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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

BHL and Our Users: Rebecca Morin, BHL Librarian

For our regular series "BHL and our Users," we usually feature scientists who use BHL to conduct their research. However, there are many different kinds of BHL users, not the least of which are librarians that use BHL to help them execute their own work supporting the research needs of their library patrons. For many librarians, BHL means that they can save time answering reference questions, as all content is online; save wear and tear on their physical books by directing people to online versions of the content; and save time and money by avoiding ILL (Inter-Library Loan - sending copies of books held in one library to another that does not own a copy) costs, as again patrons can simply be directed to the item in BHL. Not surprisingly, these benefits extend to BHL staff who that also wear the hat of reference librarian at their respective institutions. This week we feature just such a librarian - Rebecca Morin, the User Services Librarian at the California Academy of Sciences (CAS). She not only serves CAS patrons in her librarian role but is also the driving force behind the digitization of CAS materials for BHL.


What is your title and institutional affiliation?

I am the User Services Librarian at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. My main responsibilities are reference, instruction and outreach, acquisitions, and collection development for all areas of the Academy Research Division. I also oversee library systems, interlibrary loans, and the rare book collection.


How long have you been working in a library environment?

Almost 14 years. My first library job was working as an undergraduate in the Interlibrary Loan Department at the Margaret Clapp Library at Wellesley College. After graduating with an incredibly useful degree in music, I worked in libraries at UC Berkeley, here at the California Academy of Sciences, and in the Science & Engineering Division of the University of British Columbia Library in Vancouver. I received my MLIS and MAS (Master of Archival Studies) from the UBC School of Library and Information Studies in 2007.


When did you first discover BHL?

I have a hard time remembering not using BHL in my current position! It must have been shortly after launch. I used the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Botanicus portal quite a bit, so I think my adoption of BHL just flowed naturally from there. The California Academy of Sciences is not a founding member of BHL, but by the time we joined the consortium in May 2009 I was using BHL regularly as part of my reference and interlibrary loan duties.


What is your current level of involvement in BHL?

I spend approximately one day/week working on BHL. I am on the Staff Committee, the Collections Committee, and I was part of the Communications Committee for the Life & Literature Conference in November 2011. I’ve spoken about BHL quite a bit over the last several years, giving presentations at the 2010 meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, the 2011 IMLS WebWise Conference, and the 2011 Museum Computer Network Conference. I’ve also taught BHL instructional sessions at the Academy and at the National Museum of Natural History. I’m finishing up a scanning project, and I serve as a Principal Investigator on an IMLS National Leadership Grant called Connecting Content: A Collaboration to Link Field Notes to Specimens and Published Literature, which will result in some field note materials being served via the BHL portal (among other outcomes). BHL is a big part of my professional life!


What is your opinion of BHL and what impact has it had on your duties as a librarian?

I am extremely proud of this project and so happy that I have the chance to be involved with it! The Library at CAS is separated from the rest of the Research Division by several floors, our graduate students attend schools that are anywhere from five to eighteen miles away, and I work with a large number of off-site research associates and affiliated scholars. It makes a HUGE difference that I can direct researchers to the material they need, instantly, free of charge, from anywhere with an internet connection. BHL is a game-changer.


How often do you use BHL?

Without exaggeration, every day. Since reference is my primary responsibility, I find myself using it to verify citations and species descriptions. I send links to articles and bibliographies generated via TaxonFinder to off-site researchers. I download papers that would otherwise require interlibrary loan. I use the BHL Flickr account to help fill the requests I get for beautiful scientific illustrations. BHL is my most-visited external website, ranking just behind Google (according to my browser history).


What has been the reaction of your patrons to BHL?

Some research staff were skeptical at first. Several years ago it was not uncommon for me to pull up an item in BHL only to have the patron insist on seeing a paper copy from my collection as well. But now that researchers have grown accustomed to acquiring the latest literature online via ejournal subscriptions, I find they have an increased comfort level in accessing BHL for legacy literature. Students and researchers who don’t live in the Bay Area or visit the Academy often are very enthusiastic about BHL, and patrons are increasingly viewing BHL as a trusted resource and a reliable source of information.


What services/features do you like most about BHL and which do you most like to point out to your patrons? Which services/features are your patrons most excited about/use the most often?

My absolutely favorite feature of BHL is that it is free and open. Scientific literature is so expensive, and access to older foundational literature can be so restrictive. I know a lot of visiting scholars and students are just thrilled with what BHL offers, and many are excited to share it with friends and colleagues who may not have easy access to rich library collections. Many of my patrons are big PDF-makers; they use the PDF creator to build their own literature libraries, kind of like an electronic reprint collection.


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?

Full-text searching within items is something that my users really want to see. For students new to research in systematic biology, it can be hard to find one’s way around the text online. Tools for image retrieval would be incredibly helpful as well.


Is there a specific item on BHL that is most often requested by your patrons/that you use more than any other to fulfill ILL requests?

The publications of the Academy, such as the Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, are always popular. Our reference copies are difficult to photocopy, and Academy staff from the Research Division and beyond regularly consult the Proceedings. The Academy was founded just three years after California became a state, and the Academy is inextricably wrapped up in the history of California. Academy staff, students, collection managers, historians, genealogists, and scholars of all stripes constantly seek information from the Proceedings, and I usually refer them to BHL.

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Thanks, Becky, for sharing your valuable insights, garnered from not only a reference librarian perspective, but a BHL staff member perspective as well. To date, the California Academy of Sciences library has contributed thousands of pages of taxonomic literature to BHL, and we look forward to the continued provision of material from this important academic and historical institution. These contributions are the direct result of work done by Becky and other library staff at CAS, and we are grateful for their commitment to the BHL project!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book of the Week: X-Ray Vision

Have you ever wondered what a fish looks like inside? With the advent of x-ray technology, your curiosity can be sated, all without having to dissect a fish. And with the new Smithsonian exhibit, X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out, you can explore the evolutionary development of fish through a progression of x-rays from cartilaginous to bony fish. Our friends at EOL brought this exhibit to our attention through their online collection by the same name, which not only displays the incredible x-ray images seen in the Smithsonian exhibit, but also provides links to species pages providing more information about the fish showcased in each x-ray. Browsing through the EOL collection, we realized that one of the books in our collection features illustrations of a majority of the fish-types represented, and we thought that it would make a perfect book of the week post.

Celebrating the awesome power of x-rays, bringing us fish from the inside-out, we proudly present fish from the outside-in, aligning the Smithsonian and EOL exhibits X-Ray Vision with our book of the week: Our Country's Fishes and How to Known Them: A Guide to all the Fishes of Great Britain (1902), by W.J. Gordon. In this post, we highlight just a few of the species featured in the exhibit, alongside portraits of them or members of their genus in our book of the week, and garnished with a few fun facts. Enjoy!




This is an x-ray of the Viper Moray, which is a Moray Eel of the family Muraenidae. The x-ray is presented alongside an illustration of the Mediterranean Moray (fig. 168).

Moray Eels are known for a second set of jaws, called pharyngeal jaws, found in the back of their throat. These jaws possess teeth, and when an eel bites down on its prey with its first set of teeth, the pharyngeal jaws come forward to grab the prey and drag it back down the throat towards the esophagus for swallowing.

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Seen here is an x-ray of an Alligator Pipefish, of the Syngnathidae family and in this case a member of the Syngnathoides genus. Accompanying the x-ray is an illustration of a variety of pipefish, including members of the Syngnathus genus and the Nerophis genus (figs. 114-118).

Sometimes thought of as "seahorses unfurled," pipefish have a highly modified skeleton formed into armored plating. The numerous bony body rings are used to differentiate one species of pipefish from another.

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Presented here in lovely x-ray detail is the Monterey Skate, of the family Rajidae and genus Raja. This image is presented alongside illustrations of several other members of the skate family, including the flapper skate and white skate (figs. 239-240).

Skate mating typically occurs in the spring, when females lay numerous eggs which are encapsulated in leathery cases called "mermaid's purses." The fossil record dates skates back to the Upper Cretaceous period, 100-65 million years ago.

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Our final featured x-ray is that of the Bulbous Deep Sea Angler, of the order Lophiiformes and the only species in the genus Dermatias. This species is known only from three specimens. In compliment to the x-ray, we feature Lophius piscatorius, or The Angler, sometimes known as a frog-fish or sea-devil (fig. 47). The Bulbous Deep Sea Angler is of the family Oneirodidae (deep-sea anglerfish), while The Sea-Devil is from the family Lophiidae, or Monkfish.

Anglerfish are so named because of their mode of predation, which involves luring prey with a fleshy lobe on top of the angler's head. Anglerfish like those of the Ceratioid group exhibit extremely unusual mating practices. Male ceratioids, tiny in size compared with the females, become parasites attached to females. After locating a female anglerfish, the male will bite onto her, release an enzyme that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, and fuze to her at the blood vessel level. Over time, the male slowly atrophies, losing eyes, heart, and even brain, till he is nothing more than a pair of gonads that release sperm in response to hormones in the female's bloodstream.

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You can explore all of the wonders of X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out on the official website. Learn more about all of the species featured in the x-rays on EOL's collection. Finally, browse all the beautiful illustrations in our book of the week on Flickr.

All x-ray images courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book of the Week: The Cabinet of Natural History

It's hailed as "the first major print color book produced in America." Some of the most influential artists of the nineteenth century worked on the illustrations, including Thomas Doughty, founder of the Hudson River School, and Titian Ramsay Peale, who is believed to be the first American artist to observe and paint the Indians and Buffalo of the Great Plains. The work sold at Christie's Auction House for $5,750 in 1993 - nearly $3000 more than the high range estimate. As "the first major book of any kind with coloured lithographic plates printed in America," the work "marks the beginning of dominance of lithography in book illustration."

Have we whetted your appetite yet? Good! For our book of the week, we present The Cabinet of Natural History and American Rural Sports (1830-34), in three volumes.

The Cabinet was a joint initiative begun by brothers Thomas and John Doughty. The three volumes of this work present the topics of natural history, sporting, travel, and general advice for the countryman, including first-hand accounts of hunting expeditions. It was issued in monthly parts from 1830-1834, and the first eight issues were particularly popular. The second volume contains a plate by Titian Ramsay Peale entitled "American Buffaloe," depicting a Native American, mounted on horseback, hunting a buffalo, which was based on Peale's sketches during an expedition led by Stephen H. Long to explore the Great Plains in 1819–1820. The sketches and paintings from the sketches represent the earliest first-hand depictions of the hunts.


While the work began as a joint effort between the Doughty brothers, by the third issue of the second volume, Thomas left the partnership to pursue his work as an artist. Nearly all of the plates of the first volume were the work of Thomas Doughty, and, as the heralded founder of the Hudson River School, are deemed the most important of the work. Thomas' absence from the venture was deeply felt, and, just over a year after his departure, the publication ceased with v. 3, pt. 4 due to lack of subscription.

The magnificent lithographs and engraving within this title are the work of not only Thomas Doughty and Titian Ramsay Peale, but other artists including M.E.D. Brown, George Lehman, Edwin Landseer, and J.G. Cloney. The plates depict a broad range of animals, from typical game animals to polar bears and hunting dogs. The second volume itself contains 31 plates of American birds. We've featured some of our favorites in this post, and you can view the plates from the first volume on Flickr. Be sure to browse the title in BHL to experience the remarkable plates of the other volumes of this ground-breaking title.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

BHL and Our Users: Alain Touwaide, Emanuela Appetiti and PLANT

Touwaide and Appetiti analyzing the Ayasofia Codex 3703 in the 
Suleymaniye Kutuphanesi, a library rich in precious manuscripts, 
Istanbul, Turkey. 
Happy Valentine's Day! We couldn't think of a better day to feature devoted couple and colleagues Dr. Alain Touwaide and Emanuela Appetiti and their work on the PLANT project. Touwaide and Appetiti founded and continue to grow and support the PLANT website, which Dr. Touwaide presented about at the Life and Literature Conference in Chicago, IL, 14-15 November 2011. Conference attendees expressed great interest in the PLANT project - a project with goals and objectives not unlike BHL - and several requested that we feature the project on our blog. We thank Alain and Emanuela for sharing their expertise and experiences with us.
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The PLANT website is a digital encyclopedia of historical botanical illustrations, with representations of plants from herbals, books on botany and medicinal plants printed between 1481 and 1650 and usually addressed to doctors and apothecaries. CLICK HERE to read more about Renaissance herbals. PLANT - an acronym for PLantarum Aetatis Novae Tabulae, which means in Latin Renaissance Botanical Illustrations - does not only refer to plants, but general Renaissance botanical illustration.


The website stems from the interest of couple Alain Touwaide and Emanuela Appetiti, who share not only life but also a passion for the history of botany. The site results from their desire to open this field to a wider audience and to make this patrimony accessible worldwide.


Touwaide and Appetiti contemplated such a collection for years and collected material worldwide for it in their Historia Plantarum collection. In 2001, they submitted a proposal for funding to the Smithsonian Women's Committee and were granted an award that allowed them to create a first prototype in order to assess the feasibility of their project and to develop a protocol.


Once the feasibility of the project was verified, Touwaide and Appetiti needed first to systematically inventory the herbals produced during the time period from 1481 to 1650, that is, from the first printed herbal to one century before Linnaeus. They then had to browse, analyse and digitize all such books, so as to create the encyclopedia they had planned, which will show the evolution (or involution) of botanical illustration and knowledge, including the possible introduction of new species or the disappearance of others. To this end, they asked and got permission to carry out this task in the holdings of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma (National Library of Rome), which, for historical reasons, has a particularly rich collection of Incunabula and Renaissance printed books (16th century and later). They also expanded their research to the Library of the Botanical Gardens of Padua to complete the collection of data. Padua has one of the most ancient botanical gardens in the world and also a valuable historical library that owns some of the rare editions not present in the collections of the National Library of Rome.

EW volunteers in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma,
Team I 2006

During the years 2003-2006, Touwaide and Appetiti were able to study and photograph all Renaissance herbals in the collections of the Rome and Padua libraries. In 2007, in collaboration with some 250 Earthwatch Institute volunteers who signed up to participate in this large-scale research [see 2004 field report here], they broadened their work to Washington DC. In total, they collected over 70,000 images and generated two dictionaries of plant names: one of the Medieval and Renaissance names listed in the volumes they studied (comprising 32,000 items in Arabic, Medieval Latin and vernacular languages), and the second with the names of plants in five modern languages (12,000+ items). Together with the dictionary of ancient names (Greek and Latin) that Touwaide has compiled for his Flora of Classical Antiquity, these dictionaries provide the names of all the plants mentioned in ancient texts and books from the most ancient scientific treatises to one century before Linnaeus and make it possible to link them with their current name.


Touwaide and Appetiti's research goes beyond historical documentation, as they identify the plants according to contemporary taxonomy. In collaboration with the scientists in the Botany Department of the Smithsonian, they study the representations of the plants they collected from books and the texts that accompany these illustrations. Thus, they have been able to confirm the identifications made in previous literature or to suggest new ones, made possible due to cross-checking the representations and descriptions in a large quantity of material.


Since its very inception, Touwaide and Appetiti envisioned the PLANT website as much more than just a collection of illustrations, however beautiful they are. They provide users with an impressive collection of data, starting with a full description of the books (including publisher and place of publication) but also detailed biographies of the authors and publishers and portraits of the authors, as this information is often missing from other websites presenting ancient herbals. By researching and stuyding the bios of authors and publishers, they produced original texts based on first hand consultation of primary documentation, including searching for portraits of the authors in the collections -- and with the help of -- the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine and the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.


EW DC teams, at work with Touwaide at the National Museum
of Natural History, on the second phase of the PLANT Project.
Team A, 2006
Touwaide and Appetiti plan to provide a short bio-sketch of the publishers along with the list of the botanical books they have published, so as to highlight their contribution to the production of herbals and to follow the production of botanical knowledge throughout Europe. Geo-referencing of book production is made possible thanks to the identification of the places where books were produced. For all books on the website, place names on the title page are in Latin. When clicking on these names, a small window opens with the current name (both in the local language and in English) and country (Which is sometimes not so easy to discover, i.e. What city is Ebrodunum?).


The metadata provided on the site is more extensive than the explicit information that can be retrieved from books. Touwaide and Appetiti generate much implicit information aimed at illustrating the dynamics of an author's production. For each ancient work on the site, they present the first edition. A link at the bottom of the page leads to an additional page listing subsequent editions and translations (listed in chronological order), so as to make it possible to see the continuity and diffusion of the work. Only subsequent editions containing pages with new or different illustrations, however, are reproduced. As a result, users can visualize the possible transformation of a work through time.


Similarly, it is possible to retrieve all the illustrations of the same plant in the Web site, displayed in chronological order, so as to visually follow the transformation of botanical drawing and knowledge. All the illustrations can be enlarged to study the plant in detail. This is an example. For each plant contained in the website it will be also possible in the future to display a digital image of a dry specimen from the US National Herbarium, and an image of the living plant in nature. Thus, users of the site will have tools to further study Renaissance illustrations: not only will they be able to appreciate the degree of exactness in Renaissance illustrations, but, by having access to the material, they can also study the methods of ancient illustrators and investigate the way ancient scientists analyzed and described plants.


Paired with the website on ancient manuscripts and texts that Touwaide and Appetiti are developing with the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, the PLANT website will constitute a unique collection of material illustrating the creation and development of botanical knowledge from the most remote antiquity to Linnaeus (1707-1778).


BHL makes it possible to go further. When Touwaide and Appetiti became aware of it, they immediately thought to link the Linnean literature digitized and posted in the BHL to the plants presented in the PLANT website. The connection will allow users to follow plant information from its early depiction in antiquity to the 15th and 16th century herbals, to Linnaeus, and then, through the BHL, from him to the 20th century.


Thanks to all its information and navigation possibilities, the website goes way beyond an encyclopedia of botanical illustrations. It contextualizes the books and the plants, and generates a new dimension in the history of botany, showing its transformation over time. Though on a modest basis, the PLANT web site provides depth to the BHL collection of material: it introduces, in a certain sense, a third dimension to the BHL as it collects all the material that led to the literature collected in the BHL. You cannot understand Linnaeus without Dioscorides, Mattioli, Laguna or Bauhin and Dalechamps, for example. PLANT contains all the readings of Linnaeus, the scientific context of his work, and what Linnaeus probably read.

Alain at work in his office in the Botany Department at the 
National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.

The PLANT website provides information to different audiences: from historians of medicine and botany, to historians of art and botanical artists; from classicists interested in the history and production of the book to botanists who need to trace a plant back in time, before Linnaeus. It may also appeal to curious Internet users with any background. For example, users interested in a plant of which they know only the common name will be able to locate it (together with all its other names, including the Linnean binomial designation) and start navigating through the PLANT website, the BHL or the website of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, passing from Antiquity to the modern world, from Linnaeus to his predecessors, from books to nature, from living plants to dry specimina, in an imaginary travel that will be a journey through the construction of botanical science across centuries and cultures.


The PLANT program has been possible thanks to a consortium composed of Touwaide and Appetiti as the project authors and co-principal investigators, the libraries of Rome and Padua in Italy, and the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL). Many contributors collaborated at different levels and helped create the PLANT Website, but without the passion and enthusiasm of the Earthwatch volunteers, nothing would have been achieved. The website is dedicated to them.
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Find out more about Alain and Emanuela, and their ambitious project, in these past articles:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Book of the Week: Floral Masterpiece from Biodiversity Heritage Library on iTunes U


In case you missed our post earlier this week, the Biodiversity Heritage Library is now on iTunes U. From our provider page, you can now download select BHL content through iTunes to your desktop or mobile device, i.e. iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone. And, all for free, of course! We currently have 8 collections available, including:You can learn more about iTunes U through Apple's website.

For our Book of the Week this week, we're featuring one of the classics from our iTunes U collection Floral Mania, which consists of some of the most beautiful and unusual illustrations of flowering plants in BHL. Today, we present New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus: and the Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature (1807), by Robert John Thornton.


Robert John Thornton was an English physician and botanical writer. After hearing Thomas Martyn's lectures on botany and Linnaeus, he decided to practice medicine rather than his previously-chosen profession in the church. He worked and lectured in medical botany at Guy's Hospital in London, and at the end of the eighteenth century began working on his ambitious project New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus.

New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus is a three-part work, the third part (Temple of Flora) of which was intended to have seventy folio-sized plates. Work on the plates began in May 1798, and the first plates were engraved by Thomas Medland after paintings by Philip Reinagle. The plates were engraved in aquatint, stipple and line.


The work, unfortunately, proved to be Thornton's demise. The expense of the project drained his financial assets, and Thornton was unable to generate significant public interest in the work. To save the project and ensure its completion, a public lottery and a dedication within the work to Queen Charlotte, patroness of botany and fine arts, were ventured, but without success. Only thirty-three colored plates were completed between 1798-1807, and Thornton died in destitution.

It is a tragedy that Thornton's life ended so sadly when his work is now deemed a remarkable masterpiece. We pay him tribute for the incredible achievements of his life and are proud to feature just a few of the stunning illustrations from his creation in this post. You can access New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus: and the Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature (1807) on BHL and within the Floral Mania collection of iTunes U, both for free of course! See all of the illustrations from this masterpiece on our Flickr account and tell us which is your favorite.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Biodiversity Heritage Library on iTunes U

We are thrilled to announce that selected collections of BHL content are now available on the new iTunes U! Visit our provider page at http://itunes.apple.com/us/institution/biodiversity-heritage-library/id467689660 to download PDFs of BHL books to your desktop, iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.




iTunes U is a dedicated area within iTunes that gives users public access to hundreds of thousands of free lectures, video books, podcasts, and courses from learning institutions all over the world. And with the new iTunes U app, users can download content directly onto their iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. To learn more about how iTunes U works, please see this helpful video on Apple's website.

Providing BHL content on iTunes U allows us to get our content out to folks in an exciting new way. By positioning BHL content alongside courses from major universities, there is the potential for new audiences to engage with our content in an educational context. And now it is easier than ever to take selected works from the BHL collection on the go with the new iTunes U app.

We are currently offering 8 collections of BHL materials around the following themes:

These collections will continue to grow and new collections will be added in the future. Got an idea for a BHL collection you'd like to see in iTunes U? Please leave us a comment below.

*The Charles Darwin's original library is held within Cambridge University Library

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Life as a BHL Staffer

Greetings from Cambridge, Mass.! My name is JJ Ford and I have been working as the BHL Project Assistant at the Ernst Mayr Library located in Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology since May 2011. And although I've only been working as a BHL staff member for ten months, it feels like so much longer -- in a good way of course! In less than a year's time, I have learned just how much staff time, effort and brainpower it takes to build the world's first collaborative digital library that makes legacy taxonomic literature available to users for free. The BHL staff members that I have come to know, truly are committed to the idea of making knowledge open, extensive and available to a global audience. Sometimes I have to stop and pinch myself because I feel so lucky to be contributing to such a gratifying mission.

While I may be stationed at Harvard, my role is actually quite similar to Smithsonian staff member, Gilbert Borrego, who we heard from in last month's installment of "My Life as a BHL Staffer." Gilbert beautifully outlined the nuts and bolts of the BHL digitization operation, which gave us an overview of how the books in each partner library's physical collections are selected, processed and scanned. Additionally, we learned why Pagination and Flickr are such important activities. Having the correct pagination for books in BHL and allowing the fabulous plates and illustrations to be exposed in Flickr are two ways that we facilitate better user discovery of articles and images. Like Gilbert, I manage many of these very same activities for Harvard’s portion of BHL user requests. We even have our own Facebook and Flickr sites which, we use to disseminate BHL's outreach messages locally for the students and faculty members here at Harvard. However, to keep things interesting and build on Gilbert's last blog post, I am going to touch on two of my favorite extracurricular BHL activities : 1) the basics of book preservation and 2) my involvement with BHL’s website usability studies.

Preservation and Book Repair
Unlike many of the other institutions, many of the book repairs at the Ernst Mayr Library are done on-site. We are lucky to have on staff a resident preservation specialist, Susan DiSanctis, a woman with one of the most interesting lives on human record. Not only has Susan lived amongst the native people of Papua New Guinea, she knows how to fix a book! While working under Susan’s instruction, I learned the basics of paper repair and contrary to what one may think, this is not a skill that is normally taught in library school. In today's digital world, many might say that book preservation is a dying art. Nevertheless, it is still an extremely important activity because often the books that users request to be digitized are damaged and require preservation treatment prior to being sent over to the Internet Archive for scanning. It is my job to determine what our preservation strategy should be for these vulnerable books. In some unfortunate cases, there is very little that we can do for a book because the decaying process is in the advanced stages. For example, this book cannot be repaired because the paper is far too brittle:


Brittle books like these are made from wood-pulp paper. Their pages are literally "burning" from the slow fires of acid decay. The paper in this book will eventually disintegrate into a pile of dust. A very sad fate indeed.

However, there are a good number of lucky books that can be saved and subsequently scanned. Check out my slideshow, which will take you through the basics of a simple paper repair for a book that has been slated for digitization:


Usability Studies
In stark contrast to the hands-on work that book preservation requires, usability studies are conducted in order to measure " the quality of a user's experience when interacting with a product or system--whether a Web site, a software application, mobile technology, or any user-operated device." (Usability.gov) The results of these types of studies help web designers build more effective user-centric websites. In keeping with this principle, it has always been BHL's goal to provide a web interface that marries both efficiency and design.

Recently, BHL staff members saw the need to conduct a usability study of our own. The emergence of a newly designed BHL-AU portal from our partners down in Australia prompted us to compare their design with the existing BHL-US website that most of you are probably already intimately acquainted with. Along with my colleagues at the other BHL partner libraries, I conducted local usability tests here at Harvard. The results of the study were illuminating and surprising and will certainly help inform future BHL web interface designs.

BHL-Australia Web Portal

BHL-US Web Portal

Same content. Different interface. Which one do you like better? Which one is easier to navigate and use? Keep reading to find out…

And what was the outcome of the usability study done here at Harvard? Our study participants found that the BHL-US portal website was easier to navigate and complete specific BHL related tasks such as finding articles, images and taxonomic species names however, most users thought that BHL-Australia was visually more appealing. The results of this study, will inform the future design of the BHL-US interface which, will be a "love-child" that merges the beauty of Australia’s BHL portal with the function of the US version of the site. Stay tuned for more details on design developments in the months to come! Additionally, if you have extra time to kill you can see the entire usability study in action via screencast.


I hope Gilbert and I have peeled back some of the mystery behind the Biodiversity Heritage Library project and how everything actually comes together. Keep checking in each month to learn about a new BHL staffer and how they contribute to this project in meaningful ways. Speaking for myself, I have found that working on the Biodiversity Heritage Library has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life. I have met some incredibly intelligent, kind and passionate people along the way and I have learned invaluable skills that I will take with me on my journey as a budding professional in the library world.


Usability definition from: Usability.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2012.