Friday, March 30, 2012

A Walk Down History Lane: Introducing the New BHL Facebook Timeline

In 1516, Conrad Gessner was born. His work Historiae Animalium is considered the beginning of modern zoology. In 1707, Carl Linnaeus, the Father of Modern Taxonomy, was born. In 1735, his monumental publication, Systema Naturae, forever changed the scientific world. In 1809, Charles Darwin, the force behind the Theory of Evolution, was born. His famous title On the Origin of Species revolutionized the way we think about the development of life when it was published in 1859.

Fastfoward to 2005. The Biodiversity Heritage Library was founded, with a website launch in 2007. Each of these events represent major milestones in the evolution of biodiversity research (if we may be so bold as to include ourselves among them). But these are just a few of the dates worth remembering, and more and more are occurring everyday as we build our scientific knowledge. How can we keep track of all these dates, we ask?

Cue the BHL Facebook Timeline!

Today, Facebook is rolling out its new timeline feature - a visual representation of the major milestones in a Facebook page owner's life. Using the feature, page owners create entries for the noteworthy events in their lives/projects, and these entries are added in chronological order to the timeline. By scrolling further down the Facebook page, visitors are taken on a journey through the highlights of the person's or project's life. You can even fast-travel to a specific year by clicking on it in the bar on the right-hand side of the new page layout.

But while our page includes our important project milestones, we thought, "Why stop there?" Why not create a timeline that not only showcases our major accomplishments, but also the important achievements in scientific and taxonomic history? So that's what we did. Scrolling through our timeline, you'll see entries for both the birth of our project as well as the birth of people like Charles Davies Sherborn and Carl Linnaeus. Look further and you'll discover markers for both the incorporation of new member libraries to the BHL consortium as well as the publication of ground-breaking works like Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands and Audubon's The Birds of North America. The list goes on and on.

Our timeline is far from complete. We'll be adding new events to the lineup regularly. Still, we think it's a pretty cool start to the documentation of scientifically-important people and events, especially since each milestone entry also provides us with space to give a description of the event and provide links to content about it in BHL. And don't worry; While the timeline is a cool new aspect of our page, you can still find the daily quizzes and news updates you've come to love.

So, take some time to explore our new Facebook page. You might be surprised at what you learn!

P.S. Got an idea for our Timeline? Tell us about it! Send us feedback, write a tweet to @BioDivLibrary, or post directly on our Facebook page!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Celebrating Women's History Month: Alice Eastwood

As BHL is celebrating Women's History Month by featuring women of science, I could not resist shining a light on Alice Eastwood, one of the California Academy of Sciences' early female curators. Born in Toronto in 1859, Alice Eastwood spent her teenage years in Denver, Colorado. She proved to be a bright and capable student, embarking on a career as a schoolteacher, but she spent her leisure hours exploring the flora around her. She was a self-taught botanist, using the few books available to her, including Asa Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States and John M. Coulter's Manual of the Botany...of the Rocky Mountain Region. A visit to the California Academy of Sciences in 1891 led to a job offer, and the following year Eastwood left her teaching job in Colorado to assume a curatorship in the Academy's Department of Botany.

The California Academy of Sciences was not yet 50 years old when Alice Eastwood began her work there, and she oversaw tremendous growth of the Herbarium. Much expansion came from her own collecting activities throughout California, Utah, and Colorado. She is remembered as an exceptional woman of her time, exploring regions of the West that made for difficult traveling, negotiating unfavorable terrain in long skirts, and even fashioning a skirt that could be buttoned in the center to make pants. One unconventional act as Curator was to segregate the botanical type specimens rather than keeping them with the rest of the collection. This proved to be a prudent decision. On April 18, 1906, a massive earthquake struck the region, followed quickly by fires that burned for three days and ravaged the city. Over 500 city blocks were consumed and over 28,000 area buildings were destroyed, including the California Academy of Sciences. Following the quake, Eastwood and a small group of Academy staff and curators convened to save whatever they could from the coming fire. Since the type specimens were housed together, separate from the rest of the Herbarium, Eastwood was able to save 1497 irreplaceable botanical types while the rest of the collections were lost. She worked tirelessly over the subsequent days, moving the specimens around the city to keep them safe, protecting them while her own home and possessions were lost in the blaze.

While Alice Eastwood is perhaps best known for her heroism during the earthquake and fire of 1906, that event occurred near the beginning of her long scientific career. While the Academy rebuilt in San Francisco, she visited herbaria all over the United States and abroad, and commenced collecting as soon as possible, traveling throughout the West, even collecting in Alaska. By the time of her retirement in 1949 at the age of 90, the Herbarium contained over 350,000 specimens and Eastwood had over 300 publications to her name. She also served as an editor of the journals Zoe and Erythea, and co-founded the publication Leaflets of Western Botany.

Alice Eastwood died in San Francisco in 1953 at the age of 94, and she is remembered as an inspiring scholar and tireless advocate of Western botany. California hikers may encounter Eastwood’s memory in the yellow aster (Eastwoodia elegans) as well as in many members of the phlox family (genus Aliciella), which are among the plants named in her honor. Anyone interested in learning more about Alice Eastwood is encouraged to visit her publications in BHL and the finding aid to the Alice Eastwood Papers at the California Academy of Sciences.

- Rebecca Morin, MLIS & MAS, User Services Librarian, California Academy of Sciences

*All Images Courtesy California Academy of Sciences Archives

Thursday, March 22, 2012

BHL funded by NEH to reveal the Art of Life


The Art of Life: Data Mining and Crowdsourcing the Identification and Description of Natural History Illustrations from the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Missouri Botanical Garden has received $260,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to identify and describe natural history illustrations from the digitized books and journals in the online Biodiversity Heritage Library. The Art of Life project will develop software tools for automated identification and description of visual resources contained within the more than 100,000 volumes and 38 million pages of core historic literature made available through BHL digitization activities.

Contained within BHL’s digitized texts are millions of visual resources (plates, illustrations, figures, maps, and other images), many of which were produced by the finest botanical and zoological illustrators in the world, including the likes of John James Audubon, Georg Dionysus Ehret, and Pierre Redouté. These images are currently minimally described at a structural page level, enabling citation resolvers and human users to navigate to illustrations by page numbers, but the images lack sufficient descriptive metadata to enable dynamic filtering and inquiry based on factors like image type, color content, subject matter, or even names of the organisms depicted in the images.

Project funding will help automate the manual processes taken by BHL staff to curate the images delivered via Flickr at BHL technical staff at Missouri Botanical Garden will build new software tools and augment existing electronic publishing frameworks to run across the BHL corpus and identify the visual resources within, thereby ensuring these images are not only more useful to the current audience of scholars who consult BHL on a regular basis, and discoverable by new audiences, but also better interconnected with related materials across the Web, including the Encyclopedia of Life. Scholars and educators who rely heavily on visual resources in their research and teaching (e.g. biologists, art historians, curators, historians of science) will be able to find and view a wealth of illustrations of plant and animal life from which to make connections between science, art, culture, and history.

To realize the vision of a comprehensive and interactive repository for visual resources describing the world’s biota, the project team aims to achieve five primary objectives over the course of a two-year period:

Objective 1: Define an appropriate metadata schema for natural history illustrations, enabling capture of comprehensive scientific, thematic, and descriptive data;

Objective 2: Build software tools to automatically identify illustrations in the BHL corpus using various files and characteristics to determine location and placement of any type of visual resource;

Objective 3: Enhance existing tools to enable the initial sorting, viewing, and editing of these identified visual resources;

Objective 4: Integrate the application and Flickr APIs to enable a community of users to edit descriptive metadata for the illustrations identified through automated means;

Objective 5: Commit born-digital descriptive metadata generated by users into BHL’s preservation system, based on Fedora Commons.

A complete list of awarded projects and descriptions is available at

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 Annual Institutional Council Meeting

On March 15-16, 2012, the BHL Institutional Council convened at the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University for their sixth annual meeting.* The BHL Institutional Council is composed of the directors of the BHL member libraries. The annual meetings serve as an opportunity for council members to provide updates about BHL activities at their institutions, discuss governance issues, make funding decisions, and strategize about the future of BHL. It also allows BHL Administrative Staff to inform council members about BHL updates in their areas of expertise.

Not surprisingly, the meeting agenda was quite full, as there was much to discuss and only two days in which to do it. Most of meeting day one was devoted to providing BHL project updates. Common themes arising from council member updates included the need to develop strategies to incorporate existing scanned content digitized outside of traditional BHL scanning workflows and a variety of grant-funded internal projects producing deliverables of interest to BHL. A significant amount of time was also spent discussing the expansion of BHL outreach activities, including an agreement to develop an official BHL Marketing and Branding Plan. On day two of the meeting, the BHL Steering Committee engaged in initial discussions to develop a BHL spending plan for the next few years. A vital component of this plan will, of course, be an allocation for continued scanning, much of which will be driven by user requests and subject-oriented collections. Finally, the committee deliberated on policies for consortium and global growth.

Some final highlights from the meeting included the appointment of new BHL Executive Committee members and a few special titles awarded to some departing members of the BHL team. BHL Executive Committee appointments include: Nancy E. Gwinn (Smithsonian Institution Libraries), Chair; Connie Rinaldo (Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University), Vice-Chair; and Susan Fraser (LuEsther T. Mertz Library, New York Botanical Garden), Secretary.

This was also the final BHL meeting for three retiring core BHL members, including BHL's Program Director, Tom Garnett. The BHL director since the project's inception, Mr. Garnett is retiring at the end of March, 2012. His position will be filled by Martin Kalfatovic (Smithsonian Institution Libraries). In honor of Mr. Garnett's contribution to BHL, the Institutional Council awarded him with the title of Founding Program Director, BHL. Also leaving the BHL team to enjoy retirement are Cathy Norton (MBLWHOI Library), former BHL Executive Committee Chair, and Graham Higley (Library, Natural History Museum, London), BHL Executive Committee Immediate Past Chair. The IC bestowed the title of BHL Member Emeritus on Cathy Norton and Founding Chair Emeritus on Graham Higley.

Of course, the IC Meeting wasn't simply all work and no play. Attendees also took time to enjoy the Harvard campus. The meeting itself was held in the Agassiz room at the Museum of Comparative Zoology - a conference room dedicated to Louis Agassiz, the founder of the museum and a prominent 19th century natural historian (see works by Agassiz in BHL). Library staff gave tours of the Ernst Mayr Library, including a guided visit of the rare book room. On the night of March 15th, meeting attendees also enjoyed a catered dinner at the Harvard Faculty Club in a room decorated with prints by Alexander Wilson.

The Sixth Annual BHL Institutional Council Meeting was an excellent opportunity for the globally dispersed members of the BHL team to gather for a few short days to share the BHL successes and challenges at their institution and collaborate to develop policies and strategies that ensure the continued health and prosperity of the BHL project. We are anxious to implement the ideas and decisions reached at the meeting and look forward to the seventh annual meeting next year.

*First two BHL Institutional Council Meetings called "Directors Meetings."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

BHL and Our Users: Dr. Nathalie Yonow

This week we're excited to present a brand new BHL user. Dr. Nathalie Yonow just discovered BHL this year, and she has already used it to complete research for upcoming publications - research that, prior to BHL, took her a great deal of time, energy, and assistance from colleagues with access to large libraries. We are thrilled to hear from a user who is just discovering everything BHL has to offer.

What is your title, institutional affiliation, and area of interest?
Dr Nathalie Yonow, CERTS, Biosciences, College of Science, Swansea University. My areas of interest include opisthobranch taxonomy and biogeography (Indo-West Pacific).

How long have you been in your field of study?
25 years

When did you first discover BHL?
I first discovered BHL in January of 2012. I wish I had known about it when I was researching my book (Sea Slugs of the Red Sea) as I had lots of old publications and plates to trace and it took a lot of time and a lot of help from colleagues with access to better libraries.

What is your opinion of BHL and how has it impacted your research?
I just started using BHL, but it's great for finding old publications – much of my research is based around digging up old references to check species identification, localities, spellings, etc. I am afraid I still keep a list of my references on index cards, and I have a batch filed under a question mark that I have been unable to find for 20 years!!

How often do you use BHL?
I have used it several times already since January.

How do you usually use BHL (read the titles online/download whole PDFs/Selecting Pages to Download for a custom PDF/Downloading High Resolution Images/Generating Taxonomic Bibliographies/etc.)
I am very new to BHL and on a steep learning curve! I have checked some species descriptions on line, but I tended to panic and save a whole paper to my computer in case I couldn’t find it again. More recently I selected only the pages I needed and BHL sent me a PDF!! That was marvelous, but for some images, I couldn’t read some of the figure legends. In reading this question, I now see that I can get Hi Res images and create species bibliographies as well, so I will definitely be having a go!!

What are your favorite features/services on BHL?
I'm not sure, as I haven’t used a lot of the services yet, but I think being able to select what I need (sea slugs often form part of a much larger work) and create a PDF of only those pages, will be a favorite feature. The Hi Res option will solve the only problem I have had so far with text readability.

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 am still learning, and this experience has given me more ideas. I am not good at imagining scenarios, but maybe more obvious possibilities for the various services BHL has to offer, like presenting them as tabs or options? Simply by reading this questionnaire I have learned two things I will now try!!

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 the short time I have been using BHL, I found a paper by Rang 1828 which I have been chasing for the last YEAR to complete a synonymy and have now submitted my paper in its final version! Hooray!! and thank you!


Welcome to the BHL family, Dr. Yonow! We hope that you will continue to be enthusiastic about the features and content BHL offers. For more information about some of these services, and instructions on how to use them (including a tutorial on how to download high resolution images from BHL), see our tutorials page.

For a list of some of Dr. Yonow's current and upcoming publications, see the bibliography below:

Yonow, N. (2011) Results of the Rumphius Biohistorical Expedition to Ambon (1990) Part 15. The sub-order Doridina (Mollusca, Gastropoda, Opisthobranchia, Nudibranchia). Zoologische Mededelingen, Leiden 85: 905 -956.

Photo Nembrotha milleri is from this paper (courtesy of Anja Blonk)

Upcoming Publication: Yonow, N. Opisthobranchs from the western Indian Ocean, with descriptions of two new species and ten new records (Mollusca: Gastropoda). ZooKeys. The journal link is

Photo 21 Nembrotha guttata is from this paper (courtesy of H Voigtmann).

Sea Slugs of the Red Sea
304 pages, more than 500 colour photos and illustrations
€ 75.00 (incl P&P)

For more information on these publications or Dr. Yonow's work, contact her at

Monday, March 12, 2012

The United States Geological Survey Joins BHL!

In November, 2011, at the Life and Literature Conference in Chicago, IL, BHL announced the addition of its fourteenth consortium member, the United States Geological Survey Library (see a list of member libraries on our wiki). Since the announcement, BHL staff have been diligently working with USGS to fully integrate our new library member into BHL workflows and procedures, and it won't be long before you can access new USGS material in the BHL portal. We at BHL, along with our new colleagues at USGS, are thrilled about this important development in the BHL project.

When asked what contributions USGS could make to the BHL corpus, Richard Huffine, Library Director, replied, "The USGS mission has always spanned both the physical and life sciences. From our historical work in paleontology to our current research in ecosystems, we have collections that will definitely compliment the current holdings of the BHL." The USGS is focusing their early contributions on filling gaps in BHL and adding a collection of rare research in paleobotany. As Huffine further added, "We're excited to be part of this historic effort and are looking forward to seeing the BHL reflect the full breadth and depth of what biodiversity means."

Created in 1879, the U.S. Geological Survey maintains one of the world’s largest libraries dedicated to the earth and natural sciences. Scientific research is a key part of the Survey’s mission, and this work is supported by a wide array of monitoring activities and scientific collections, more than 1,000 research scientists and a library with more than 2,000,000 volumes, 1,500,000 maps and 800 current serial titles. For more information about the U.S. Geological Survey, visit

We are thrilled to add the United States Geological Survey Library to the BHL ranks. We are confident they will contribute a unique array of important biodiversity texts to the over 102,ooo volumes and 38 million pages currently available. Welcome to the team, USGS!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book of the Week: Sarah Ann Drake & Women's History Month

If you've been following us on Twitter or checking in on our Facebook page, you know that this month is Women's History Month. BHL is celebrating by highlighting women throughout history who have played in important role in the progression of biodiversity research and knowledge. Each day, we've been tweeting about one or two of these remarkable heroines and each week we've been posting Facebook trivia challenging your knowledge about these famous women. Today, we're featuring a woman who made an incredible contribution to botanical illustration: Sarah Ann Drake.

Sarah Ann Drake was born on July 24, 1803, in Skeyton, Norfolk. During her lifetime, she created more than 1500 botanical illustrations, yet we know next to nothing about her life with the exception of a few small details about her relationship with John Lindley.

John Lindley was an English botanist who wrote a number of the important botanical works of the nineteenth century, many of which described new species and contained colored illustrations painted by his own hand. In 1830, Sarah Drake moved into the Lindley house in London and performed a variety of duties within the household, including governess to Lindley's children. Eventually, however, her interests turned to botany and she illustrated many of the images in Lindley's publications. Notable titles include Ladies' Botany and Sertum Orchidaceum. Lindley even named a species in honor of Ms. Drake - The Western Australian Orchid genus Drakaea.

Sarah Drake illustrated a variety of titles for authors other than John Lindley as well, including plates from Sydenham Edwards' The Botanical Register and our Book of the Week, Bateman's The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala.

The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala contains forty folio plates dedicated to orchid species found in Central America. It is hailed as one of the rarest, most renowned, and most sought after orchid books ever published, with only 125 copies produced. In 2002, a copy of the work sold at Christie's Auction House for 196,500 USD. According to W. Blunt in The Art of Botanical Illustration, this title is "probably the finest, and certainly the largest, botanical book ever produced with lithographic plates...In size and in splendour, Bateman's giant folio eclipses the works of all who went before or came after him." Bateman himself is also remembered as not only a pioneer in orchid culture, but also one of the first proponents of "cool" orchid cultivation.

Sarah Drake died in 1857, reportedly from diabetes, though some historians have suggested that she may have suffered from cumulative poisoning caused by her painting materials. As we honor the notable women of biodiversity history this month, we remember and applaud Sarah Ann Drake for the gorgeous artistic and scientific illustrations she contributed to botanical research.

Illustrations pictured in this post are by Sarah Ann Drake. Other illustrators for The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala include Augusta Withers, Jane Edwards and Samuel Holden.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Linking to Biodiversity Heritage Library from Wikipedia

View more presentations from Chris Freeland.

In 2008, following a discussion with a senior staff member within the Wikimedia Foundation, I began a test to "seed" or "plant" links from Wikipedia pages into our newly launched (at that time) Biodiversity Heritage Library web site.

I describe my methodology in the presentation, but in short, I took a list of the 5,000 most frequently requested Wikipedia pages for the closest time period I could obtain. I then read through that list and extracted out any that had to do with organisms. I learned a lot about humanity reading through those requests - people search for some really, really sick stuff on Wikipedia - but I was able to determine a set of organisms in the search results. If we had scanned the book where that organism was originally described, like Lion, then I added the link to Linnaeus' Systema Naturae, 1758, as a reference. If we didn't have the original publication online, like Polar bear, then I linked to the Names Bibliography of that organism, showing where the name is found throughout BHL.

I was going to give this presentation at a conference, but didn't make it for some reason...and there it sat for 4 years. We've recently started talking about doing more linking with Wikipedia and I remembered back to this little exercise and the documentation I had captured at the time. I've updated the presentation to look at trends carrying through the end of February 2012, giving a nice 3-4year time frame around which to draw some conclusions.

Have a look, post some comments if you have feedback. Glad the work is finally able to make it into users' hands!

Chris Freeland, Technical Director, Biodiversity Heritage Library

Monday, March 5, 2012

My Life as a BHL Staffer

As Collections Coordinator for the Biodiversity Heritage Library, I am the point person for all things collections related. I lead and organize the work of the BHL Collections Committee, process all scanning requests, manage the acquisition of new materials and handle our permissions agreement workflow. In addition to my collections management work, I also..."coordinate"...things...namely the communications across our 14 member consortium, BHL Staff, and our Technical Development Team working out of the Missouri Botanical Garden. And then there's also social media work, cataloging tasks, assisting the Tech Team to improve the BHL user experience, and answering the occasional reference question.

Content is King
The BHL collection holds nearly 54,000 titles, over 102,000 volumes, and continues to grow. The majority of the BHL digital corpus derives from the physical collections of the 14 member BHL consortium. In addition, we "ingest" biodiversity related materials from the corpus of texts held within the Internet Archive. In doing so, you will see content in BHL from the California Digital Library, Library of Congress, University of Toronto, North Carolina State University Libraries, and others.

The BHL Collections Committee developed the criteria for ingesting biodiversity relevant materials from the Internet Archive, and continues to tweak this criteria as new content is made available. We also put together the BHL Collection Development Policy and the BHL Deaccession Policy. It is not often that we decide to remove something from the BHL collection, but when we do it is only by unanimous vote. We meet regularly to discuss collections related decisions and tasks, such as developing new sub-collections of BHL content as well as new collections for iTunes U. If you have any suggestions for collections you would like to see in BHL or iTunes U, please let us know by submitting your comments to the BHL feedback form.

The Long and Winding Queue
Speaking of the feedback you may know by now, we have a "scanning request" form that allows you to enter requests for content to be scanned. To date, nearly 1500 scanning requests have been submitted and it is my responsibility to process each one. We use an issue tracking system to manage all the requests that come through, from initial scanning assignment to availability of the title in the BHL web portal.

On average, we receive between 2-3 requests per day and approximately 25% of the requests we receive are for materials that require "special handling," meaning that these materials are either rare, oversized, or in such a condition as to render them ineligible for scanning through our standard workflow with the Internet Archive. We take every measure to fulfill the requests that come in from our users, but requests for "special handling" materials are particularly difficult to fulfill as they are expensive, take additional time and resources to process, and may be so rare that only 1 BHL member library holds the title in their collection. Additionally, only a few BHL member libraries are equipped to digitize rare book materials.

One request at a time, books and missing volumes of a journal, aka "gap-fills," are processed in the order they are received. At times a seemingly simple scanning request can take hours to investigate, require the work of 3 or more BHL member libraries to scan, and months may go by before the content is made available online. This is because processing scanning requests might require a good deal of bibliographic sleuthing before they can be appropriately assigned. Is the material requested already in BHL under a different title or series? Is the work available at a BHL member library for scanning? Is the book in the public domain? Is the volume requested bound with another volume or available under its monographic title? Will the bibliographic record in one library's catalog match the record in another library's catalog? Etc., etc., etc. I can easily find myself lost down a rabbit hole of bibliographic metadata, only to come out in a wonderland of biodiversity literature.

Pride & Permissions
I am proud to work for a digital library project that advocates for open access and open data. Not only am I living my dream of working for a digital library project at the Smithsonian Institution, but I am participating in what I see as a fundamental shift away from the library-as-information-silo to the library of the 21st Century. By putting our data out there (all the taxonomic names held within the pages of our corpus and all the bibliographic data about the books in our collection), the BHL is providing opportunities for biodiversity literature to be repurposed in new ways, ultimately connecting it back to the scholarly research cycle. Want to automatically link all the specimens in your database to the first publication of the scientific name? Be my guest. All I ask is that you let us know what cool things you're doing with BHL data via @BioDivLibrary, BHL on Facebook, or through our feedback form.

This is why it is so important for the BHL to increase the amount of content it has in its collection beyond the United States public domain cut-off of 1922. As Collections Coordinator I manage the agreements with publishers and copyright holders who grant us permission to digitize in-copyright content. Thus far, I have not had the time to be proactive about pursuing permissions agreements but it is my goal for this year to ramp up BHL permissions activities. If you are a publisher or copyright holder that would like to see your content available via the BHL, please contact me at crowleyb[at] or visit our BHL Permissions page for more information.

Channeling the Hive Mind
I am privileged to work with an amazing team of librarians, techies, and biodiversity literature users. One of the most important aspects of my work has been to improve and uphold the free flow of communications among our BHL Staff, Technical Development Team, and our users. With staff scattered throughout the United States and United Kingdom, over 5 different time zones, with varying degrees of institutional resources, and differing digitization workflows, it is amazing to see how closely we work together. We use whatever tools we can to get things done, including but not limited to wikis, conference calls, email, video, issue tracking systems (one for scanning issues and one for tech stuff), skype, Google Docs, Twitter, quarterly reports, listservs, and our blog. As each BHL member institution works autonomously to select and scan what they can within their own digitization workflow, it is critical to maintain a balance between an institution's independent needs as well as the collective requirements of the consortium. We do this by empowering ourselves to make decisions from the bottom-up and trusting each other to do what's best for the project.

I received my MSLS from the Catholic University of America and a BA in Anthropology from the University of Maryland at College Park. My love of digital libraries largely grew out of my work in the Botany Department of the National Museum of Natural History as Project Manager for the Botany of the United States Exploring Expedition project. I love what I do for the Biodiversity Heritage Library. I have seen the project grow and mature in the 3 years that I have been working as Collections Coordinator and look forward to playing my part in the progress that BHL will make in the future.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Platypus Day, Ornithorhynchus anatinus

In case you didn't know it, today, March 3rd, is Platypus Day (thanks to our friends at Phineas and Ferb). In this case, we're celebrating the "semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of action," Perry the Platypus, but you might want to learn more about this amazing creature by following the links below.

Learn more about Ornithorhynchus anatinus at the

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Flickr: BHL's Unexpected Success Story

In July, 2011, several members of the BHL staff began putting illustrations from BHL books on Flickr. It started as a simple way to flag favorite staff images and document the illustrations we were using in various outreach activities, like Twitter and Facebook. Today, our Flickr presence has grown to a collection of over 24,000 images and has become one of the most user-celebrated aspects of the BHL project, prompting such statements as "I think I'm in love" and "My favorite Flickr in the whole world!" Several people have asked us to share our experiences using Flickr as a component of BHL and discuss its growth from inception to the success it is now. We couldn't think of a better place to do this than on our blog.

What's In It for Us? The Benefits of Flickr

Using Flickr has generated a variety of benefits for the BHL project, many of which were unexpected. First and foremost, Flickr provides us with an easy way to showcase our amazing images - a BHL treasure that was all but hidden in our collection. Before Flickr, there was no simple way for users to access the images in BHL. Now, using Flickr sets and collections, users can go to one place and quickly browse thousands of images. And all of these images are available for free download and re-use, which is an excellent "selling" point for anyone interested in finding gorgeous natural history and botanical illustrations.*

Flickr also allows us to broaden our outreach potential, branching outside of our classic BHL interface and reaching our users on a new platform. The audience using Flickr is often quite different from our traditional user base, thus having a presence on Flickr means that we are able to reach a whole new group of people, including artists and k-12 educators.

Our Flickr group has also provided many unexpected benefits to BHL staff. Not only can users more easily find BHL images, but so can we! What started as a way to document those images we were already using in social media quickly became the source of much of this activity. Flickr images provide excellent fodder for our various social media activities, including tweets, facebook posts and trivia, and provide inspiration for many of our Book of the Week posts. Staff can now easily find illustrations to "spice up" BHL promotional materials, including brochures, business cards, banners, and merchandise, or even bring flair to events like donation campaigns. Plus, incorporating images into BHL reports transforms the otherwise boring white pages into alluring, eye-catching documents that people actually want to read.

The World of Tagging Images: Machine Tags

Through the use of machine tags, Flickr also allows us to collaborate more extensively with projects like EOL. Machine tags look like:
  • “taxonomy:binomial=Aegotheles savesi” (quotes required due to space b/w Genus & species)
  • taxonomy:family=Fabaceae
  • taxonomy:genus=Rhinoceros
  • taxonomy:common=Cardinal
Any time an image from our Flickr photostream is machine tagged, it becomes "flagged" for inclusion into the EOL Group Pool and will thus become a part of EOL species pages. (Images are added to the EOL pool on a monthly basis).

See this example of an EOL page for Corvus crassirostris. You'll notice that the image of the Thick-billed Raven from the BHL Flickr set Album of Abyssinian Birds and Mammals is featured on the page. How cool is that?! In addition to the links from EOL pages (under the "Literature" tab) to taxonomic name occurrences in BHL, now BHL image content can be repurposed directly onto EOL species pages.

We would absolutely love your help tagging more of our images for EOL. For more information about machine tagging, please see the instructions provided by EOL here and feel free to contact us via Flickr mail, Twitter @BioDivLibrary, or our feedback form if you have any questions. Please note that you have to have a Flickr profile to add tags to BHL images. If you are already a Flickr member or considering becoming one, and would like to have your own images of flora and fauna harvested to EOL species pages, please see the following for more information:

Proud Parents: Watching our Flickr Mature

Since the inception of our Flickr group, there have been many project milestones, the first of which (besides actually starting the account!) was implementing a basic organizational structure. Once it was clear that BHL wanted to fully participate in the Flickr environment, staff transformed a haphazard pool of images into organized sets and collections, with sets structured around individual titles and collections around subjects and content types (like "Mammals" or "Book of the Week"). Slightly later, staff capitalized on the opportunity Flickr offered us to celebrate specific events, organizing themed collections such as Halloween or the Holiday Season.

Pagination display on BHL
Eventually, staff realized that Flickr could help us target specific content in our collection for metadata improvement - specifically, pagination improvement. Pagination refers to the display of page numbering that you see on the left hand side of the BHL screen when viewing a book. Although very basic pagination is performed at the time of book scanning, BHL staff manually update this pagination with more helpful information such as identifying illustrations, designating articles, and embedding year and volume information. Learn more about BHL pagination in Gilbert Borrego's post. Since those books featured on Flickr became some of the most popular in BHL, and since it was difficult to locate illustrations within these items without improved pagination, staff began to prioritize Flickr titles for pagination improvement. As of this week, all 450+ titles in Flickr have been manually paginated in BHL!

Our most recent milestone addresses one of the most common requests we've had regarding Flickr content. Until recently, images in Flickr only linked back to the volume level in BHL. This meant that the BHL urls associated with an image in Flickr did not link to the specific page in BHL, but instead to the "item" or book that contained the image. It was often difficult to then locate the image within the book, especially if the pagination had not yet been manually updated. Thanks to the Technical Development team at the Missouri Botanical Garden, all images in Flickr now have page-level links associated with them, allowing users to find the page within a BHL book with a single click.

This improvement came with an added benefit for BHL staff. Previously, to upload images into Flickr, staff had to first download the images from BHL, open them in Adobe Bridge to embed metadata, and then bulk upload to Flickr (more on the previous Flickr process in Gilbert Borrego's post). Now, staff can flag illustrations directly within the BHL back-end administration portal. Software developed by the MOBOT team then automatically embeds book and page information to these images and uploads to Flickr. For more information on the technical aspects of these improvements, see our FAQ page.

Overall, we've found that Flickr offers us an excellent opportunity to provide access to aspects of our content that were overlooked and under-appreciated. Reaching new audiences and demonstrating that BHL has much to offer outside the realm of taxonomy is a critical step in the growth of the project.

*All BHL images are public domain. However, Flickr does not provide a "public domain" license option. Therefore, our images are listed in Flickr as AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike