Botany-Horticulture librarian for the Smithsonian, has played an extremely active role in the development and dissemination of BHL for the past several years. She has a unique perspective on the project, playing the role of both user (to perform library-related job requirements) and member of the team developing BHL. We are excited to share her interesting viewpoint on our blog!

What is your title and institutional affiliation (or alternative place of employment)?

I’m the Branch Librarian for the Botany-Horticulture Library at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Currently, I’m also serving as Board President of the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL) through May 2012.

How long have you been working in a library environment?

Pretty much my entire working life. In high school, I worked as a page for my local public library. Although I have a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Maryland, the jobs I applied for had to do with handling and organizing scientific information. Included in this mix were working at the National Cancer Institute’s then called Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program, which handled drug development; a short lived pesticide risk assessment position; and working as a database indexer for the AGRICOLA database at the National Agricultural Library (NAL). While working at NAL, I decided to make working in the information field official by getting an MLS. My goal was to work as a science reference librarian, and its one of the best decisions I ever made.

When did you first discover BHL?

As a botanical librarian working at the U.S. National Arboretum, I would use Botanicus, a database developed at the Missouri Botanic Garden. Around 2007 or 2008, I kept hearing about the Biodiversity Heritage Library database and wondered how it differed from Botanicus. In January 2008, I attended a presentation by Martin Kalfatovic and Suzanne Pilsk on BHL at NAL and learned what I thought were pretty ambitious plans for getting more content. There I also learned about plans for BHL to eventually have the majority of botanical literature in it and for Botanicus to hold a certain subset.

It’s hard to believe that BHL has only been around for the last 5 years or so. It’s made such a huge impact on taxonomy –both botanical and zoological; timewise,it feels like it has been around a lot longer.

What is your current level of involvement in BHL?

I serve on the BHL Collections Committee, which has a member from each BHL library on it. I represent the Smithsonian Institution Libraries on the committee. I’m also on an in-house SIL taskforce group which meets at least once a month. Plus, I’m also a big advocate of the data base and try to promote it whenever I can to our library visitors and staff here at the Smithsonian.

What is your opinion of BHL and what impact has it had on your duties as a librarian?

BHL is a wonderful project. In my opinion, it’s the librarians’ and libraries’ way to contribute to plant and animal conservation. It’s a project that helps researchers based in the developing world - where most plant biodiversity is found - conduct their research more quickly and easily. Since most of the printed taxonomic literature is in North America and Europe, this project brings the literature, literally to a researcher’s fingertips at his/her desktop, anywhere in the world you have an internet data connection. And the best part is: it's freely available. Our foreign visitors are especially impressed with the database and all the books and journals that are available on line. I only heard compliments about the database when I was at the recent International Botanical Congress in Melbourne, Australia. It’s very gratifying to get such a positive response from your users on a product developed partly at your institution.

As a librarian, it has made my job easier because I don’t need to request an article or book through interlibrary loan if it is in BHL; I just send the requester the URL. Also, if the print copy is fragile, acidic or even brittle, it allows for that copy to be handled only under special circumstances. The electronic copy is serving as a kind of “preservation tool” in this case. BHL is organized in such a way that it is easy to explain to a user how to search it and find the information they need.

Years ago, I went into science because I wanted to be a researcher involved in animal conservation. Although I have never achieved that goal, by participating in BHL as a librarian, I’m helping the researchers who are involved in both plant and animal conservation conduct their research. I found this a very rewarding part of my job.