Thursday, May 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Louis Agassiz!

Monday, May 28, marked Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz's 205th birthday. Louis Agassiz was a famous Swiss paleontologist, glaciologist, and geologist who made critical advances in the fields of ichthyology and glaciology. During his lifetime, he received the Wollaston medal, was named a member of the Royal Society, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and served as the head of the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard University. And last, but certainly not least, Agassiz founded the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

Born in Môtier, Switzerland, in 1807, Agassiz's original interests laid in medicine, but he developed an affinity for zoology, particularly ichthyology, after meeting Georges Cuvier, renowned French naturalist and zoologist. In 1826, Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius asked Agassiz to study a collection of fish brought back from an 1819-20 expedition to Brazil. The endeavor marked the launch of Agassiz's work in ichthyology. The project was completed in 1829, and by 1830, Agassiz, fully engrossed in the subject, issued a prospectus of a History of the Freshwater Fish of Central Europe, which was finally published from 1839-42.

Agassiz achieved worldwide fame with the publication of Recherches sur les poissons fossiles, a five volume, gorgeously-illustrated set, published from 1833-43. The work described the fossil fish housed at the University of Neuchâtel, where Agassiz taught as a professor. The stones containing the fossils came from the slates of Glarus and the limestones of Monte Bolca.

Agassiz's research for Recherches prompted him to develop a new classification system for fish, dividing them into the four groups Ganoids, Placoids, Cycloids and Ctenoids. The division was based on the scales and dermal appendages exhibited by each specimen, as these characteristics were often the only traits preserved in fossils. Though no longer in use, Agassiz's system served as an important advancement in the study of fossil fish.

Recherches contains 402 lithographic plates, 318 of which are hand-colored. It describes more than 1,700 ancient fish species. To support the continued development of the project, the Earl of Ellesmere purchased Agassiz's 1,290 original drawings for the work, which were ultimately presented to the Geological Society of London. A complete copy of the work sold at Christie's Auction House in 2003 for $8,537.

During his lifetime, Agassiz published material about echinoderms, fossil mollusks, embryology, and glaciers. He was the first to advocate scientifically for the advent of an ice age in earth's history, which resulted in his two-volume work Etudes sur les Glaciers. Agassiz ultimately settled in the United States, and, perhaps most importantly for BHL, founded the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University in 1859. The museum's library is one of the founding members of BHL and the contributor of our copy of Recherches sur les poissons fossiles. By the time of his death, Agassiz was one of the best-known scientists in the world.

You can see a selection of the illustrations from volumes 2 and 3 in Flickr and browse the entire work in BHL. We're proud to have our own history so intricately interwoven with this great man and send a heartfelt birthday wish his way. Happy birthday, Louis Agassiz!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

BHL and Our Users: Wendy Wasman

When most people think of BHL's users, they think of scientists accessing literature for research. However, one of our largest user communities is librarians, which use BHL to fulfill requests from patrons, saving their libraries time and resources by having immediate, free, online access to our material. One such librarian is Wendy Wasman, a librarian at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, who graciously agreed to give us a peek at the way she uses BHL to support her work activities.

What is your title and institutional affiliation?

Librarian, Cleveland Museum of Natural History

How long have you worked in a library environment?

I’ve been a professional librarian since 1988, but I have worked in libraries since I was 16! I started as a page in my public library, and then I worked in my college library (Oberlin) for 4 years. I’m on my second ‘tour of duty’ at CMNH – I was the Librarian from 1988-1994, and then moved to Philadelphia, where I was the Science Librarian at Haverford College from 1995-1999. I moved back to Cleveland in 2000, and have been back at the Museum since 2008. I tell people I’m the “renewed librarian.”

When did you first discover BHL?

I first heard about BHL back in 2008 from the listserv of the Natural History Caucus of the Special Libraries Association, and I followed its progress by reading various articles and blogs.

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

I can more easily meet the research needs of the Museum curators by using BHL to find articles. One of the curators was doing research on a specific salamander and needed old taxonomic literature. I was able to use BHL to find every article he needed for his research.

How often do you use BHL?

It really depends on the project. Sometimes I use it several times a week, and sometimes just once a month.

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 usually select pages to download for a custom PDF. I also downloaded a lot of high resolution images for a recent presentation I did on scientists and artists of the 19th century. It was a real treat being able to find and download images from the old Transactions of the Zoological Society of London, and it saved my library’s set from the wear and tear of scanning the pages I needed.

What are your favorite features/services on BHL?

Being able to select and download pages for a custom PDF is a wonderful feature.

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 love to be able to search for individual images; I know that is something that BHL is focusing on now.

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?

Not really, since my use of BHL is very project-dependent right now.

Thank you, Wendy, for sharing your experiences with BHL with us! As you indicated, BHL is currently working on improving access to BHL images through work supported by our recent NEH grant. You can find out more about the grant and our project progress on our wiki. In the meantime, enjoy the thousands of BHL images freely available on the BHL Flickr!

As a final note, a recent addition to the Biodiversity Heritage Library is volumes from the Scientific Publications of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History! Be sure to check them out in BHL.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Celebrating Linnaeus' Birthday with iTunes U

He has been dubbed "The Father of Modern Taxonomy," "The Father of Modern Ecology," Princeps botanicorum (Prince of Botanists), "The Pliny of the North," and "The Second Adam." He is credited with creating the classification schema known as binomial nomenclature, and today, he turns 305 years old. Of course, we're talking about Carl Linnaeus, and we're celebrating his birthday with the release of our latest iTunes U collection dedicated to him.

Carl Linnaeus was born May 23rd, 1707, in Småland, Sweden. As evidenced by his later publications, his first and primary passion was botany. At an early age, he took an interest in plants, eventually coming under the tutelage of Johan Rothman, the state doctor of Småland. Linnaeus first learned to classify plants under Rothman's direction, using the system developed by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, which, though based on artificial similarities between organisms, nevertheless was the first system to make a clear distinction between genus and species.

In 1728, Linnaeus enrolled at Uppsala University, where he made quick progress in the field of botany and, by only his second year, was himself giving lectures. During these years, Linnaeus began to question Tournefort's classification system, and thus decided to develop his own. Linnaeus' system arranged plants according to the number of stamens and pistils each possessed. This new system formed the basis of his work in the critical publication Genera Plantarum (first edition published 1737). A young German botanical draughtsman named Georg Dionys Ehret crafted a visual representation of this system, which Linnaeus included in Genera Plantarum (though without acknowledgement to Ehret). The image represents the earliest illustration of Linnaeus' classification system for plants.

Ehret's illustration of Linnaeus' classification system
Linnaeus continued to revise Genera Plantarum, publishing a total of five editions (fifth edition published 1754). During the years between the publication of the first and fifth editions of this work, Linnaeus also published Species Plantarum (first edition published 1753), which arranged all plants known to him into orders, classes, and genera according to the Genera sexual system. Species Plantarum provided formal, multiple word descriptions in Latin of each species, as well as an additional epithet for easy reference. The combination of the genus and epithet quickly became a popular method by which to refer to a plant species. Species Plantarum is considered the inception of botanical nomenclature, and the use of a consistent naming structure based on the methods presented in Species and Genera was a vital step in the maturation of Linnaeus' binomial schema.

In 1735, even before the publication of the first edition of Genera Plantarum, Linnaeus published the first edition of Systema Naturae. This first edition outlined Linnaeus' ideas for the hierarchical arrangement of the natural world, dividing it into the animal, plant, and mineral kingdoms. His classification of the plant kingdom followed the sexual system he presented in Genera. However, it was not until the tenth edition of Systema Naturae that the binomial classification system we so readily associate with Linnaeus came into its own. While Species Plantarum had already established a binomial naming system for plants, the tenth edition of Systema Naturae (published in 1758) organized, for the first time, the animal kingdom according to this system - Kingdom, Class, Order, Genera, and Species. Thus, it represents the beginning of zoological nomenclature and, together with the first edition of Species Plantarum, is considered the starting point of binomial nomenclature.

Today, we highlight Linnaeus' contributions to science with the release of our newest iTunes U Collection: The Carl Linnaeus Collection. The collection features 13 of Linnaeus' publications (including the first edition of Species Plantarum, the tenth edition of Systema Naturae, and the fifth edition of Genera Plantarum), as well as two additional items about Carl Linnaeus and his sexual classification system (Carolvs Linnaevs by Edward Lee Greene and New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus by Robert John Thonrton). You can download all of these titles directly onto your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch for free through iTunes. And, of course, you can download them directly to your computer through the BHL interface.

So Happy Birthday, Carl Linnaeus! Our present to you: Your very own iTunes U collection!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book of the Week: Stop and Smell the...Algae?

Take a deep breath. Ahhhhhh. Now take another.

Desmarestia viridis
Did you know that every second breath you take, you owe to the ocean? Yes, it’s true: the ocean produces more than half of the planet’s oxygen supply which accounts for one out of every two human breaths. More specifically, we owe gratitude to microscopic phytoplankton. These varieties of algae are atrophic organisms, able to produce their own food via photosynthesis. Oxygen is a major by-product of this fascinating process that transforms sunlight into food therefore, algae underpins ALL earth’s ecosystems and life on earth. Algae may be one of the most altruistic lifeforms I’ve ever heard of. Can you imagine being able to create your own food just by absorbing the sun’s rays and on top of that creating the very oxygen that sustains life? Algae why are you so good to us?

So this week, let’s pay homage to this unassuming and oft overlooked life-form and give it the proper credit it deserves. After all, without algae we wouldn’t be here today.  We are pretty sure that Kintaro Okamura (1867-1935), a famous Japanese algologist from the Meiji Era knew how critical algae organisms are to our continued existence. He was so beloved in Japan for his work on algae that the Japanese Emperor and government conferred on him the Decoration of the Third Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasure. Quite the honor. It is clear that this man had an intense love affair with algae! Over the course of his career, he self-published a series titled Nihon sorui zufu; english translation: Icones of Japanese Algae, which is this week's book of the week. You can thank our partner institution the MBLWHOI Library at Woods Hole, Mass. for this wonderful contribution to our beloved, ever growing digital library. And fret not, if you don’t speak Japanese because Okamura includes all of the taxonomic names and important details in Japanese as well as English. What a champ! 

You can also view the illustrations from Icones of Japanese Algae v. 2 in Flickr here.

If you are ravenous for more Japanese algae, check out Okamura’s seminal work, Nihon kaisozusets or Illustrations of the marinealgae of Japan, digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

5 Fun Algae Facts 

We're pretty sure Okamura would want you to know as much about algae as possible so, that you too might come to appreciate and value its complexity, diversity, and role as a foundational building block in the planet's food chain, i.e., its status as a Primary Producer.

Macrocystis pyrifera*
1) Algae produces about 330 billion tons of oxygen each year.

2) 2.4 billion years ago marks the Great Oxidation Event — the beginning of photosynthesis.  It took another couple hundred million years for enough oxygen to build-up in the atmosphere to support complex life.
3) The earth’s tallest forests are not on land but, in the ocean. Giant kelp forests, Macrocystis pyrifera, can reach 100 meters (328 feet) in height.

4) In the future, algae may become a major source of food and fuel. In fact the Navy is already purchasing algae biofuels.

5) Various types of algae are being studied and used to create anti-cancer drugs.

Why should we take care of the ocean, home of our algae friends?
If you aren't already convinced of algae’s vital importance to humankind, last May, in the wake of the devastation caused by the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Barack Obama decreed that the upcoming month of June will be National Oceans Month. Obama wasn’t the first president to understand the vital role that the ocean plays for all Americans:

Among President John F. Kennedy’s many famous quotes were these:

Constantinea rosa-marina
"Knowledge of the oceans is more than a matter of curiosity. Our very survival may hinge upon it.” - John F. Kennedy, Jr., March 1961 message to Congress.

And a year later he said this…

 “All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea -- whether it is to sail or to watch it -- we are going back from whence we came.”- John F. Kennedy, Jr., September 1962, Speech given at Newport

So in the spirit of JFK, ask not what the ocean can do for you – ask what you can do for the ocean and its algae citizens.
In June, look for more posts about the ocean and the wondrous life contained therein!

Taxonomic Tools 

*image courtesy of EOL

- Jacqueline Ford, Librarian, Biodiversity Heritage Library

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

BHL and Our Users: Dr. Chris Mah

Meet Dr. Chris Mah, Research Collaborator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. His specialty is starfish, and he's been using BHL in combination with Google Translate to efficiently conduct research involving foreign monographs.

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

Greetings! I am a Research Collaborator in the Invertebrate Zoology Dept. at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. I am one of the world’s only experts in the evolution and classification of starfish (aka sea stars). As a consequence I study a hybrid of taxonomy, paleontology, deep-sea biology and macroevolution as they pertain to asteroids.

How long have you been in your field of study?

Although I received my PhD in 2005, I have been working on starfishes since the late 90s. My first publications were in 1996 and 1998 but most of my pubs came in the early 2000s.

When did you first discover BHL?

I first discovered the BHL when I began my first post-doc at the Smithsonian’s NMNH. Honestly, I think I may have met some of the BHL staff before I actually began using the data from the website.

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

BHL is an awesomely useful resource! As a person who works from a lot of classical taxonomic literature from before the 20th Century, the accessibility of these resources as online PDFs just amazes me. While rooting through old libraries trying to find 200 year old books can be fun, it's often just easier and more time efficient to be able to pull up the document or monograph, download it to my desktop and get to it.

It can also be very helpful to have the BHL when I’m traveling away from “home base.” No need to carry around a rare 120 year old book if you can just open a scanned file of it on your computer. Lots of different situations where this has been a life-saver. Sometimes it happens overseas and sometimes simply at a university or school without a very large library.

How often do you use BHL?

Using BHL is often dictated by need, so sometimes I'm using it every day and other times there are weeks without using it - but if I were to average it out? Maybe once every week or two?

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.)

While I haven’t completely explored all of BHL’s tools, I am pretty happy with downloading PDFs of monographs and papers that are either hard to find or just convenient to look up online. Again, as a tool for “taxonomy on the go,” it's nice to be able to access the plates and figures without having to carry along a friable old book on a long trip.

What are your favorite features/services on BHL?

One of my favorite features works best with foreign monographs! You can use the BHL to download content as text, which you can then throw into translation software, such as Google Translate! While this does not always “cleanly” translate it does save a substantial amount of work from having to transcribe the whole thing word by word!

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 guess the most important aspect about BHL other than more coverage of older, useful content is a more powerful or at least, smarter search engine. I usually have to take at least two approaches to locating papers among the many journals archived on the BHL. If its not listed under “asteroidea” or some subject word, I usually have to then find the exact citation and track it down.

I realize cross-indexing to that degree is rather difficult and will be imperfect, but sometimes I think that it can be better emphasized when individual monographs are entered into the BHL.

Might also be useful to emphasize how individual citations or pages can be linked with other major biodiversity websites such as the World Asteroidea Database, part of, and so on..

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?

Scans of the older content in the BHL are probably the most meaningful to my research. These often represent rarely circulated monographs and books that I often don’t find outside of the main “hub” libraries. It is my hope that more of these rarities can be scanned and made available to everyone...and that they can be better advertised so that researchers around the world can tap into them.


Thank you so much, Dr. Mah, for taking the time to share your experiences with BHL with us! We're pleased to announce that recently BHL implemented new search functionality, allowing for more Google-like, fuzzy search matching. Rather than having to enter exact citations, users can now submit keyword combinations (and even title abbreviations!) to retrieve results from BHL. Hopefully, this will make your research much more efficient, and we look forward to continually improving these features in the months to come.

Monday, May 14, 2012

JSTOR Early Journal Content in BHL

BHL is pleased to announce that a selection of JSTOR’s Early Journal Content (EJC) relevant to biodiversity is now available in BHL’s citation repository, Citebank.

In the fall of 2011, JSTOR announced they were making their journal content published prior to 1923 in the United States and prior to 1870 elsewhere freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world. This spring BHL has worked to ingest nearly 30,000 articles from JSTOR’s EJC into Citebank so that they may be searched alongside other biodiversity-related materials. Once a citation is retrieved, users will be taken to the JSTOR website where they can view the original content files.

The presence of JSTOR’s EJC greatly increases the value of the Citebank repository by providing access to articles from significant biodiversity materials published during this period.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Birthday BHL!

BHL at launch in May, 2007
Like proud parents, we're excited to announce that today BHL turns 5 years old! In 2007, the Biodiversity Heritage Library portal was launched with 306 titles, 3,236 volumes, and 1,271,664 pages of taxonomic literature, presented via a simple portal bathed in earthy tones. What began as a consortium of just 10 natural history and botanical libraries has today grown into a global project, with 14 US/UK consortium members as well as BHL nodes on every continent in the world except Antarctica.

Today, BHL includes:

These are just a few of the improvements we've made to BHL since it was born in 2007. Take a look at what BHL used to look like through the Internet Archive's Way Back Machine. We're proud of the progress we've made and look forward to the next five years. We're expecting big things!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book of the Week: Hawaii’s Natural Treasures

If you didn’t already know, we are in the midst of celebrating Asian-Pacific American Heritage month, which asks us to honor the people, culture, history and biodiversity of a broad region which encompasses the entire Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. This region includes exciting and exotic locales such as Palau, Guam, Fiji, New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Tonga, and Easter Island just to name a few.

Today we are focusing our attention on our 50th state, Hawaii, a place synonymous with paradise. While many of us longingly pine for Hawaii’s beaches and temperate weather during the cruel months of midwinter, we should also take care to remember that Hawaii’s history is an intimate part of the American experience. Key moments in Hawaii’s recent history such as becoming a state in 1959, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or even Captain Cook’s discovery of the “Sandwich Islands,” are important but, these events often overshadow Hawaii’s natural history which asks us to delve a little deeper into the past. This is a story that begins with the formation of the archipelago chain of eight major islands, followed by the myriad ways in which plants and animals came to these islands and eventually how the native people populated and lived in peace on these islands for hundreds of years prior to European contact. 

The Hawaiian Island Chain

Enthusiastic naturalist, professor and curator at the Bishop Museum, William Alanson Bryan seeks to tell this story in a tome that he called his “life’s work”. Bryan’s Natural history of Hawaii, being an account of the Hawaiian people, the geology and geography of the islands, and the native and introduced plants and animals of the group is just three years shy of its 100-year publication anniversary yet, the work is still a relevant and comprehensive guide through Hawaii’s natural wonders. More importantly it painstakingly documents Hawaii’s biodiversity in a central place which provides modern conservationists with a roadmap of Hawaiian species they should be working to preserve --but more on that subject later.

Check out all 441 photos on Flickr

Bryan’s tome is as lengthy as the title suggests. However, the 596 page text is sprinkled with 441 photos, mostly shot by Bryan himself. The book is a visual journey. The key to navigating its contents is by consulting the extensive cross-referenced index and glossary at the back of the book which, gives the reader the common, taxonomic and Hawaiian names for various species found throughout the island chain. Furthermore, this book serves as an important access point for budding taxonomists, systematists, zoologists, and even the novice student. In fact, it is the uninterested and unenlightened person that Bryan takes special pains to reach. His book provides the reader with a holistic understanding of Hawaii’s natural treasures that is broad enough for the beginner while still providing enough taxonomic depth for specialists. For natural history lovers, particular emphasis should be paid to Part II of the book which, contains chapters on birds, fish, insects (native and invasive), mollusks, and all manner of reef-dwelling creature.

Another reason to highlight this book, beyond this month’s celebrations is for a slightly less cheerful reason. As a frequent visitor to the islands myself, I quickly noticed that many of the locals are in the habit of calling their beloved islands “the extinction capital of the United States.” Put simply: no where on earth is biodiversity loss happening at such alarming rates as it is in Hawaii. Tourism, invasive species and climate change have created steep challenges for Hawaii’s biodiversity task force. Some staggering statistics to wrap your mind around:

- Sea levels will rise by 2.5-6.2 feet by 2050, which will reduce Hawaii’s access to fresh water tables dramatically.

- Overfishing, sedimentation, land-based pollution, recreational overuse and invasive species jeopardize the health of Hawaii’s reefs and have resulted in a 75% decline in near-shore reef fish populations over the past century.

- A new pest species arrives in the islands about once every 18 days; these invasive species are decimating Hawaii’s delicate ecology and costing the state half a billion dollars annually.

-(Statistics provided by the Nature Conservancy. More statistics here.)

Trae Menard, director of the Kauai Program for the Nature Conservancy informs us that "Hawaii is a model for the future of what is going to happen elsewhere around the globe. Who knows what we are really in for....What we learn to make our ecosystems more resilient is going to be valuable globally.” We must help Hawaii preserve its natural treasures so that the life forms that Bryan spent his life describing still maintain the right to live, grow, reproduce and be appreciated as valuable members in the chain of life. You can contribute by simply biking or walking to work (reduces greenhouse emissions, and keeps sea levels from rising), participating in global bioblitzes, or if you are feeling really ambitious volunteer with the Nature Conservancy or other local efforts in Hawaii.

- Jacqueline Ford, Librarian, Biodiversity Heritage Library

Further Reading and Citations

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Announcing the BHL Newsletter!

Want to keep up with all the latest BHL project updates? Then subscribe to our quarterly newsletter! It's full of great information about all the fun things BHL is doing. The Spring 2012 newsletter (excerpt below) highlights the retirement of BHL's founding director, Tom Garnett, our recent iTunes U collections, our NEH grant to support improved access to BHL images, and our shared booth with EOL at the American Libraries Association midwinter meeting.

Click here to subscribe to the BHL Newsletter.

Newsletters will be archived on our public wiki.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Partying with BHL: Tagging Flickr Images for EOL

BHL has over 49 million pages of taxonomic literature, freely available worldwide to anyone with an Internet connection. But if you think BHL is just about text, you'll be pleasantly surprised. BHL books also contain thousands of gorgeous natural history illustrations from the past 500 years. We wanted to provide better access to these images, and thus the BHL Flickr was born. BHL's Flickr currently contains more than 100,000 images.

The Encyclopedia of Life, with which BHL is closely associated, is an online encyclopedia dedicated to creating a web page for every species on earth. These pages contain information about each species, links to mentions of those species in BHL, distribution maps, and a myriad of media, including images. EOL harvests many of their images from Flickr, including BHL images that are tagged with a species name machine tag. See an example of an EOL species page with a BHL image here.

Machine tags are tags specially formatted to allow machines to read and understand them. For EOL, these tags tell machines which species (or other taxonomic designations) are depicted in each image. The format for EOL machine tags is "taxonomy:binomial=Genus species". You can replace "binomial" with another taxonomic tag, such as "genus" or "family", if you can only identify the organism at that level. Learn more about the Flickr tagging process and machine tag formats in our previous blog post

While BHL is working on ways to automatically add species tags to images in Flickr (learn more in the post about our recent NEH grant), the process is currently a manual one, requiring users to identify the species in each image with a taxonomic machine tag so that it can be ingested into EOL and associated with the correct species page. With over 100,000 images in the BHL Flickr, staff need help to get these images tagged. To facilitate this process, staff decided to call on the power of the masses and host a Flickr tagging party at the Smithsonian Institution.

The Flickr Tagging Party at the Smithsonian Institution.
Smithsonian employees were invited to gather on April 25th, 2012, for a 1 1/2 hour meeting at which BHL and EOL staff gave overviews of their respective projects and instructions on how to add taxonomic machine tags to BHL images. After a brief tutorial (see the tutorial on the EOL Flickr page), guests were encouraged to begin tagging images from a prepared list of books. Users run into a variety of challenges when tagging images, including outdated species names (users are encouraged to tag images with more modern names), plates without species names, and names in foreign languages or in fonts that are difficult to read, among other things. While the books identified on the prepared list were selected to minimize these difficulties, attendees nevertheless unavoidably encountered many of these issues. Thus, BHL and EOL staff were positioned throughout the room to provide assistance when needed.

The tagging party was an overall success and excellent learning opportunity for both guests and staff. Approximately 170 images were tagged by the 23 attendees. A slightly high tag error rate has prompted staff to refine instructions and develop a simpler format for future events. Additionally, a survey was sent to attendees to allow staff to identify further areas for improvement.

See our updated Flickr Tagging Tutorial here.

Staff hope to host many more of these events. Incorporating changes based on lessons learned during this first attempt, several more staff parties are planned for the coming months. Later this summer, staff plan to host an event for a natural history society in the Washington, D.C. area before finally hosting the first public tagging party, most likely stationed at the Smithsonian Institution. If you're interested in learning more about tagging Flickr images or perhaps participating in future public events, send us feedback. Be sure to check back on our blog regularly for more information about Flickr, EOL, and machine tags!

Visit the BHL Flickr page here:

Monday, May 7, 2012

My Life as a BHL Staffer: Chris Carden

I am a Metadata Librarian for the Biodiversity Heritage Library based at the Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. Under the auspices of Harvard librarians Connie Rinaldo and Joe DeVeer, I am responsible for complex cataloging of the MCZ Library’s significant natural history literature collection within Harvard’s integrated library system (known as HOLLIS) in order to provide precise bibliographic records that are imported to the BHL portal via XML pages. In order to accomplish this and to facilitate comprehensive intellectual access, I enhance minimal-level records to provide in-depth bibliographic descriptions, as well as name, series and subject authority control according to international, national and local Harvard standards.  I also resolve problems of incorrect, incomplete or conflicting bibliographic and authority data in order to facilitate navigability to content in HOLLIS and the BHL portal.

I see my job as a blend of “old” and “new” librarianship skills – I catalog in MARC, but I help facilitate knowledge accessibility for the Harvard community through HOLLIS and for the BHL community through the BHL portal, although all communities can partake of each other’s public finding aids. My goals are to improve ease of access for all biodiversity and natural history researchers through the promotion of accurate and complete digital catalog records.  The BHL taxonomy provides important search capability, but providing subject access and links to BHL records through HOLLIS provides another avenue for search means and provides facilitation for improved research use.  This access is influenced by information organization and cataloging relationships, which I endeavor to provide.

For various reasons, quite a few bibliographic records in HOLLIS have not been upgraded to local, national or international standards.  The Harvard libraries’ 19th and 20th century card catalog records were retrospectively converted into digital online catalog records during the 1990s, but considering there are over 13 million entries within HOLLIS, many of these records contained less-than-full information, what are colloquially known as core-level or “stub” records.  These records were always meant to be temporary at best - just a placeholder where a record might contain a main entry and title, and a holding location, but very little else.

One example of this is shown here, a two-volume text and atlas set of the paleontologist Fridolin von Sandberger’s work, Die Land-und Süsswasser-Conchylien der Vorwelt, published in 1875:

This record exhibits very basic and incomplete information; there is author, title and publisher information, a physical description in terms of number of pages, a perfunctory general note, the HOLLIS record number, and the holding location here at the Ernst Mayr Library. All well and good, but obviously this record has a few problems. Besides the need to link the entry to its corresponding BHL record, there are no subject headings, there is a bibliography and index that needs to be noted, punctuation and physical descriptors need to be upgraded to contemporary cataloging rule standards (i.e., Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd ed., etc.), and most egregiously, the author’s name is misspelled!

To rectify these problems, I employed a few steps. I first checked OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) through its Connexion program to see if there were more complete records held by other reputable repositories. In this case there was a good one, so I overlaid the new record via a Z39.50 protocol over the original incomplete record in HOLLIS. I then compared the bibliographic information with the scanned BHL version of the book; if necessary, I sometimes consult the physical copy from our Library stacks. I then made necessary changes to the record to reflect the Library’s holding. I also consulted the Library of Congress Name Authorities to check the authorized heading for Dr. von Sandberger’s name. Finally, I attached a holdings record link to the corresponding BHL record, making it quick and easy for researchers to go straight to the digital copy and begin reading. The final markup in HOLLIS now looks like this:

Note there is a properly-spelled author with his birth and death dates, a more complete physical description of the volumes, subject access, and an internet link to the BHL record.  In addition, the BHL record now looks like this:

One note about the subjects, of which there are only a couple and they seem very broad: in a comprehensive work such as this, the taxonomy for subject headings would be very extensive, and a massive bibliographic record would result. I don’t claim to be a biological taxonomist, and am thankful for BHL’s uBio taxonomic name server that makes searches easier within the digitized texts for specific species or genera. Therefore, with the help of Library of Congress MARC 21 authorities, I chose “Mollusks, Fossil” and “Paleontology” as subject terms that would most accurately describe the work. In other cases, for a work that covers a more specific species, geographic area or geological epoch, I would include species, geographical or chronological subject terms, if possible.

Another aspect of my job is paginating Harvard’s holdings on the public portal consistent with BHL standards. Gilbert Borrego and JJ Ford have already enlightened us on the importance of the BHL pagination through previous blog posts, so I won’t describe the process as it would be redundant. However, my intent is to help direct researchers to the materials they need in the most efficacious manner, and streamline the navigability of the online texts and illustrations held by the Ernst Mayr Library that are in the BHL portal. With the outstanding assistance of our colleagues JJ, Katie Mullen and Gwen Henry, most of Harvard’s serial holdings on BHL have been thoroughly paginated. Pagination continues on monographic titles that the Library has prioritized and our faithful users have suggested. As Gilbert noted, we’re looking for ways to accurately automate the pagination procedure, but right now it’s still a manual method. But, hopefully, even with over 38 million pages and counting, everyone will eventually get a fully-paginated BHL.

I have a varied professional background and my earlier careers included having worked as assistants in fields such as environmental law and bookselling. However, since I earned my MSLIS from Simmons College in Boston, I have been fortunate to have worked on a number of different archival and metadata projects at such diverse places as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Doris Duke Foundation at Duke Farms, New Jersey. I have been at Harvard since 2006 where my initial position was as a project cataloger in the Fine Arts Library.

I have been working on the BHL project since February 2010.  I truly feel privileged to be part of the BHL team, and this is one of the most satisfying and gratifying positions I have ever had in my career. I am working with a great group of intelligent, talented, hard-working and dedicated colleagues, not only at Harvard, but within all the partner institutions, and it has been very rewarding. We have also been privileged to have some great and positive feedback by our researchers, who continually help us with suggestions of titles that have yet to be scanned or suggest ways to provide better access and information online. I am very proud to be working on this project and believe that such a significant resource will continue to be sustained and be kept strong for future biodiversity researchers.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Connecting Content on BHL!

Excerpt from the Rollo Beck Galapagos expedition journal.
The California Academy of Sciences Library (CASL) is pleased to announce that The Rollo Beck Galapagos Expedition Journal is now accessible online via the Biodiversity Heritage Library.  The Beck field notes are the first test submission to the Connecting Content field note scanning project. Their successful inclusion into BHL marks many months of planning, effort, and collaboration between the Academy staff and the amazing Connecting Content partner institutions.

The Connecting Content project, made possible by an IMLS National Leadership Grant, involves digitizing field notebooks and natural history specimen collections, making the results available free for open access, and testing methods to create links between the items. This is the first step in an effort to create linked digital item-level access to archival resources, published literature, and biological data. This project has come together through the combined efforts of multiple institutions and with rigorous planning about how best to create and disseminate content that is discoverable, enduring, and openly accessible.

Rollo H. Beck was the leader of the 1905-06 expedition, and his style of field note taking provided a broader overview and unique perspective of the expedition, which differed from the very specific specimen-collecting notes of the other members of the team. The field notes are quite fragile and much care was needed to scan each page on the CASL flatbed photo scanner. A highlight for those doing the scanning was finding the page that describes the first news of the 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of San Francisco and nearly all of the Academy of Science’s collections. The specimens that the expedition brought back from the Galapagos formed the core of the new Academy.

After digitization, Connecting Content staff had to package the materials for submission to the Internet Archive and ingest into BHL by creating a MARC (MAchine- Readable Cataloguing) record for each item. (Staff would like to recognize and send a HUGE thank-you to the amazing and incredibly bright catalogers who have toiled over this effort! Michelle Abeln at Missouri Botanical Gardens, Lisa Studier at New York Botanical Gardens, Chris Robson at Harvard University Herbaria, and Stella Tang at the California Academy of Sciences.) These records are then combined with a spreadsheet containing page-level metadata, and the corresponding digital files of the scanned pages are submitted to the Internet Archive, and ultimately into BHL.

Project staff are now in the process of preparing several other field notebooks and digitized specimens for the pilot scanning project and have invited partner institutions to begin the process of uploading their field notes in preparation for ingest into BHL. After the materials are scanned, input into the project database, cataloged, exported, and delivered via BHL, staff will use the extrapolated metadata to experiment with mash-ups and make connections between names, dates, localities, and other contextual information, published materials, and specimen data.

The above post republished from the Connecting Content Blog, with permission from project staff. Post by Yolanda Bustos and Kelly Jensen.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

BHL and Our Users: Christine Giannoni

Today, we feature another of our own: Museum Librarian Christine Giannoni at the Field Museum in Chicago, IL. Christine is an active member of the BHL consortium, managing the workflow to scan Field books for BHL, as well as participating in a variety of BHL groups and committees, including the BHL Institutional Council. She is an avid fan and proponent of the BHL project, tirelessly promoting it among her researchers and patrons. We are very thankful for her valuable contributions to the project.

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

I am the Museum Librarian at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. I am responsible for the overall operation of the Library, focused upon ensuring access to collections, providing excellent service to our patrons & promotion of the variety of resources in our collections.

How long have you been working in a library environment?

I have worked in several different types of libraries for the last 17 years. While completing my undergraduate degree in Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I got a job shelving books in a local public library, and I was hooked. I was also able to volunteer at The Field Museum during my undergrad years, so that helped a lot when it came to the first big challenge of working at The Field Museum – finding your way around the building!

When did you first discover BHL?

I discovered BHL around 2007 when The Field Museum Library first started digitizing FMNH publications in partnership with the scanning center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At the time I was Reference & Circulation Librarian, with supervisory responsibility for Interlibrary Loan. Having digital access to the Fieldiana series as well as the Museum’s early News and Annual Report series was (and remains) a fantastic resource.

What is your current level of involvement in BHL?

I devote several hours per week to various BHL activities. Our participation in regards to scanning is primarily related to user requests for filling in “missing” issues within the BHL corpus. We were also fortunate in late 2011 to receive funding for scanning from the Museum’s Africa Council. With these funds, we were able to scan literature related to African Biodiversity, several volumes of which came from our rare collection. Furthermore, I am actively working on training volunteers and interns to paginate BHL scanned materials - a very satisfying activity for them as they can immediately see the results of their work on BHL.

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

I feel that working on the BHL project is one of most rewarding aspects of my job. For many years, I have interacted with researchers from all over the world who come to use The Field’s specimen and object collections. When they inevitably come to the Library during their visit, I often hear things such as, “these books are nowhere in my country” or “I have needed to see this item for my research for years.” The fact that we can now make these materials freely available to researchers worldwide is incredibly satisfying.

How often do you use BHL?

Everyday. I remain a primary reference and interlibrary loan contact for internal and external users. I rarely have a day where I do not direct users to the BHL to fulfill a request.

What has been the reaction of your patrons to BHL?

Reaction to the BHL is overwhelmingly positive. As people grow more accustomed to the convenience of electronic publications, they are extremely grateful for its existence. I recall earlier in my career when individuals felt that you could digitize materials and put it into deep storage. In my experience, users view BHL content and then sometimes contact me in order to see “the real thing.” This isn’t necessarily because they distrust the content, but are interested in some other aspect of the work (the item as a physical artifact, for instance). I also have users concerned about conservation/condition of print, so they like the alternative.

What services/features do you like the 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 most often?

For me, I like that the URL’s are easy to copy and send along…From the researcher perspective, they like being able to generate PDFs.

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 is mentioned all the time.

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?

Our FM publications for sure!