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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)

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