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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

BHL and our Users: Patrick Ives LaFollette

We at BHL are anxious to find out how our collection and services affect the work of our users at an individual level. With this aspiration in mind, this week we begin a series, BHL and our Users, featuring our users and their testimonials regarding BHL's impact on their lives and work. So, without further ado, meet Patrick Ives LaFollette, Research Associate in Malacology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, and read what he has to say about how BHL has changed the way he works.

"I've had a life-long interest in marine Mollusca, bibliography, and computer technology. Though software development provided a living, my interest in natural history and affiliation with the Los Angeles Natural History Museum has continued uninterrupted to present. In 1995, when I resumed work on the Pyramidellidae, a large and neglected family of microscopic snails, it was evident to me that digital imaging and indexing would be the best method for managing the extensive and scattered literature. There has never been a published catalog or bibliography of the family, so work has to start "from scratch," with Sherborn, Ruhoff, and Zoological Record. I scanned everything myself until the last few years, when some of the literature started to become available via the World Wide Web.


It's difficult to say exactly when I first used the Biodiversity Heritage Library - early 2008, I think. The transition to BHL from other Internet sources was gradual until it reached "critical mass" - became the best first place look for titles - during 2009. BHL has since completely superseded other sources. Of the 3500 digital documents I've assembled so far, more than 2000 are from BHL. Perhaps two thousand papers are still needed, but most of these fall outside BHL's scope.


I use BHL several hours a day, almost every day, have done for approaching two years. It is an invaluable resource. It has saved me thousands of travel miles to distant libraries, and thousands of hours locating, evaluating, and scanning the references. I can do this work from home, utilizing any free hour, day or night. This allows me to spend "museum days" working with specimens rather than chasing literature. Of greater importance are the many titles that have been imaged by BHL member libraries that are not in any California library.


For me, the most useful "value added" feature of BHL is the taxonomic index, more specifically the monthly text dump of the index. It meets a need peculiar to projects such as mine where the taxonomic groups are unrevised and poorly documented. Apart from the European species, pyramidellids are poorly known, so are not "verified" by the uBio name search. "Unverified" names are, however, included in the index dump. I have written programs that extract the pyramidellid names and related data from the index, oragnize it, and format a report. This report, which includes URLs for each item and page, allows me to efficiently sift through BHL holdings for potentially relevant papers. When a paper is identified, I download the volume's page images and extract the article to my database. If not already there, I add the citation to my bibliography. Sherborn, Ruhoff, and Zoological Record index only new species descriptions. The secondary literature is not indexed. BHL indexing finds everything, including the numerous papers those sources ignore. Often, the "papers" found are literature reviews or notices, which may contribute to the bibliography, if not the database.


Thinking about what I would like to see BHL do in the future, number one (and two and three and...) are just to keep on doing what BHL has been doing so well: adding more journals and monographs to the archive, and filling in gaps in existing sets. I would not want BHL to do anything else if it required pulling resources away from the core mission, building the archive until its holdings approach completeness.


That said, I would like to see BHL add the staff and technical capacity necessary to include digitized works from sources beyond the Internet Archive workflow, to take advantage of the numerous institutional, library, society, organizational and individual digitizing projects and free access digital journals that are "out there." I would also like to see BHL modify its mission statement to not just passively accept, but actively pursue permission to include post-1922 journals.


There is no one title in BHL that I can single out as having a significant impact on my research, nor any specific title to add that I have not already nominated for imaging. It is BHL itself, the totality of its content and execution, that has profoundly changed, and continues to impact my work."


We sincerely thank Pat for his faithful use of our services and for taking the time to express how important BHL is to him. If you're interested in highlighting the ways in which BHL is important to your work, don't hesitate to contact us, either by commenting on this post, leaving us a message on our Facebook page, sending a tweet to @BioDivLibrary, or sending us feedback via our feedback form.

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