- We've simplified the start page for the PDF Generator to make the process more efficient.
- We've added a Yes/No option, asking if users are interested in contributing the content they are creating to BHL's citation repository, CiteBank http://www.citebank.org. CiteBank is a domain-specific repository of citations and content files about biodiversity. It evolved out of a need to access content from the BHL at a more granular level. CiteBank is a work in progress and continues to develop its collection and services. By contributing title, author and subject data to the PDF you are creating, you will allow other users to gain access to this content through CiteBank.
- Selecting "Yes" will allow you to enter the title, author and/or keyword data we need to index the content in our citation repository. Selecting "No" will skip over this step, eliminating any opportunity for other users to benefit from the content you've already taken the time to create (please say Yes!).
- Drawing from the functionality provided by our colleagues on the BHL-Australia web site, http://bhl.ala.org.au, we have added the ability for you to review your page selections before you generate your PDF. You will also have the opportunity to review the title, author and/or keyword data you've provided and make any necessary corrections/edits.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
What is your title, institutional affiliation (or alternative place of employment), and area of interest?
I am a dissertator in the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My dissertation focuses on the history of American involvement in tropical biology in the Caribbean in the early twentieth century. I’m interested in the intersection of the history of biology and environmental history, and the role of science in the changing relationships between the US and the rest of the world.
How long have you been in your field of study?
I began to get interested in graduate work in the history of science while finishing my BS in Earth Sciences at Montana State University. That would make it about 7 years.
When did you first discover BHL?
I’m not quite sure when I first stumbled upon the site, but certainly over the past 4 years I have begun to use it more consciously.
What is your opinion of BHL and how has it impacted your research?
It has been incredibly helpful. While we have a wonderful library system here at UW, there are times when I just need a quick look at a relatively obscure volume. Checking it online rather than running over to a library or having to ILL saves me a lot of time. Actually though, I have found it most useful to be able to search within texts, in conjunction with the physical book. For example, I went through many decades of the Annual Reports of the Smithsonian Institution while holed up in the Wisconsin Historical Society stacks, but I searched with BHL alongside. It’s easier and faster to read the physical copy, and flip between text and contents when you are sure the information you are looking for is in there. But searching the text electronically can help you find references that are not expected from the contents or index. I’ll also mention that I found a couple scanning errors while going through the Smithsonian annual reports, and BHL fixed them immediately. It was amazing. One point I want to make is that BHL doesn’t replace the original books––but it does make them easier to find and use. I really see physical libraries and BHL as complementary tools.
How often do you use BHL?
Depending on what phase of research I am in, it could be from a few times a month to a few times a day.
How do you usually use BHL (read the titles online/download whole PDFs/Selecting Pages to Download/etc.)
I usually download whole PDFs, because it is easier to search within the whole text, and take notes, this way. If I am looking for a particular piece of information, or just skimming to see if a text might be useful, then I read online. I have sometimes made custom PDFs for articles within larger volumes.
What are your favorite features/services on BHL?
I am just glad that so many of the kinds of texts I need are accessible there, from expedition reports and regional floras, to the bulletins of various botanical gardens and museums. I am happy that they can be downloaded as PDFs which makes reading, searching, and note-taking very easy. I also like the links to BHL from http://plants.jstor.org.
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?
First, it would be amazing to be able to search in-text across multiple volumes. As it is, I either come to BHL looking for a particular text or else happen upon one through a Google search. Subject terms and titles are useful, but sometimes I am looking for very brief references within the text that would not show up in a subject term. Being able to search across the texts in BHL would help me find surprising and unexpected references. Second, it is currently a bit difficult to find articles within larger volumes unless you already know where they are. You can go through each volume of the Bulletin of the New York Botanical Garden individually and search, but you can’t see or search the titles or authors of articles within volumes using advanced search. Finally, tools similar to Google Ngrams or JSTOR Data For Research would allow you to take advantage of the texts in aggregate. I would love to be able to graph references to tropical organisms, or to terms related to ideas about tropical “biodiversity,” over time using the BHL sources.
If you had to choose one title/item in BHL that has most impacted your research, or one item that you prefer above any other in BHL, what would it be and why?
That’s a tough one. Probably the Smithsonian annual reports have been the most useful, as they helped me get a solid chronology for one part of my dissertation when I was just starting. But I will mention another “neat” source I used in the chapter I just wrote: Living Plants and Their Properties: A Collection of Essays, edited by Joseph Charles Arthur and Daniel T. MacDougal, 1898. In it, I was able to find a reprint of a talk, “Mimosa: A Typical Sensitive Plant,” that MacDougal, an American botanist, gave to a Jamaican natural history society while in the colony looking for a potential site to establish an American tropical research station. I had not known at the time that a copy of that talk was available in print, and it gave me evidence about why MacDougal thought more research needed to be done on living tropical plants in their own environments, as well as how he interacted with scientists in Jamaica. Also, the book includes some articles in which J. C. Arthur muses about whether plants can feel pain––but that will have to wait for another research project!
Thanks, Megan, for giving us a glimpse into your work and the role BHL plays in your research! You may be interested in some of the work Roderic Page has been doing graphing the occurrence of names in literature over time using BHL or Ryan Schenk's work visualizing taxonomic synonyms over time, as you mentioned that you would love to "graph references to tropical organisms, or to terms related to ideas about tropical “biodiversity,” over time using the BHL sources." Additionally, the Code Challenge for the Life and Literature Conference that BHL is hosting (Nov. 14-15, Chicago, IL), which encourages individuals to submit applications that provide new or interesting ways to use or display BHL data, might yield further innovative, graphical interactions with our information. Until then, we hope that BHL continues to meet your research needs as we also continue to develop and improve our services!
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Funding for the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) comes from a number of sources. Over the past few years, we have been reliant on the generous support of a number of different foundations, directly or through grants to individual BHL members. These foundations include the MacArthur Foundation, the Moore Foundation, the Lounsberry Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Keck Foundation. A number of the BHL members have also received grants from the United States government, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Science Foundation.
2011 marked the fourth year since the BHL portal officially went live, and in that time we've made great strides, just recently reaching 35 million scanned pages. Scientists all over the world use the library to identify and classify new species. The student in her backyard, the forestry manager and ecologist, the museum habitat builder, the artist and the designer – whether the need is for a scientific description of a spider or a beautifully illustrated drawing of an amaryllis, all can benefit from being able to search the biodiversity literature.
As part of the initial redesign of the BHL site, we are now offering the ability for individuals to support the BHL. These transactions are processed through the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' (SIL) financial system. The SIL hosts the BHL Secretariat and program staff. The Smithsonian Institution is a tax-exempt organization and gifts are tax deductible.
Click on the button on any BHL page (or click here now!) to add your donation to your shopping cart. You can donate preset amounts, or, using the "other" option, a custom amount of your choice.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Today, we continue with our mini-series featuring EOL Rubenstein Fellows and their research activities. For this installment, meet Dr. John Sullivan, a passionate ichthyologist dedicated to discovering and describing fish species all over the world, but particularly in Africa.
What are your research interests, where you do the bulk of your work (country), and what is your institutional affiliation?
I am an evolutionary biologist who studies the phylogenetic interrelationships and evolution of freshwater fishes. I focus on two groups in particular: weakly electric fishes (Mormyridae and Gymnotiformes) which are found in Africa and South America, respectively, and catfishes (Siluriformes), which are distributed pretty much all over the world. In addition to using molecular techniques to work out phylogenies for these fishes, I describe species and work on the taxonomy of all three groups. My most recent collecting field trips have been to Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Gabon. I am affiliated with two institutions, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, where I am a Research Associate, and the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates in Ithaca, New York, where I am a Curatorial Affiliate. I live with my wife in Ithaca.
In the program, Fellowships are expected to serve as a complementary funding source to existing funding you have that supports your primary research activities. Please describe what you primary research activities are.
I used the Rubenstein Fellowship to supplement a nine-month Fulbright Research Fellowship in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My Fulbright work was to make an inventory of fish species found in the vicinity of Kisangani, a city on the Congo River at the base of the Upper Congo rapids and to help build capacity at the University of Kisangani in ichthyology. As a Rubenstein Fellow, I made creation of EOL species pages for Congo River freshwater fishes a key activity of my time there. And since my return from Congo, I’ve been continuing to add many of the hundreds of photographs of fish specimens I took as we identify the specimens. We’ve already found several undescribed species from our collections, and I and my colleagues are beginning work on their descriptions.
Please describe how you use EOL to disseminate or support your primary research activities, or what your primary duties related to EOL are.
Eventually, I’d like to see great photos, descriptions and keys available online through EOL for all African freshwater fishes. We still have a lot of work to do to get there, but one can now see that this is the future. It still takes a lot of time to do careful taxonomic work, but now as soon as it’s published, we can get the name into a classification and a picture and description up online. For instance, we got the new mormyrid species Petrocephalus similis into EOL the week it was published in July. Taxonomy is a dynamic discipline: names and classifications frequently change to reflect our improving knowledge of the organisms (a sometime annoyance to end-users of taxonomies, but unavoidable). So static books are in some ways poor repositories of this information. Taxonomy and the Web are really made for each other and in hindsight something like EOL was inevitable.
How has the EOL Fellows program made a difference in your career/research?
The Rubenstein EOL Fellows program gave me an easy way to help make knowledge about African fishes available to everyone, including Africans who often have internet access but nothing in the way of libraries. The more informed my African colleagues are about their own fish fauna, the more effective our collaborations can be. While it doesn’t take the place of getting published in the primary literature, contributing to EOL tells your colleagues that you’re committed to the “broader impacts” of what we taxonomists do and that you’re at the forefront of where the field of taxonomy is headed. I am looking forward to the day when publishing a new species description and publishing content on EOL are one and the same thing. In fact, that future is already here with the journal ZooKeys that automatically exports to EOL. We plan to use that journal for our next mormyrid description.
Who is your Mentor, what is their area of interest (research activities), and how have they supported you throughout your Fellowship?
My mentor is Dr. Melanie Stiassny, curator of fishes at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Melanie has really reinvigorated the study of fish diversity of the Congo River over the past few years and has made a number of stunning discoveries in the rapids area of the Lower Congo. She was great at providing me the logistical and moral support I needed for my project in Kisangani.
How does BHL support your Fellows activities, as well as those research activities that fall outside of your duties as an EOL Fellow?
I tend to think of BHL as my personal ichthyology library (although I know there’s a bit more archived in it than that). I have retrieved dozens and dozens of species descriptions from it that are now on my personal computer for instant reference and also appended to species pages in one of my two EOL Lifedesks: http://mormyrids.lifedesks.org/ and http://congofishes.lifedesks.org/.
I’ll give you a concrete example of how BHL supports my work. In systematics, the old literature is often just as important as the new. For instance, the systematics of a genus of mormyrid fish we work on was really blocked by our inability to establish the identity of Mormyrus sphekodes (now Paramormyrops sphekodes), described in 1879 by French ichthyologist H.E. Sauvage. The type specimen still exists, but is in bad condition in the Paris Museum collection. If we were to describe new species without knowing what P. sphekodes really was, we risked redescribing it under a different name and creating a synonym.
So this past May I arranged to go back to the type locality mentioned by Sauvage, the “Chutes de Doumé” on the Ogooué River in Gabon to make a new collection of it. I’m happy to report I succeeded! Before going there, I had downloaded Sauvage’s description of this fish from BHL, published in the Bulletin de la Société Philomatique de Paris. It had taken me just a few minutes to locate this paper and customize the pdf. I had it on my Kindle as I stood at the site, a place I don’t think ichthyologists had revisited since the 1870s.
When did you first discover BHL?
Some time before I started my Fellowship, probably in 2008.
What are your favorite features/services on BHL?
I love how it takes me no time at all to find a species description in some old serial like the Annals and Magazine of Natural History and, using the web interface, generate a pdf of just those pages that I want. Even if I lived in a library that had these volumes on the shelf, it would take me longer to locate what I was looking for. I can then take those pdfs BHL generates for me and attach them to the species pages I create on my Lifedesks. Now anybody in the world has instant access to the original species description in a couple of clicks!
If you could change one thing about BHL, or suggest one thing to be the next developmental priority for BHL, what would it be?
It seems like you are doing the right thing: continue to expand and add content. It is great to see a number of biodiversity journals allowing BHL to digitize their back catalog, including material still under copyright, and very encouraging to see BHL go international with BHL-Europe and other initiatives. Now that much of the really old stuff is available, it’s the material from the 1930’s – 1970’s that is notably hard to obtain if you don’t have a world-class library, so I hope more of it finds its way onto BHL in the near future.
Please describe why you think services like EOL and BHL are important for today’s scientific community.
Science is all about disseminating knowledge and building upon what has come before, yet so much of our knowledge of plants and animals has remained inaccessible to those who could make use of it. This has been a big part of the “taxonomic impediment.” BHL is radically changing this status quo and democratizing access to knowledge about biodiversity. Now that access to the works of so many great 18th and 19th Century biologists is an easy affair, I expect we’ll see them cited a lot more in the modern literature. In this way, BHL is contributing to the continuity of biodiversity science.
Do you have a favorite book in BHL, or a book that has most supported your research activities or EOL responsibilities?
My favorite book in BHL would have to be the four volumes of George Albert Boulenger’s Catalogue of the Fresh-Water Fishes of Africa, published from 1909 to 1916. This work remains the single-most important publication on African ichthyology. While many more species have been described in the subsequent century and generic names have undergone changes, it is still a remarkably useful resource for identifying African fishes. Until BHL made pdfs of all four volumes freely available, you had to pay dearly even for a reprinted version. Now all my African colleagues who never had these advantages have the pdfs on their laptops.
Thank you, Dr. Sullivan, for taking the time to give us a glimpse into your world and research, and for articulating how important BHL has been to your endeavors. As we continue to grow our collection, we hope to be able to establish more and more relationships with publishers and provide access to a plethora of in-copyright materials, freeing, as you so eloquently describe, this information from the static written page to the future of dynamic electronic access for the world.
Information on the photo from Dr. Sullivan: "The photo is of me on the Ogooué River in Gabon, Africa in May of this year. The site is a famous one for African ichthyology: it is the "Chutes de Doumé" from which H.-E. Sauvage described the catfish Doumea typica and the mormyrid electric fish Mormyrus sphekodes - now Paramormyrops sphekodes - (among others) in an 1879 publication published in the Bulletin de la Société philomathique de Paris, a pdf of which I downloaded from BHL!"
Friday, September 9, 2011
We're all about mollusks in our book of the week this week, with our featured title being one brimming with some really spectacular watercolors by Comingio Merculiano. What, you might ask, is the title of this exceptional work? I Cefalopodi Viventi nel Golfo di Napoli (Sistematica) (1896). While the copy on BHL consists of only the plates from this title, the entire volume (with text) constitutes the 35th monograph in the series Fauna and Flora of the Gulf of Naples, published by the Stazione Zoologica and consisting of 40 volumes in total. This particular monograph, written by Giuseppe Jatta, presents, as the name suggests, detailed information on the Cephalopods of the Mediterranean.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
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By Gilbert Borrego, BHL Library Technician