Tuesday, April 30, 2013

New Grant Helps The Field Museum Digitize Rare and Interesting Books!

Title Page Image, v. 3, Onze vogels in huis en tuin
One of the BHL partner institutions, The Field Museum Library, was recently awarded a small grant from the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI) to contribute titles to the growing BHL corpus. The proposal entitled "Empowering Biodiversity Research," allowed The Field Museum Library to contribute 34 new titles to the BHL.

Several titles chosen for digitization came from the Library's impressive Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library, housed in the collections of the Mary W. Runnells Rare Book Room.

The titles were chosen for digitization via several means:

Blue Macaw. v. 3,
Onze vogels in huis en tuin
Requests received from users, which are processed via BHL's issue tracking system, Gemini, allows us to fulfill user requests, complete series fill-in's, and keep us organized! One item specifically requested was the famous work of Dutch illustrator John Gerard Keulemans (1842-1912), Onze vogels in huis en tuin ('Our Birds in House and Garden'). Published in 3 volumes between 1869-1876, this collection of 200 lithographed plates were hand colored by the author. Noted for his beautiful and scientifically accurate work, Keulemans also provided illustrations for both Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, The Ibis as well as numerous other monographs throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With only 4 copies held in U.S. libraries, The Field Museum Library is the only BHL partner to own Onze vogels.

Neue Alpina, v. 1
In-demand titles were also identified via the Library's active Interlibrary Loan (ILL) program. This service allows institutions from all over the world to request loans of books or scans of articles from The Field Museum Library. Items that are out of copyright and related to biodiversity are flagged for potential digitization. The title, Neue Alpina, has been requested via ILL twice in the last six months. This periodical, complete in two volumes, was published 1821-1827 and is focused on the natural history of Switzerland. Also part of the Ayer Collection, The Field Museum Library is the only holder of this title in the U.S.

Dissected Frog. Les animaux de laboratoire
And finally, we often find pretty amazing items just by browsing the shelves! We came across an interesting item in our Herpetology Library from the collection of renowned herpetologist, Karl P. Schmidt. Les animaux de laboratoire: La grenouille (Anatomie et Dissection) is a short monograph about frog anatomy and a guide to dissection techniques. The amazing (and honestly, pretty fun) part of the book is the illustrations. The frog's anatomy is dissected via multi-part anatomical flaps. The staff of the Internet Archive scanning center in Ft. Wayne, Indiana did a great job of capturing all of these flap elements during digitization.

Explore all items in the BHL contributed by The Field Museum Library here!

- Christine Giannoni, Director, Field Museum Library

Friday, April 26, 2013

Guess Whose 228th Birthday is Today?

John James Audubon
John Woodhouse Audubon, John James Audubon (1785-1851). Oil on linen. 
It's time to take a break from work and celebrate John James Audubon’s Birthday with the BHL! This was the man who is best remembered for his masterpiece Birds of America which is arguably the most prized Natural History work in existence. Just last year, the Smithsonian successfully digitized their entire set of all 435 copperplate etchings that contain 1,065 life-size birds representing around 500 species. Audubons' birds are now available to be enjoyed and freely downloaded by all:

Book of the week: The Birds of America by J. Audubon

Audubon, the man, has been immortalized in history books as a larger than life figure. His life-story transcends the typical ins and outs of human existence and mirrors more closely a Romantic era novel extolling the promise of the American dream. His story follows the monomyth plot, i.e. the "Hero's Journey", that we readers so delightfully relish in: French man is born of low-birth (his father's illegitimate child), called forth to adventure in the New World, undergoes a series of challenges and failures, overcomes a terrible rock-bottom, only to become wildly successful overnight and live happily ever after as a legendary ornithologist and illustrator, retiring on his wildlife sanctuary estate in America. Last year's Audubon birthday post covered some really important biographical details and is definitely worth a read. However, this year we decided to scrounge-up some lesser-known juicy tidbits to humanize this incredibly famous bird lover. He may have been one of America's great men, but he was also just like you and I. Well, sorta.

Lesser Known Facts About Audubon

Laforest, the Popinjay
Audubon might have had better hair than you
Audubon was extremely handsome in his youth. And he knew it. He actually refers to himself as a "popinjay" in his journals. He and everyone else were particularly enamored with his hair: “My locks flew freely from under my hat, and every lady that I met looked at them and then at me until – she could see no more.” We have to admit his hair was pretty fantastic and in no portrait of him is it ever seen shorn. Long hair, don't care!

Audubon had a secret codename

It was "Laforest." Okay, maybe it wasn't a secret codename but rather his second middle name that always gets dropped-off when people refer to him. Only his father and his wife ever called him by this name. In a letter to a Mrs. Rathbone in 1827 he writes, "My name is John James Laforest Audubon. The name Laforest I never sign except when writing to my wife, and she is the only being, since my father's death, who calls me by it." Evidently the name held sacred meaning for Audubon's most dearly beloved.

Audubon was jailed how many times? 

Three times that we were able to count, maybe more. Audubon was notoriously poor at managing his finances and was arrested for financial hardships and debts in the years of 1819, 1828 and 1833. These dates are according to several biographies that you may read on the BHL, however there may have been even more undocumented arrests. Clearly this man just wanted to chase birds; he certainly wasn't cut out to be hedge fund portfolio manager -- but, aren't we all rather glad of it?

Rats not jail-time were the cause of Audubon's "rock-bottom"

Rats you say? Yes, the years between 1815-1820 were a very inactive period for Audubon in regards to ornithological endeavor. He pretty much turned his back on birds entirely. Many speculate that he gave-up on his dream for a time after he left hundreds prints in the care of a relative that remains unknown to this day. While his illustrations were in this relative's care, rats had decided to nest and make their new family using the box that held Audubon's bird illustrations as the material for their new home. Upon returning from a business trip, John James found his watercolor masterpieces shredded to bits. Naturally, he was crushed at the site of the ruined heap which represented thousands of observation and illustration hours in the field. Audubon needed a period of mourning, weeping, and insomnia before he resurfaced years later with the most incredible illustrations of birds the world had ever seen. Call him the comeback kid!

Audubon's Minnie's Land
"Minnie's Land"
Where did this adventurous fellow call home? 
Believe it or not you can still visit Audubon's home even though it was levelled in 1931 by a developer after it was deemed irreparable. Where? Online, of course. "Minnie's Land" was Audubon's final American home and it was located just outside of New York City along the Hudson at 155th and 156 Streets just west of Riverside Drive. 

Historical price tag for Birds of America
The original cost of the double-elephant folio work of life- sized birds was $1000 for the entire subscription series. This was an exhorbitant amount at the time (1838) but, considering that the work sold at an auction in December 2010 for a record-breaking 11.5M, its original price seems like a bargain. According to Audubon he believed there to be about 175 copies of Birds of America in existence and that around 80 were in America. It's speculated that 119 complete sets have survived.

Audubon was a man of many talents
Besides being a walking bird encyclopedia, Audubon was a great dancer, marksman, fencer, musician, horseman, basket weaver, and of course quite the lady killer!

Birds of America That Are Now Extinct

By the time Audubon was finishing his masterpiece he began to notice a decline in bird populations. Once an avid hunter, like Teddy Roosevelt, he quickly changed his tune and became a champion of conservation. In his writings, he often laments about decreasing species populations.  In fact, six species that were alive during Audubon's time are now considered extinct. Luckily, we have Audubon's depictions of these birds that once flourished here in America, as they no longer can be observed in wild:

Carolina Parakeet = Conuropsis carolinensis (Linnaeus, 1758)

According to Audubon, the Carolina Parakeet was an avid fruit eater and thus found itself a favorite target for angry farm owners.
Eskimo Curlew = Numenius borealis (J. R. Forster, 1772)

Also called the "Dough Bird," because these birds were known to engorge themselves on their favorite foods:  grasshoppers and berries. These sea-shore dwelling birds thus became the favorite meal of hunters.

Great Auk = Pinguinus impennis (Linnaeus, 1758)

Of these six extinct bird species, the Auk is one that Audubon never actually was able to observe in the field. Their populations had already dwindled to near extinction in his time. 
Pinnated Grouse = Tympanuchus cupido (Linnaeus, 1758)

Audubon’s first observation of the Pinnated Grouse came 25 years before the publishing of Birds of America. He remarked in his accounts that once this species was incredibly common to see and was somewhat shocked at how quickly it was being driven to extinction. Some sub-species of this hen are still in existence so there is still some hope that they won't be completely wiped-out.
Pied Duck or Labrador Duck = Camptorhynchus labradorius (Gmelin, 1789)

According to hunters, this duck tasted bad and causes for their extinction remains a bit of mystery. Always a rare species, many speculate that a decline in their food supply of mollusks and mussels accounts for their eventual disappearance.
Passenger Pigeon = Ectopistes migratorius (Linnaeus, 1766)

The passenger pigeon was one of America's most amazing birds. Audubon calculated that they could travel between 300-400 miles in six hours which is almost a mile a minute. This means that the Passenger Pigeon would be able to travel from America to Europe in less than three days!

View all of Audubon's engravings @ Biodivlibrary's Flickr! Free downloads!

While it is very unfortunate that these six bird species no longer exist on this planet, there is still much YOU can do as a citizen scientist to save Audubons' birds of America that are on the endangered species list. These species include the Californian Condor, Bachman's Warbler, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and the Whooping Crane. 

Ornithologists and birders should take pause today to remember our dear Laforest, who like so many Nature lovers often looked to escape everyday life and venture deep into the wilderness in search of the sublime:
“Thus almost every day, instead of going to school when I ought to have gone, I usually made for the fields, where I spent the day ; my little basket went with me, filled with good eatables, and when I returned home, during either winter or summer, it was replenished with what I called curiosities, such as birds' nests, birds' eggs, curious lichens, flowers of all sorts, and even pebbles gathered along the shore of some rivulet” -  Audubon and His Journals (1899)
Audubon, will be remembered as man who was adventurous, fearless, passionate, and incredibly talented but, also flawed and very human. He had much to teach us about how a life should be lived, reminding us that while we are given a short time here on this Earth we must make the most of it. He was man who lived in his work and his work will live on forever. 

Birder Links
The Academy of Natural Sciences | Audubon Page Turning
The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America .
New York Historical Society | Audubon's Aviary
Audubon Society | Citizen Science - Get involved!
Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Citizen Science
BHL Twitter: #Audubon #BirdsOfAmerica
Birds of America | State Bird Database

We hope you enjoyed this post. Interested in guest-blogging for BHL? We'd love that! Natural history, biodiversity and conservation topics are especially welcomed. Email us your ideas at

JJ Ford | Librarian, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics & BHL Loyalist

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Making the BHL-Africa a Reality: The BHL-Africa Launch and Workshop

BHL-Africa logo at Pretoria National Botanical Garden
On April 15, 2013, BHL-Africa officially launched. BHL-Africa's mission is to provide open access to the valuable biodiversity literature found within African libraries and institutions. The African consortium is hard at work identifying partners throughout the continent to sign an MOU and commit to working towards this noble objective.

The three-day BHL-Africa launch and workshop was hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) at the Pretoria National Botanical Garden in Pretoria, South Africa, from April 15-17, 2013. The meetings occurred simultaneously with the GBIF meetings also held at the botanical garden last week. Over two dozen representatives from institutions that have either signed or intend to sign the BHL-Africa MOU were present. Additionally, six colleagues from the BHL-US/UK program node were invited to attend: Nancy Gwinn (Director, Smithsonian Libraries, BHL Executive Committee Chair); Constance Rinaldo (Director, MCZ-Harvard Library, BHL Executive Committee Vice-Chair); Doug Holland (Director, Missouri Botanical Garden Library); William Ulate (Missouri Botanical Garden, BHL Technical Director); Bianca Crowley (Smithsonian Libraries, BHL Collections Coordinator); and Grace Costantino (Smithsonian Libraries, BHL Program Manager).

Monday, April 15, began with a launch ceremony, detailed in our blog post last week, during which the BHL MOU with SANBI was signed by Dr. Nancy Gwinn and Dr. Tanya Abrahamse (SANBI CEO). The real work began after the launch, with the start of the BHL-Africa workshop.

Dr. Nancy Gwinn and Dr. Tanya Abrahamse sign the BHL-Africa MOU

Day one of the workshop (Monday, April 15, afternoon) was devoted to addressing final MOU questions and outlining participants' expectations for the meeting. Key expectations and areas in need of discussion included: Clarifying BHL's open access policy and its implications for African participants; a concise description of the value of BHL for participating institutions in order to secure managerial buy-in; organization of clear fundraising strategies; the need for extensive training; identification of available resources and digitization capacity building; and the best way to collaborate and share resources amongst participating members. Overall meeting expectations were to elect a BHL-Africa Steering Committee and establish an outline for a two-year work plan.

The BHL-Africa Group Photo!

Much of day two (Tuesday, April 16) was spent investigating workflow and organizational questions, including collections development, copyright, communication, and infrastructure. The primary reason for the presence of the BHL-US/UK team was to offer our African colleagues the expertise we have gained in these areas over the past six years, as well as to help define global expectations for our new members.

Towards this end, Nancy Gwinn began by identifying four main expectations for BHL-Africa: Content Creation; Audience Building; Content Identification; and Partnership Building. In short, these expectations translate to not only growing the BHL corpus by digitizing African collections, but also helping BHL identify content to scan, both within and outside of Africa. Furthermore, BHL Africa must work to both build the BHL audience by promoting the project throughout the continent, but also expand the BHL consortium by identifying institutions that can contribute to the initiative.

Constance Rinaldo then gave a presentation on copyright, defining public domain, open access, and the Creative Commons licenses employed by BHL-US/UK. She was quick to stress, however, that each BHL node and institution must follow the copyright laws of their own countries, and, as BHL is not a legal entity, it is ultimately each scanning institution that is legally responsible for the content they contribute to the collection.

Bianca Crowley on BHL Collections Development
Bianca Crowley then gave our African colleagues some insight into the BHL-US/UK collection development process, outlining our selection and de-duplication process, digitization principles, metadata requirements, and content integration. Communication and collaboration methods were a key point of discussion, as they are critical for successful collections development.

Grace Costantino followed with a presentation on BHL-US/UK's use of social media, which allows us to communicate project developments, provide context to the books in our collection, reach new audiences on new platforms, and uncover hidden gems in our collection. Following the presentation, an open discussion about each institution's current use of social media, social media in the context of Africa, and how BHL-Africa might use social media occurred.

Finally, William Ulate detailed the BHL infrastructure, demoing the Macaw tool developed by Joel Richard at the Smithsonian Libraries, which is used to ingest books through Internet Archive into BHL. A remote installation of Macaw is running at the University of Pretoria and can be accessed via the web by any BHL-Africa participant to load digitized content into BHL.

BHL-African participants were also given a chance, on day two, to break out into two working groups, dedicated to Collections Development/Copyright and Outreach/Communication. These sessions allowed participants to apply the information given during the presentations to the realities of the BHL-Africa project.

The final day of the meeting (Wednesday, April 17) was spent identifying preliminary tasks for a two-year BHL-Africa workplan and electing a BHL-Africa Steering Committee. Workplan components include establishing a list of titles that each institution wishes to contribute to BHL; drafting documentation, based largely on existing files from gBHL, for workflow and collaboration guidance; and drafting a preliminary communication and outreach plan, which addresses not only external, but also internal, communication needs.

BHL-Africa Steering Committee (Left to Right): Lawrence Monda (Technical Advisor), Ashah Owano, Loi Namugenyi, Anne-Lise Fourie, Ria Groenewald

The BHL-Africa Steering Committee was also elected at the meeting. BHL-Africa has been divided into three regional nodes: North/Central; Eastern; Southern. Each regional node elects two representatives for the Steering Committee. Currently, there is no representation in North/Central Africa within the project, so only four members (two from Southern, two from Eastern) were elected at the meeting. Elected members include: Anne-Lise Fourie (SANBI, Southern); Ria Groenewald (University of Pretoria, Southern); Ashah Owano (National Museums of Kenya, Eastern); and Loi Namugenyi (Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, Eastern). Lawrence Monda (National Museums of Kenya) was elected as the BHL-Africa Technical Representative. Two additional members will be elected as North/Central institutions are added to the BHL fold. The Steering Committee will be responsible for providing strategic guidance, developing fundraising plans and approving budgets, and organizing pan-continental efforts.

The three-day BHL-Africa launch and workshop was an extremely successful event which resulted in the creation of an actionable plan for project development and the identification of notably capable leadership. Meeting attendees left feeling energized, with a clear sense of purpose. Just one and a half years ago, at the Life and Literature conference, the concept of BHL-Africa was born. Today, it is a reality. We congratulate our colleagues on the astounding progress they have made and look forward to seeing great things from BHL-Africa!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tarsiers, Evolutionary Biology, and a Woman Named Frieda

Philippine Tarsier. Säugethiere vom Celebes- und Philippinen-Archipel (1896).
Tarsiers are a family of small primates that today are found only in the islands of Southeast Asia. Among the species in the family is one of the world's smallest primates - the Philippine Tarsier - weighing between 3.9-5.4 ounces (the world's smallest primate is the Berthe's Mouse Lemur). Tarsiers are perhaps most recognized for their enormous eyeballs, which are approximately as large as their entire brain.

Frieda Benun Sutton has a soft spot for these remarkable primates. For her thesis project at CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College (from which she graduated in December, 2012, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology), Frieda wanted to compare scientific literature on the classification of tarsiers before and after the cladistics revolution. BHL played a crucial role in helping her do so.

"I was looking for a very specific and somewhat obscure symposium from 1919 to use as my pre-cladistics platform, and miraculously, I was able to find it online! Through the BHL, I was able to download pdf files and text of the pages I wanted from the symposium (Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1919) and search through the pages with ease. Often, I would be looking for just a key word to link me to an idea or person and I could easily find it with just a quick search of the documents downloaded from the database."

Frieda Benun Sutton
Frieda discovered BHL through a Google search, while she was looking for that 1919 Proceedings symposium ("Discussion on The Zoological Position and Affinities of Tarsius"), which is not surprising, considering that nearly half of all BHL traffic originates from Google searches.

With plans to begin a PhD program in Evolutionary Biology in the Fall, 2013, Frieda currently teaches after-school classes and camps on evolution at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). A recent meeting with one of our own BHL affiliates, Tom Baione (Director of the Library at AMNH and BHL Steering Committee member) gave her the perfect opportunity to express just how much BHL has meant to her work.

"I am greatly indebted to BHL. I honestly do not know if my thesis project would have been possible without it. At the very least, it made my research significantly easier. I'm happy to know that there are resources and people out there that are committed to digitizing and making available scientific literature, old and new."

Frieda met Tom during an interview with the Richard Gilder Graduate School (RGGS) at AMNH - one of the programs she is considering for her PhD work. With a plan to concentrate her research on primate evolution, Frieda's relationship with BHL has clearly just begun. With that in mind, we asked her what improvements she would like to see in BHL. Her response?

"I have no complaints. I would only like to see more scientific publications digitized and made available free of charge!"

We hear you loud and clear, Frieda! We're adding more content to our 40 million+ pages each week! We're also working to secure permission to digitize in-copyright (publish post-1923) titles, with over 250 title permissions obtained thus far. You can help us curate our collection by suggesting titles for scanning. While we will digitize the requested works free-of-charge, financial donations from our users allow us to scan even more content and help protect our open access model.

So, whether you're interested in tiny primates with big eyes, deciduous vines that smell like rotting meat, extra-long insects, or anything in between, BHL has something for you! Search our newly-improved BHL website today and explore more of our collection in Flickr and Pinterest. Follow all the latest project developments and learn more about Earth's awesome biodiversity on Facebook and Twitter.

Have an awesome story like Frieda's? Tell us about it! We'd love to feature you on our blog. Leave a comment on this post, write to, or send us a message!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Some BHL services will be unavailable during planned outages 16-17 April 2013

BHL image files are hosted by the Internet Archive (IA). The IA will be upgrading their power 16-17 April 2013. This will result in planned outages to the system. These outages will affect BHL's ability to serve page images, generate PDFs, and downloads of certain file types.

Searching and browsing BHL metadata will not be affected by this outage.

Please be aware that in addition to the planned outages listed below, there may be residual and temporary outages around planned downtime.

Scheduled downtimes:

  • 16 April 2013: 14:00 - 19:00 UTC
  • 17 April 2013 22:00 - 02:00 UTC
In the event of any additional major outages, please monitor this site for more information.

Sorry for the inconvenience that this will cause our BHL users, but in the end this will provide better service.

From the Internet Archive blog:

Brace yourselves, outages are coming
This week, we are doubling the power coming into our primary data center so that we can archive and serve even more web pages, books, music and moving images. During those upgrades, there will be times when many of our web sites and services will not be available. Details below.

To keep the data safe, we will proactively shut down most of our services served from our primary data center.,, and our blogs will be unavailable during the outages. The upgrades will happen over a two day period. We anticipate two prolonged outages, the first one from about 7am to 12noon PDT (14:00-19:00 UTC) on Tuesday, April 16. And the another one from 3pm to 7pm PDT (22:00-02:00 UTC) on Wednesday, April 17. Work might require additional outages between those two major ones.
During the outages, we’ll post updates to our @internetarchive twitter feed. Sorry for the inconvenience.

BHL Africa Officially Launches!

We're so excited to announce that today, Monday, April 15, 2013, BHL-Africa has officially launched!

Today's launch ceremony (hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) at the Pretoria National Botanical Garden in Pretoria, South Africa) began with a welcome by Dr. Tanya Abrahamse, SANBI CEO, after which she and Nancy Gwinn (Chair of the BHL Executive Committee) signed the BHL-Africa MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). Nancy Gwinn then gave a presentation detailing the history of BHL's development, and Anne-Lise Fourie, Assistant Director for SANBI libraries, gave an overview of the BHL-Africa vision, mission, and benefits.

Working within the BHL consortium, BHL-Africa aims to provide open access to the valuable information held in Africa's biodiversity institutions. Towards this end, the global BHL family works with the international taxonomic community, rights holders, and other interested parties to ensure that this biodiversity heritage is made available to a global audience through open access principles.

The next two days will consist of workshops aimed at outlining funding strategies, the responsibilities of BHL-African institutions, BHL-Africa's role in the larger global BHL environment, and the contributions BHL-Africa will make to BHL. Check back on our blog for more detailed information about the launch and workshops, and follow the hashtag #bhlafrica on our Twitter (@BioDivLibrary) for real time news via live tweets!

Learn more about BHL-Africa in our past blog post and video. Take a break from your day job to enjoy an Africa safari!

And finally, enjoy these images of Africa's biodiversity from the African Biodiversity Flickr Collection.

Created with flickr slideshow.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Seals? Seal Lions? Walruses? Do you know your fin-footed mammals?

Pier 39 Sea Lions
On a trip in the fall of 2012 to San Francisco to attend the Internet Archives' Leaders' Forum, a couple of us paid a visit to Pier 39 to visit the semi-aquatic mammals that hang out there.

Since January 1990, these colorful creatures have been "hauling up" at Pier 39. At first considered a bit of a nuisance (they can be a bit loud and smelly), they soon turned into a beloved tourist attraction. See more about their story on the Pier 39 site.

But what exactly are these creatures? Well, three families make up the group of fin footed mammals of the order, Pinnipedia: Odobenidae (the walrus), Otariidae (eared seals, sea lions, and fur seals), and Phocidae (earless seals).

Now your first question might be "what are these seals doing here?", but are they seals? How does a seal differ from a sea lion? Or for that matter, how do either of them differ from a walrus? Walrus are pretty clear, they have tusks. No tusks here, so these must be either Otariidae or Phocidae. If we could get up close enough, we would see that these are indeed, Otariidae, or members of the sea lion family.

Phocidae (true seals) lack external ears, have streamlined snouts, and are more aquatic. Otariidae (sea lions, eared seals, and fur seals) hang out on land more than true seals, their fins more suited to "walking". They're furrier and more vocal. The so-called "circus seal" is actually a California Sea Lion, Zalophus californianus, the same as we find at San Francisco's Pier 39.

The California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus) was first illustrated in Louis Choris's (1795-1828) Voyage pittoresque autour du monde avec des portraits de sauvages d'Amérique, d'Asie, d'Afrique, et des îles du Grand océan : des paysages, des vues maritimes, et plusieurs objets d'histoire naturelle (1822). However, the animal was not taxonomically described until 1828 when René Primevère Lesson first described it as Otaria californiana (in Dictionnaire classique d'histoire naturelle, par Messieurs Audouin, Isid. Bourdon, Ad. Brongniart, de Candolle, et Bory de Saint-Vincent. Ouvrage dirigé par ce dernier collaborateur..., 1822-31).
Taxonomic revision of the species occurred throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. It was recombined as Eumetopias californiana by Gill (1866); it was recombined as Eumetopias (Zalophus) californianus by Trouessart (1898) and Trouessart (1904); it was recombined as Eumetopias californianus by Turner (1912); it was recombined as Zalophus californiana by Hay (1930); it was recombined as Zalophus californianus by Allen (1880), Scheffer and Rice (1963), Vidal (1991), Rice (1998), Demere et al. (2003) and Wilson and Reeder (2005).

Though the Pier 39 seal lions are now a popular tourist attraction, the "seals" of the California coast have been remarked on for years. In his 1906 publication, California Mammals, Frank Stephens commented:
The following extracts from my notebook may be of interest. April first, 1893. This morning Mr. Fenn and I rowed to the 'seal rocks' near the south end of Santa Catalina Island to get sketches of the Sea Lions. As we neared the rocks we saw several Sea Lions on them and heard their loud 'hong-hong.' Several were on the outer group of islets, but none were on the outermost rock, which was perhaps a hundred feet from the islet on which the greatest number were lying. The morning was cloudy and calm, with but little sea, and we cautiously pulled up behind the rock which rose five or six feet above the water. Mr. Fenn got out on a little shelf that was awash when the larger swells passed. In front the rock was low enough to see over and made a rest for the sketch book. I had to keep clear of the rock to avoid smashing the boat and out of sight as much as possible, which was no easy job in the long swell. 
And if you want to see what those Pier 39 Sea Lions are up to right now, take a look at the Sea Lion webcam!

n432_w1150 seals and sea lions

- Martin Kalfatovic | Program Director, Biodiversity Heritage Library

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Biodiversity Heritage Library Announces Partnership with Digital Public Library of America

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is pleased to announce that it will serve as a digital content hub within the Digital Public Library of America. The DPLA pilot project, which combines and centralizes links to the collections of participating cultural institutions, launches April 18 in Boston.

As a result of BHL’s participation as a digital content hub, links to over 111,000 BHL volumes will be available within the DPLA portal. Through the DPLA, the Biodiversity Heritage Library will collaborate with renowned libraries, universities, archives and museums to reach a wide national audience.

"The Biodiversity Heritage Library is excited to be part of the Digital Public Library of America and to provide an important body of literature that will support the important mission of providing openly available scientific publications," said Martin Kalfatovic, BHL Program Director.

Kalfatovic served, along with founding BHL Technical Director Chris Freeland, as first co-chairs of the DPLA’s Technical Aspects Workstream.

“We are thrilled to have the Biodiversity Heritage Library as a Content Hub,” said Emily Gore, DPLA Director for Content. “The BHL shares the DPLA's commitment to open access and global data sharing, and brings rich biodiversity collections from a number of natural history and botanical libraries to the DPLA.”

About the Digital Public Library of America 

The Digital Public Library of America brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world. It strives to contain the full breadth of human expression, from the written word, to works of art and culture, to records of America’s heritage, to the efforts and data of science. The DPLA aims to expand this crucial realm of openly available materials, and make those riches more easily discovered and more widely usable and used. More information is online at To find out more about the DPLA launch, April 18-19 in Boston, visit

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Expedition Documentation Trifecta: Biological Survey of Panama

This is the second in a 4 part joint blog series by the Field Book Project (FBP) and the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), showcasing examples of digital connections between museum specimens, field book catalog records, and the resulting publications.

Ageratum chiriquense (B.L. Rob.) R.M. King & H. Rob. collected by Henri Pittier between Cerro Vaca and Hato del Loro, Panama, during the Biological Survey of Panama Canal Zone.  Catalog number: 715729.  Image courtesy of NMNH, Department of Botany.

Documentation and specimens from expeditions often end up separated when participants return to their home institutions. The materials’ connections are sometimes inconsistently recorded. Resulting publications can suffer the same fate. These blog posts are snapshots of how these materials are being reunited virtually, through the ongoing work of BHL, FBP, and National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).

The first example of this online reunion is the Biological Survey of Panama, 1910- 1912. This was an amazing survey, conducted before the completion of the Panama Canal. Panama had not yet been fully surveyed; scientists recognized the potential lost opportunity, if the country was not studied before the Canal irrevocably altered the landscape. Smithsonian and affiliated staff who worked on the survey also developed an ongoing interest in the area as a site for long term collecting and research. This eventually resulted in a relationship with the research station on Barro Colorado Island, now known as Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Yet, if one looks for publications from this important survey, frequently one must read a portion of text to find the relationship.

Field books from the Survey

When cataloging field books that result from an expedition, the Field Book Project creates an Enhanced Encoded Archival Context catalog record to describe the expedition. The records are designed to provide official and variant names for a survey, major dates, participants, locations, and overall description of work completed. Details vary depending on available information. These specifics enable researchers to locate publications, field notes, and images of specimens collected during an expedition, even though the connection is not always explicitly stated in records.

By knowing who collected, where, and when, we were able to find records for field notes, publications, and specimens for the Survey of the Panama Canal. The Field Book Project’s item level cataloging facilitated the location of field notes from 5 of the 8 leading participants--several of whom were not employees of the US National Museum. We found several examples of digitized publications from original collectors in BHL, in spite of the fact they sometimes appeared a decade after the fieldwork occurred. These details also enabled the locating specimen images, like the one pictured above.

This is by no means an exhaustive search, but the ease with which these were found is heartening. Resources from expeditions like this are frequently documented only in paper or institutional memory. Publications out of copyright have the chance of being digitized by one of several institutions, but the online presence and availability of specimens and field notes (by nature of their uniqueness) requires additional care, time, and expense that many institutions may not have available. We at the Field Book Project are proud to demonstrate how these pieces can be reconnected online. Stay tuned for more expedition highlights.

Published works in BHL

By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project, with contributions from Bianca Crowley, BHL Collections Coordinator

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Decoding the Ocean's Treasures One Tag at a Time

Tagging BHL Marine Images at the Smithsonian

There are approximately 32,000 species of fish, representing the greatest species diversity of any vertebrate group. Mollusks, with around 85,000 extant species, constitute the largest marine phylum and about 23% of all named marine organisms. Crustaceans, with about 67,000 described species, are arthropods that range in size from .004 inches (Stygotantulus stocki) to over 12.5 feet (Japanese Spider Crab). The diverse algae group includes unicellular and multicellular organisms, such as seaweeds, dinoflagellates, red, green, brown, yellow and golden algae, and diatoms, to name a few.

Looking at the big picture, we know of over 210,000 marine species, though it is estimated that there are more than one million in total. It should come as no surprise to you that BHL has millions of pages of literature related to the topic of marine biodiversity. What you may not know is that we also have thousands of images of marine species in our Flickr.

We've written before about our mission to add species name tags to the images in our Flickr account so that users can not only search for and find illustrations of specific organisms, but also so that we can easily share these images with external projects like the Encyclopedia of Life. To accomplish this goal, we've not only created instructional material and encouraged our user community to take up the charge, but we've also hosted two tagging parties at the Smithsonian Libraries. On April 2, 2013, we hosted our third tagging party at the Smithsonian, in conjunction with both the Encyclopedia of Life and Smithsonian's Ocean Portal. This time, we focused our event on a theme: Marine Biodiversity.

Attendees at the Tagging Party, adding tags! Photo by Gilbert Borrego.
At our tagging parties, we invite Smithsonian staff, including curators, volunteers, interns, fellows, and librarians, to gather in person for an hour and a half to help us add tags to images in a group setting. Since this was a themed event, we directed attendees to specific sets of marine images in need of tagging. We're happy to say that the 17 people that attended the party made some good headway on the thousands of marine images that need tagging!

You can Help!

As mentioned, all of our tagging events thus far have been staff-only occasions. While we hope to hold public events in the future, hosted at various BHL member institutions, you can actually help us tag our images right now!


If you're looking at an image in Flickr for which you know the species name, simply click "add a tag" and input the name in the following format:

Taxonomy:Binomial="Genus species"

Replace the "Genus Species" text with the actual binomial for the creature you are identifying and be sure to put quotation marks around the name as shown above. So, a complete tag would look like:

Taxonomy:Binomial="Zea mays"

How can you identify the species if you don't recognize it on sight? Many of our illustrations actually have the species name printed on the image itself. Simply transcribe that name into the machine tag format. If the name isn't printed on the illustration, you may be able to find an identification in BHL. Click on the link below each image to view the book in BHL, then navigate through the text pages surrounding the image to see if the species identification is given. If so, input the name into the machine tag format in Flickr.

Example of an image with a machine tag and the link to that image in BHL. Click this image to enlarge.

Every image that is tagged with a species name machine tag will automatically be added to the BHL Collection in EOL and associated with the corresponding EOL species page. 

Need more help? Check out the Tagging Instructions composed by the Encyclopedia of Life, send us feedback, post a comment on this blog, or write to us at We'd also love to hear from you about your experience adding tags and/or suggestions for making our instructional materials or process better!

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Icing on the Cake: Signing the BHL MOU with Library of Congress

On February 22, 2013, we announced that the Library of Congress (LoC) had become the fifteenth member of BHL! As a Steering Committee member, Library of Congress will help us further build the BHL collection by digitizing books in their vast library of over 151 million items.

Becoming a BHL member involves not only dedicating staff and financial resources, but also the signing of an official Memorandum of Understanding. On Thursday, March 28, 2013, Nancy Gwinn (Chair of the BHL Executive Committee and Director of Smithsonian Libraries), Grace Costantino (BHL Program Manager), and Elizabeth O'Brien (Smithsonian Libraries Director of Marketing and Special Events) visited the Library of Congress for a ceremonial signing of the MOU with Roberta Shaffer (Associate Librarian for Library Services, LoC) and Leslie Girard (Confidential Assistant to the Associate Librarian for Library Services, LoC).

Roberta Shaffer (right) signing BHL MOU for LoC with Nancy Gwinn (left). Photo by Elizabeth O'Brien.

So, we're pleased to say that everything is signed, sealed, and official! We're so excited to call Library of Congress a partner in our great endeavor to make the world's biodiversity literature available freely to everyone, everywhere!

And of course, it takes a village to successfully build, maintain, and manage BHL. Each new member must dedicate staff to that village. Learn more about Library of Congress's representative to BHL, Dr. Tomoko Steen, in our previous blog post. She will coordinate workflows and identify staff to help bring LoC material into our collection of over 40 million open access pages.

Curious to know who else is a BHL member? Check out our BHL membership page.