Tuesday, May 10, 2011

BHL and Our Users: Torsten Dikow

Meet Torsten Dikow, a postdoc based in the BHL partner institution, the Field Museum, who not only uses BHL heavily for his own research on flies, but also works to help BHL acquire the rights to digitize in-copyright publications by encouraging smaller natural history museums and scientific societies to grant digitization permissions to BHL. We are so very thankful for his support and advocacy on our behalf!

Q: What is your title, institutional affiliation, and area of interest?
A: I am a postdoc at the Biodiversity Synthesis Center (BioSynC) based at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, IL, USA. I am a revisionary systematist conducting phylogenetic, taxonomic, and biodiversity studies on a group of flies named Apioceridae (flower-loving flies), Asilidae (robber flies), and Mydidae (mydas flies).

Q: How long have you been in your field of study?
A: I started serious work and began writing publications on these flies in 1999 while studying biology.

Q: When did you first discover BHL?
A: As I am working for BioSynC, which is part of the Encyclopedia of Life with which the BHL is closely associated, I have been hearing about BHL from the early beginnings and started using the resources in the beginning of 2008.

Q: What is your opinion of BHL and how has it impacted your research?
A: The BHL is an outstanding source for biodiversity information particularly from older books/journals that are otherwise found in only a few libraries.

As a taxonomist who has to deal with numerous historical publications to decipher the identity of species and type specimens, my research relies heavily on old publications. Before 2008, I would copy or scan publications myself in order to have them available in my office for my research on flies. But when I visited another natural history museum to study specimens, I didn't have access to these copies as I couldn't bring my entire file cabinet with me. The high-quality scans produced by BHL in PDF format allow me now to have the vast majority of papers/books on my flies with me on my laptop and therefore I can always check a certain publication when traveling to other museums and being away from my desk.

In addition to my own research interest, I have encouraged smaller institutions like natural history museums or scientific societies who publish their own journals to consider digitization of their journal(s) by the BHL. Often these smaller institutions or societies don't have the infrastructure to digitize or host electronic copies of their journals. So far I have initiated contact between journals from Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Germany, Italy, and South Africa that are now available through the BHL portal. All of these journals waived the copyright so that the BHL can provide access from the first volume to a particular volume within the last 5 or 10 years, allowing the institutions/societies to keep access of the most recent volumes restricted to subscribers only. It would be nice if more institutions/societies follow this model to provide electronic access to biodiversity information published in their journal(s).

Q: How often do you use BHL?
A: I use the BHL weekly I would say.

Q: How do you usually use BHL (read titles online/download whole PDFs/Select Pages to Download/etc.)
A: I am employing two strategies when I use the BHL. For large books or very long papers I will download the entire volume, delete those pages/papers I am not interested in, and store it as a PDF on my hard-drive. For regular-sized taxonomic papers, I prefer to access the material with the "Select Pages to Download" option and to provide the bibliographic data on the following screens. This has two advantages: one is that I "only" get the pages I am really interested in, but the second, and much more important one, is that a PDF that now has associated bibliographic data is deposited in the BHL CiteBank, which allows other users to easily find this particular paper by searching for the title, for example. Furthemore, when I download the generated PDF I obtain a permanent link to this particular article on the BHL CiteBank, which I can now incorporate into my bibliographic manager as well as e-mail to colleagues instead of attaching large PDFs to e-mails directly. Itemizing the journal publications on BHL is a great service that researchers who have a bibliography covering a particular topic can provide to the scientific community at large.

Q: What are your favorite features/services on BHL?
A: I think the most amazing feature is the ability to search for genus or species names directly in BHL. The OCR-text recognition coupled with the identification of binomial names increases the value of the generated PDFs. Sure, any PDF with prior OCR-text recognition can be search directly, but that BHL instantly shows the scientific names on a particular page of a digitized document ("Names on this Page" in the lower left window) is just great.

Q: 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?
A: I have encountered inconsistencies in several instances where part of a journal is digitized by different BHL partner libraries. For example, if you search for "Stettiner" to find the Stettiner Entomologische Zeitung you get two search results, one item digitized by Ernst Mayr Library at Harvard University from 1840-1911 and one item digitized by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries from 1912-1923. Unfortunately, the title is slightly different in both items and a user need to look at both links to find the correct item of her/his interest. Also, the volumes are inconsistently numbered/itemized, which makes it sometimes difficult to find a particular volume in old journals.

Thank you, Torsten, for your detailed account of your use of the BHL, and the work you do on our behalf to help us establish contacts that result in permission to scan in-copyright material for our collection. Furthermore, thank you for your honestly in helping point out ways in which we can make our content more user-friendly, as by merging titles and standardizing itemization in BHL.

The particular title you refer to actually represents a data presentation model that we follow in BHL, which is maintaining separate pages for title changes of the same serial. So, the 1840-1911 entry in BHL is the first title change in this serial, while the 1912- entry is the succeeding title. These two titles are linked to each other via the "Related Titles" links on the left hand side of the bibliographic page.

However, while these two titles may not need to be merged, there are many instances in BHL where title merging does need to occur. This is, unfortunately, a manual process for BHL staff, and we need help identifying those titles and items that need this attention. Please do not hesitate to submit feedback on our website to let us know about titles and items that need our attention. We are a constantly growing and improving project, and we rely on the feedback of our users to make that happen!

Stay tuned for our next blog post, which will appear later this week, in which we highlight one of Torsten's favorite books in BHL as our book of the week! And if you'd like to be featured on our blog, please don't hesitate to send us feedback, leave us a message on our Facebook page, or send us a tweet to @BioDivLibrary!

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