Monday, January 30, 2012

Mendeley and BHL

BHL has integrated a new feature that enables easy addition of BHL books into your Mendeley library. Mendeley is a modern platform and social network for sharing and storing research, and is fast becoming one of the most feature-rich reference management applications in common use by scientists. Mendeley has a wealth of great features to aid scientists in managing reference materials and find others with similar interests, and best of all, it's free.

When you are browsing a book or viewing its bibliographic information, the Mendeley icon appears in the "Connect wth BHL" panel along the left side of the screen.

Take, for example, Linnaeus' Systema Naturae from 1758:

Clicking the Mendeley icon automatically adds this title to your Mendeley library. If you don't have a Mendeley account, you can create one. Once the citation has been imported into Mendeley you can share it with your colleagues, tag it with keywords, or add it to other groups you've joined.

You might also consider joining the BHL Group, which includes articles about BHL and related research:

Including this new feature in BHL helps put our legacy literature into modern systems, and gives you an easy way to incorporate BHL materials into your research.

For enhancements and suggestions for improvement, please leave a comment!

Cornell University's Albert R. Mann Library joins BHL!

The Biodiversity Heritage Library welcomes the Albert R. Mann Library of Cornell University to our growing consortium. The Mann Library brings with it a fantastic team of librarians to the BHL workforce, as well as outstanding collections in the fields of agriculture, human ecology and life sciences. Next to Harvard University's, the Ernst Mayr Museum of Comparative Zoology Library and the Botany Libraries, the Cornell University is now the second academic institution to join the BHL.

As reported at Cornell:

Mann Library Director, Mary Ochs explains, “our partnership with BHL will significantly increase the visibility and accessibility of Mann’s collections for a global community of researchers. I’m really pleased that this partnership will in turn help connect Cornell scholars with the amazing body of biodiversity-related literature available at all the remarkable institutions that make up the BHL consortium.”

The next focus of Mann’s participation will be the digitization of Cornell’s entomology collection, which is one of the largest and finest in the world. Mann has already digitized more than 190 titles from the Library’s special collections of rare entomology works — including beautifully illustrated gems such as Dru Drury’s 18th-century “Illustrations of Natural History” and Jacob Hübner’s late 19th-century “Geschichte Europäischer Schmetterlinge” — which will soon be added to the BHLsite and will fill out a major area in BHL’s wide-ranging coverage universe of biodiversity literature.

A contributor to our scanning partner the Internet Archive, biodiversity related materials from the Cornell University Library have been integrated into the BHL collection. Nearly 4,000 agriculture and life sciences titles were added to BHL in early January, helping us surpass a major milestone:

The BHL collection now has over 100,000 volumes, 50,000 titles and over 37 million pages!

Many thanks to Cornell University Library for bumping us above and beyond a major digitization goal. Of course, the BHL collection could not be where it is today without the hard work and dedication of its consortium members which have been digitizing volumes since 2007. Back then we had just over a mere 3200 volumes. It is amazing to look back and see how far the collection and the project have come in 5 years. Now a consortium of 14 libraries in the United States and the United Kingdom, the BHL is growing globally to include partners in Australia, Brazil, China, Egypt, and across Europe. Here's to more improvements to the BHL portal, more partnerships, and more content over the next 5 years (and many more).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Our Experience at ALA Midwinter 2012

A few weeks ago, we posted about our upcoming booth at the ALA Midwinter 2012 meeting in Dallas, TX, 20-24 January. After an extremely successful experience, which included the opportunity to collaborate with our friends at EOL on the booth, as well as the chance for two of our BHL staff members to give talks at the conference, we wanted to briefly fill you all in on the experience.

The American Library Association (ALA) was founded in October 1876 and is the oldest and largest library association in the world. It's mission is "to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all." ALA hosts two meetings annually: the Midwinter and Annual meetings. The Midwinter meeting was a collection of
events, exhibits, and sessions aimed at discussing the challenges and opportunities facing libraries today. With 6,236 attendees and 3,693 exhibitors, it offered us a fantastic opportunity to showcase the resources available through both BHL and EOL.

BHL, along with EOL, collaboratively hosted booth 1157 at the Midwinter meeting. EOL staff member Breen Byrnes, BHL staff members Grace Costantino, Martin Kalfatovic, Chris Freeland, and Suzanne Pilsk, as well as Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) staff member Mary Augusta Thomas, operated the booth throughout the four days of exhibits (Breen and Grace pictured above at booth). We not only engaged in meaningful conversations, answered a multitude of questions about the projects, and highlighted the beautiful images in our Flickr account, but we also gave away great goodies, including brochures, pens, notepads, Post-It notes, bags, cups, and, of course, candy.

Happily, many people were already familiar with BHL, and those that weren't were shocked and thrilled to learn that we were a free, open access project. In the midst of so many commercial vendors, and with the reality of constant cuts to library budgets, the word "free" truly stands out. Eighty-five people signed up for the EOL and soon to be coming BHL newsletters. We also engaged in conversations with several librarians at diverse institutions that were interested in sharing their digitized content with BHL. BHL and EOL were particularly popular among librarians working in educational environments, one of which stated, "They're free?! I can't believe I wasn't aware of these projects. My students will love them!"

BHL Technical Director Chris Freeland and SIL metadata librarian and BHL metadata guru Suzanne Pilsk gave talks about BHL at a panel discussion on scholarly communication, identifiers, and linked data.

Chris Freeland discussed the recent addition of DOIs to BHL content, and the struggles we went through to implement such identifiers. Most vendors, although recognizing the need for a policy to address the situation, were unable to work with a consortium (as opposed to a legal entity) that isn't a publisher and doesn't own all of the content it hosts. Furthermore, since not all of the content in BHL has an ISBN, an additional layer of complication is added to the mix. While CrossRefDOIs, available as Open Linked Data, are now available for BHL content, there are still many bugs to be worked out - bugs that are a direct result of issues mentioned above.

Suzanne Pilsk discussed the recent Index Animalium and TL2 projects at SIL, both of which also involved BHL. She outlined how traditional librarianship (involving card cataloging and dusty volumes on shelves) was not meeting the needs of taxonomists and other researchers calling on libraries for help. But of course, libraries rose to the challenge, and SIL began digital projects for both Index Animalium and TL2, which linked the citations in these two works to the corresponding digitized texts, available via BHL.

Thus, in short, our presence at ALA Midwinter 2012 was extremely successful. We shared our existence and resources with the nearly 10,000 people at the conference. We hope to host booths at future ALA events, the next of which is the ALA Annual Meeting in Anaheim, CA, 21-26 June, 2012. We hope to see you there!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

BHL staff at Global Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) Content Summit in Panama

Global EOL Content Summit January 2012
William Ulate and I attended the Global Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) Content Summit at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's facility on Barro Colorado Island (BCI) in Panama. The meetings, 17-19 January 2012, brought together a group of current and planned world-wide EOL content providers. Joining BHL at the meeting were representatives from the Atlas of Living Australia, Naturalis, INBio, CONABIO, NHM/ViBRANT, GBIF, French Institute of Pondicherry India, Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute, Biological Diversity and Environment Information System (Peru), and Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory (SI GEO).

After taking a bus from Panama City to Gamboa, we boarded one of the Smithsonian boats, The Morpho, for the 90 minute trip to Barro Colorado Island. After a quick orientation to the facilities on the island, we were assigned to our dorm rooms at the field station. In keeping with the BHL camaraderie, William and I shared room (along with a fairly large spider that we gave plenty of space).

The group reassembled for a hike around BCI. We were provided with excellent guides and spent nearly 3 hours exploring. Though we didn't see some of the more charismatic megafauna of the island (Tapir, Ocelot), we were showered with attention by a troop of Howler Monkeys, spotted an Agouti, heard the calls of two species of Toucan, saw a large piliated woodpecker, many ants (including Army ants and some impressive leaf cutters). Here's an EOL Collection of some of the things we saw.

As it got darker, a Tinamou posed for some photos and White Faced monkeys appeared. Oh, and there were some giant spiders. After a quick dinner in the dinning hall, we started in on the meeting. Each project represented gave a brief presentation to help the participants understand its focus. You can find mine here and William's here. The others will be posted by the EOL staff.

The first full day of meetings included an overview of the EOL activities and training on the content provider tools. In the evening, we had a social gathering on one of the verandahs where we watched some nocturnal creatures (bats, a large toad, etc.).

The final day of meetings (January 19) focused on developing content plans from the different partners as well as a discussion of EOL v.3 led by Erick Mata (EOL Executive Director).

We made some very good new contacts with our colleagues in India, Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico and explored new collaborations with our partners in Europe and Australia.

Early on the morning of 20 January, we boarded the boat back to Gamboa and back to our next destinations.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book of the Week: The Iconic Biodiversity of Africa

Africa. It is the second largest continent in the world, as well as the second most populous. It is commonly regarded to be the location in which the human species originated. It is the only continent to stretch from the northern to southern temperate zones, making it home to a wide variety of life. Furthermore, it has the largest number of megafauna species in the world (megafauna being literally "large animals," typically considered those weighing greater than 100 or 220 pounds). As such, it is home to some of the most iconic species alive today, including elephants, lions, giraffes, and gorillas.

One of the most recent items added to our Flickr account is Great and Small Game of Africa (1899), and the stunning illustrations within the work have already inspired a great deal of chatter on the twitterverse.

While this volume was originally written as a guide for sportsmen, much of the biodiversity knowledge we hold in written format today was supplied in part by the observations and experiences of these individuals. This volume collects as much information about the species described within as was available and practical at the time of publication and presents it in a highly accessible format. For an added element of excitement for the reader, "Many of the articles have been written in the depths of Africa itself."

We present the illustrations and accompanying prose that we found most enticing. You can see all of the illustrations from this book on our Flickr account, and experience for yourself all the captivating accounts of these great fauna within the pages of the work itself.

The Rhinoceros

"At present day the group is restricted to Africa and the warmer parts of Asia. In Africa it is represented by the widely-spread common or black rhinoceros (R. bicornis [now Diceros bicornis]), the nearly extinct Burchell's, or white rhinoceros (R. simus [now Ceratotherium simum]) of the Cape and south-eastern regions, and the little-known Holmwood's rhinoceros (R. holmwoodi [determined to be the Black Rhinoceros in Tanzania]) of East Africa. All three are distinguished from their Asiatic relatives by their smooth skins and the absence of front teeth; and all have two horns. Burchell's rhinoceros, which is a grass-feeder, differs, however, very widely from the common species in the structure of its cheek-teeth. Holmwood's rhinoceros is at present known only by the horns and may prove not to be a distinct form."

The Zebra

"The zebras (sub-genus Hippotigris), which range over the open districts south of the Sahara, and are peculiar to Africa, differ from the asses in that at least the head and fore-part of the body are striped; the stripes in some cases extending over the whole animal. Four well-marked species may be recognised, viz.:- the quagga (E. quagga quagga [extinct subspecies of E. quagga]), now extinct, Burchell's zebra (E. burchelli), Grevy's zebra (E. grevyi), and the true or mountain zebra (E. zebra). Of the second of these at least seven more or less well-marked local races or sub-species may be distinguished, differing from one another in the arrangement of the stripes on the body, the presence or absence of intermediate 'shadow-stripes,' and the extent to which the striping extends on to the legs."

The Koodoo

"Koodoo, the name by which one of the most beautiful animals in the whole world is known to European sportsmen, must be, I think, a word of Hottentot origin, since it is not Dutch, nor does it at all resemble any of the many equivalents for the same animal used by the various Bantu tribes inhabiting South and South Central Africa.

This splendid antelope was once widely distributed through the southern portion of the African continent. Two conditions are necessary to its existence - water and bush...And wherever in South Africa these two conditions were fulfilled - with the single exception of the forests of Knysna - I believe that koodoos were once to be found. In the early part of the present century, koodoos were numerous in many parts of the eastern province of the Cape Colony, but they had become exceedingly rare in those districts at the date of my first visit to South Africa in 1871. Since that time, thanks to wise legislation on the part of the Cape Government, and the loyal support given to the gamelaws by the British and Dutch farmers, koodoos have lately very much increased in numbers in some of their old haunts within that territory."

The Giraffe

"These animals are very difficult of approach, in a general way, for they are extremely keen-sighted, and their towering height enables them to command a wide view...I do not think that lions very often succeed in killing these animals, defenceless though they be; and when they do, I believe it is generally a solitary giraffe (individuals of either sex are often seen alone) that has been surprised and pulled down by a party of lions.

Tick-birds - the same that so generally accompany the rhinoceros - often visit them, and it is curious to see these little guests running up and down their long necks, clinging to their sides and bellies, or sitting contentedly upon their heads while emitting their soft, querulous chirruping.

I have never heard giraffes make any sound, nor have I heard or read anywhere that their cry, if they have one, has ever been noticed."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

BHL and Our Users: Dr. Kanchi Gandhi

This week, we feature a colleague who combs the botanical literature for new plant names, determines their validity and contributes them to the International Plant Name Index (IPNI). Meet Dr. Kanchi Gandhi, who has been recognized by the American Association of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) for his countless pieces of nomenclatural advice provided to taxonomists worldwide and for keeping classical expertise in the practice of taxonomy alive.

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

I have been the Senior Nomenclatural Registrar at the Harvard University Herbaria (HUH) in Cambridge, MA since 1995. I compile New World plant names for the IPNI and manage the HUH authority files for generic names, authors’ names, and publication titles.

My interests are in the areas of plant nomenclature, plant morphology, and plant taxonomy.

How long have you been in your field of study?

I began my first botanical project in 1970 as a scientific assistant at St. Joseph College in Bangalore, India, working on a survey of local flora in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution. That is how I met Smithsonian botanist, Dan Nicolson, with whom I continued to work with for nearly 40 years. I taught plant taxonomy at The National College, Bangalore. I was awarded a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in 1989.

When did you first discover BHL?

The Harvard botany librarians introduced me to BHL in 2005.

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

I use it to consult materials that are not in our library and it is especially useful to me when my library is closed. I use it for the many reference questions that come to me to verify plant names and associated data. BHL is also very useful in communicating with international colleagues who cannot access Google-scanned material.

How often do you use BHL?

Every day, nearly 365 days a year!

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

I primarily use it as an online resource and refer others to it by forwarding URLs.

What are your favorite features/services on BHL?

The new search page works very well, especially for finding scientific names.

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 prefer to have a simpler way to download a page or a segment of a page as one can do via the Real Jardín Botánico site or via the page delivery service (PDS) in Harvard’s online catalog, HOLLIS.

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?

In my case the digitization of early Indian floras would be very useful.


Thank you, Dr. Gandhi, for giving us a brief glimpse into your work and use of the BHL! It is exciting to hear from one of our users that has taken advantage of BHL since its inception. We are constantly working to improve our user interface, and your comments about improving ease of download is valuable feedback for our developers.

To learn more about Dr. Gandhi, visit his webpage.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

BHL and EOL at ALA Midwinter 2012!

The American Library Association's 2012 Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, Texas, is just around the corner. January 20th-24th, thousands of librarians and other interested parties will descend upon the city to participate in the five day conference focused on everything you could possibly want to talk about regarding libraries. For more information about the conference, visit the ALA Midwinter 2012 website.

With the prospect of such an appropriate audience gathered in one place, we at BHL, along with our friends at Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to share a little bit about BHL and EOL with the rest of the world. How so? By hosting a booth at the conference.

The booth (booth number 1157), which will be open beginning at 5:30pm, Friday, Jan. 20th, until 2:00pm, Monday, Jan. 23rd, will be manned by various members of the BHL and EOL staff, all of whom will be ready and waiting to answer any questions or engage in any conversations you might have about either project, or the broader digital landscape in general. We'll also be live demoing both websites (BHL and EOL), showcasing our fabulous Flickr site, and handing out some great swag, including buttons, pens, brochures, business cards, and more. Plus, we'll be holdings raffles for even more snazzy things, including tote bags and tumblers. Oh, and of course, there will be candy!

So, to recap, if you're going to be at ALA Midwinter next week, stop by the BHL and EOL booth. And if you're not going to ALA, well, now that you know we are, you're making your travel plans, right? ;-)

  • What? BHL and EOL booth at ALA Midwinter, Dallas, TX, Jan. 20th-24th (For more information on the booth, click here and search under "E" for Encyclopedia of Life/Biodiversity Heritage Library)
  • Where? Exhibit Hall, Booth #1157
  • When? Booth will be open from 5:30pm, Friday, Jan. 20th - 2:00pm, Monday, Jan. 23rd (see exhibit site for more details on hours)
  • Why? Learn all about BHL and EOL with your chance to ask questions of staff, engage in lively conversations, and view live demos of the sites and affiliated content. Plus, we'll be handing out great free stuff! Don't miss it!

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Life as a BHL Staffer

To kick off the new year, we here at BHL are starting a new monthly series titled "My Life as a BHL Staffer." Each month, we will showcase a different BHL staff member and give an overview of what tasks and duties that person performs. We kick off the series with me, Gilbert Borrego, BHL staff member from the Smithsonian Institution. While I have a lot of different duties to perform for BHL, I can group them into three main areas: Social Media (which includes Flickr and Facebook), the pagination of BHL materials, and lastly, the pulling and returning of the physical items that will be scanned and eventually show up on BHL. I’ll start with the fan favorite:

BHL Flickr:

The goal of having a BHL Flickr page ( is to have a means to showcase BHL content in a new and fun way. We want to supply a pool of image content for dissemination through multiple social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and for other potential BHL projects. We also use it to provide BHL content to the Encyclopedia of Life ( as part of their practice to automatically pull images from Flickr to include on EOL taxon pages. Lastly, we want to use it a way to connect with you, the BHL and Flickr communities!

We started making a real concerted effort to populate and utilize Flickr in July 2011 and it just took off! I usually choose the items that I want to post on Flickr based on what items come across my desk, looking at items on the BHL recent addition feed (, or doing keyword searches on BHL ( I look for the most visually stunning, interesting or intricate plates that I can find. I download all the images from an item, one image at a time.

Believe me, the two monitor set up is necessary!

I then upload them into Adobe Bridge which enables me to attach the all important metadata to all of the images. The metadata includes the filename, the creator, the source, descriptive information, keywords, credits, and copyright information. After that, I upload the whole batch to the BHL Flickr page and assign it to various categories including the contributing institution, the classification of the animals or plants pictured, and whether the item was used as a Book of the Week for this blog.

Beautiful, huh? :)

We also provide BHL content to the Encyclopedia of Life ( Images from our Flickr page are added to EOL when tagged with the proper machine tags with scientific names. You can learn more about machine tags here:

And guess what? YOU can add machine tags to our images too! In fact, we would love for some assistance in getting even more of our images into EOL! Learn how to do it with this snazzy tutorial:

We currently have over 22,000 images on Flickr and will continue to keep adding more and more! If you know of any items in BHL with images that are screaming to be added to Flickr, please let us know via FlickrMail or leave us some feedback (

I also post everyday on Facebook: We typically provide news and information that would be of potential interest to our Facebook followers. We try to change up the look of our page when we can, which means changing the profile picture often. Most importantly, we try to engage our users by being as interactive as we can. We love replying to comments and questions, so please be active and participate on our quizzes and make plenty of comments about anything we post!

Pulling and Returning Items:

SIL’s scanning process begins with the selection of material to scan. Material is selected for scanning based on three key areas: content identified by the systematic scanning of a biodiversity discipline topic (i.e. Entomology, Ornithology, Botany, etc.), institutional publications, and content identified through BHL’s issue tracking system, called Gemini, which includes user-submitted feedback. You can submit a scan request (or any other type of question or feedback here:

Staff members work to resolve this feedback by assigning them to various BHL institutions to address. We also have a system in place that helps to help make sure different institutions do not scan the same items. Once items have been selected for scanning, I will retrieve the items from the appropriate library branch which are located throughout the Smithsonian Natural History Museum building.

Once the items have been scanned and the books are sent back to us, I review the quality of the scans by performing a statistical sampling of books from the shipment or scanning batch. The process of quality assessment can be time consuming as it involves clicking through the scanned page images while turning the physical pages of the book at the same time. However, it is very important that we provide high quality scans that are not missing pages or that have pages that are cut off. After the assessment, the items are checked back in and reshelved.

Yikes, that is a lot of books!


Pagination is the process of dividing our content into discrete pages in order to more easily find the information researchers need to help them do their work in a timely manner without having to search for information page by page. Basically, pagination includes indicating things such as page numbers, volume and issue numbers, tables of content, indices, identifying plates and figures and anything else to make searching through online items easy and quick. My position requires me to do quite a bit of pagination as it is an important component to using BHL for research. In the end, I want to make something that looks like this... look a little more like this.

My pagination work screen looks like this:

I can manipulate multiple items at one time by checking the appropriate boxes, (for example, finding and checkmarking all the plates and have them numbering sequentially). If this looks like it takes a long time, it does! I have to look at every single page to verify what it is and give it the correct information. An item may take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours, and certain series may take WEEKS, so be patient with us! :)

Seriously, we are looking at various ways to make the pagination process more automated, but for now, we have to manually manipulate each page. We prioritize pagination based on requests from users and we try to finish them up as soon as we can. So, if you know of an item in BHL that you would like paginated, please let us know ( We will be happy to do it, just give us a little time to get it done.

Well, that is a very brief and simplified description of what I do for BHL. Hopefully it was both interesting and informative! You would not believe how hardworking and committed every BHL staffer is and how committed everybody is to this ambitious project and I am still amazed that I get to play a role in it! Be sure to look out for our next BHL member profile next month and learn more about us!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Book of the Week: Celebrating that Delightful Fungus Known as the Mushroom

Paddestoel. Krötenschwamm. Fliegenpilz. Krötenstuhl. Mousseron. Frogge Stole. Paddocstol. Toadstool. What do all of these words have in common? They are all various names that have been applied to mushrooms over the centuries. Today, we're celebrating these curious, tasty, and sometimes deadly organisms with our book of the week, Nouvel Atlas de Poche des Champignons Comestibles et Vénéneux, (1911-12), v. 1. Fungi never looked as good as it does in the illustrations in this little gem...except, of course, perhaps between two pieces of bread at dinner last night...

The term "mushroom" refers to the "fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus." "Mushroom" is most often applied to fungi with a stem, cap, and gills or pores, though it can also be more universally applied to fungi of the Phylum Ascomycota, or "Sac Fungi," which are often woody or leathery in appearance.

The identification of mushrooms is a skill that takes many forms, from traditional methods including odors, tastes, colors, habitats, and seasons of occurrence, to more modern methods involving molecular investigation. A perhaps more interesting technique, however, involves mushroom spores. Mushrooms reproduce via spores, which are produced from basidia in the gills on the underside of a mushroom cap. These spores fall from the cap, and as a result, if the mushroom cap is cut from the stem and placed on a piece of paper overnight, the spores will fall en masse and reveal the mushroom's spore color. The spore color can help narrow down the genus of the specimen. Such deposits are referred to as "Spore Prints."

Mushrooms play a large role in the cuisine of cultures all across the globe, particularly in the foods of China, Korea, Europe and Japan. China, in fact, is the world's leading producer of edible mushrooms. The most popular commercially-grown species is Agaricus bisporus, which includes the well-known Portobello variety. However, despite their popularity as food, there are a number of toxic species, and telling the harmless from the harmful can be difficult as there is no universally-held trait among all poisonous or non-poisonous varieties. Even those species deemed non-poisonous can produce mild to severe allergic reactions in some individuals. As another concern for European varieties, since mushrooms are capable of absorbing heavy materials, many specimens in Europe may still be contaminated from the Chernobyl disaster.

Below are some of our favorite illustrations from our book of the week, Nouvel Atlas de Poche des Champignons Comestibles et Vénéneux, (1911-12), v. 1. You can see all of the illustrations from this book on our Flickr site. As a challenge to our readers, one of the species below is poisonous. Which one?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

BHL and Our Users: Aaron Sims

This week, we feature a rare plant botanist for the California Native Plant Society whose first words after discovering BHL for the first time were "this is amazing!" We thrive on these incredible moments of serendipitous discovery we so often hear about from our users, and we're proud to share one of them with you today in our feature on botanist Aaron Sims!

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

I am the Rare Plant Botanist for the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), and manage the Rare Plant Program and Online Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California (Inventory). In addition to rare plants and field botany, my areas of interest are photography, kayaking, hiking, and pretty much anything involving the outdoors.

How long have you been in your field of study?

My love for the plant sciences started in college after having some very influential and knowledgeable botany teachers that were always enthusiastic and charismatic about the subject, in addition to genuinely caring about their students. Then after taking David Keil’s field botany class at Cal Poly State University in 2005, it was clear to me that botany is where I belong, and I assisted with David’s class until 2010, over three years after I had already graduated. In 2007 I began working for California State Parks on the Central Coast where I performed rare plant and vegetation surveys, in addition to various other tasks pertaining to natural resources. Then after completing the Atlas of Sensitive Species of the Morro Bay Area in 2010 (available at:, I moved to Sacramento and started working for CNPS.

When did you first discover BHL?

I first discovered BHL sometime in 2010 while researching plants for the Inventory. When a plant needs to be evaluated for inclusion, deletion, or change in rarity status in the Inventory, we initially start contacting people that may have knowledge on the subject taxon and immediately begin an in-depth research through various web resources. BHL came up through one of my searches for the original description of a rare plant taxon, and was the only site that had the actual full original description available for immediate download in PDF format. Awesome! I am pretty sure I exclaimed “this is amazing!” out loud as soon I discovered BHL, and I immediately bookmarked it in my browser.

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

BHL is an excellent resource that regularly helps the CNPS Rare Plant Program obtain original descriptions for plants during their review and assessment for inclusion/change/deletion in the Inventory. I feel so privileged to be working in a day in age when such resources are so readily available and easy to obtain. As a non-profit society, CNPS doesn’t have sufficient funds to subscribe to online journal databases, nor the time or resources to physically seek out every historical reference regarding rare plants in the Inventory. BHL helps fill this void by providing such resources free and readily available to the public.

How often do you use BHL?

The CNPS Rare Plant Program uses BHL weekly, if not nearly daily while drafting status reviews for changes in the Inventory.

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

We typically use BHL to download whole PDFs that include the entire original description for plants that are being evaluated for the Inventory.

What are your favorite features/services on BHL?

The search functions are simple, accurate, and easy to use. Furthermore, I like the check boxes that accompany a scientific journal which allows one to easily click through subfolders of years, volumes, and issues while still showing the parent directory.

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?

Perhaps an obvious and routine task, but adding more references is greatly desired.

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?

I cannot choose one title of higher impact over another. All scientific journals and references that include botanical information, contain original plant descriptions, or any other pertinent information on plants we review for the Inventory are invaluable to the CNPS Rare Plant Program. Thank you for providing such an important resource and keep up the good work!