Thursday, May 30, 2013

Expedition Connection: National Geographic Society Yale University Peruvian Expedition, 1915

This is the fourth 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.

View post one | View post two | View post three

Hiram Bingham (1875-1956). Smithsonian Institution Archives.  Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s.
In 1911, Hiram Bingham of Yale University went on an expedition to Peru; during that fateful trip, he “discovered” and studied an early, terraced city that has since fascinated the international public for more than a century, Machu Picchu. Though there is some question as to whether he was the first foreigner to visit the site, Bingham’s archeological work during the expedition enflamed the imaginations of the public and inspired organizations like National Geographic Society to fund several subsequent trips to the site. One of these was the National Geographic Society Yale University Peruvian Expedition, 1915.

The expedition explored and excavated the ruins, and also collected natural history specimens. Expedition staff included those of various disciplines. Though the primary focus may have been the archeological study of Machu Picchu, collected items also included: mammals, birds, fishes, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. The majority of materials collected were kept by Yale University; however specimens like the insects collected by Harry W. Foote were deposited with the US National Museum.

This expedition is a great example of how materials end up in seemingly unexpected places. Though one would anticipate finding field documentation with National Geographic Society or Yale University, amazingly Smithsonian has 23 field books from this expedition--not from Harry Foote, but from the expedition naturalist, Edmund Heller. Edmund Heller collected for numerous institutions over the course of his career, but for some reason, the majority of his field books reside in various departments of the Smithsonian. Field notes from this expedition can be found in links in the Expedition record and located in three collections.

  • Smithsonian Institution Library, NMNH collection Acc. 12-015
  • NMNH Division of Mammals collection Acc. 12-212
  • Smithsonian Institution Archives collection RU 007179

Specimens prove consistently challenging to track down.
USNM 273005. Diglossa lafresnayii albilinea. One of three collected By Edmund Heller during expedition.  
One must often know the collector, location, and/or time period. Out of the NMNH’s ten online specimen databases, only 4 have a field to document if the specimen was collected during an expedition. When specimens were found that indicated they came from the expedition, each used a different version of the expedition name.

Related publications found, include:

"Narciso and Tomas," Peruvian guides and helpers packing the mules to go. The photo was taken by Edmund Heller while on the Peruvian Expedition of 1914-15, which was sponsored by Yale University and The National Geographic Society. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Record Unit 7179, Box 8, Folder 18.
The 3 expeditions discussed in this blog series demonstrate just how important cataloging and digitizing the different types of documentation are to understanding the complete story of historical scientific collection events. Take a look at a specimen, and a researcher can make contemporary observations. Take a look at the published materials and a researcher can find a scientist’s detailed study of an expedition’s specimens to compare to those contemporary observations. Take a look at the field books and a researcher can find a wealth of information that led the scientist to those conclusions, and more. Many of these field books include environment description (weather, terrain, vegetation) that may not be needed for a specific type of publication.

The Field Book Project has cataloged in 8 departments of the Smithsonian and is continuing to its work; locating and cataloging books in the stacks of scientific departments, libraries, and archives. Some were located only because Smithsonian staff knew of their existence in departments. There are now more than 7100 field book records from nearly a 100 expeditions and collecting events in Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center with more to come. To date, the BHL is providing free and open access to nearly 114,000 items, many of which record the outputs of these expeditions. In order to understand the full story from the field work to the published work, one must have all three elements of the trifecta available, including the specimens. Many natural history institutions are working hard to provide digital access to their specimen collections, hidden behind closed doors, for researchers and the public. SI has been working for decades to catalog and digitize its scientific specimen collections and they are becoming increasingly more accessible online through efforts separate from the FBP and BHL.

These efforts are all part of a vision shared by the FBP and the BHL to someday involve a cross-disciplinary approach where the complete story of field notes, specimens and publications that make up important scientific collecting events are freely available at users' fingertips. We encourage you to take a look at some of the materials we’ve identified, and see the potential for yourself.

By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project, with contributions from Carolyn Sheffield, Field Book Project Manager, and Bianca Crowley, BHL Collections Coordinator

Friday, May 24, 2013

Monsters, the Scientific Revolution, and Physica Curiosa

Schott, Gaspar. Physica Curiosa (1662).

From Superstition to Scientific Reasoning

The seventeenth century was a time of great advancement for science, but it also presented a curious juxtaposition between superstition and science. A part of Europe's Early Modern period and the birth of the Baroque cultural movement, the 1600s also encompassed the early years of the Scientific Revolution, when superstition and religion gave way to scientific reasoning. Furthermore, the Enlightenment, which attempted to replace ideas based on faith or tradition with scientific method, began to take hold later in the century.

Monsters! Physica Curiosa.

By the end of the 17th century, electricity, the telescope and microscope, calculus, universal gravitation, Newton's Laws of Motion, air pressure and calculating machines had entered the scene. And yet, as with all great shifts in cultural thinking, the transition from superstition to science was not instantaneous. Many of the era's great thinkers attempted to reconcile previous beliefs with new discoveries. Case in point: Monsters.

Monsters and the 16th and 17th Centuries

Many of the publications of the 17th century, while beginning to embrace scientific method and conclusions based on experiments, still also accepted fantastical explanations for marvelous occurrences. Books depicting monsters were extremely popular, and many recycled the same illustrations repeatedly, introducing them to new generations (case in point: Gessner hydra, 1560Aldrovandi hydra, 1640; Joannes Jonstonus hydra, 1657). Furthermore, global exploration had begun on an unprecedented scale, and those that traveled published accounts of biodiversity from regions they visited. However, they recorded not only the creatures they saw with their own eyes, but also those described by locals - many of which were beings of myth and folklore. While fantastic to us today, for most during this time, there was no division between magic and reality - they simply coincided. Thus, these fabulous beasts could be a reality. Many were based on briefly-glimpsed real creatures given religious or superstitious twists. What's more, many "monsters" heralded during the time were actually humans or animals with deformities.

For example, Ambroise Paré, a surgeon of the 1500s, authored "the" monster book of the Renaissance: Des Monstres et Prodiges (1573). Translating to "Monsters and Marvels," the work depicted malformed humans and animal-human hybrids. Conjoined twins were a popular example of human "monsters." For instance, Paré illustrates a pair of 15th century female pygopagus conjoined twins that were exhibited in Italian cities for curious spectators.

Conjoined Twins. Physica Curiosa.

Gaspar Schott: Jesuit, Mathematician, Natural Historian, Monster Authority

An exceptional example of the "monsters" proliferated during the 17th century can be found in Gaspar Schott's Physica Curiosa. Schott (1608-1666), a German scientist and Jesuit, specialized in the fields of physics, mathematics, and natural philosophy. He wrote extensively on the mechanical developments of his time, and produced the first published account on Otto von Guericke's experiments on vacuums. His most famous works include Magia Universalis, Technica Curiosa, and Physica Curiosa - essentially encyclopedias magical, mechanical, and natural history knowledge. Schott was a great compiler, and relied on an extensive library for his own research. Most of Schott's publications are aggregations of the writings and research existing on various topics.

Physica Curiosa

Centaur and Satyrs, Physica Curiosa.
Physica Curiosa is an encyclopedia of the natural sciences of the age. In keeping with Schott's character, it compiles many of the illustrations and literature previously published. As with many natural history publications of the era, it depicted fantastical creatures alongside real ones. Divided into twelve books, the first six books (digitized by the Smithsonian Libraries) are devoted to "miraculous" subjects, including Demons and Angels, spectres, demonic possessions, human and beastly monsters, and portents. The last six books deal with the "marvels" of nature - real creatures from exotic locales, such as elephants and rhinos.

Physica Curiosa's target audience was other scholars, educators, and the rich nobility of the time, as this was the demographic that could afford the publication. Though books were beginning to be more prolifically published in relation to the previous century, they were still made by hand and very expensive. The illustrations in this work are copper engravings, which were very practical for scientific illustration as they allowed for much more detail than wood blocks. A single printing of 500-1,000 copies concluded the run of this publication.


Monk Fish (Upper Left), Bishop Fish (Lower Right), Sea Devils (Upper Left, Lower Right).
Physica Curiosa begins with a discussion of diabolical magic - that of demons. In his publication Magia Universalis, Schott wrote that magic was once an honorific practice, but that legitimate magic was corrupted after the flood. The remaining natural magic was likely the result of a pact with a demon and was prohibited. He also asserts that demons are the cause of many of the world's "monsters."

Physica Curiosa not only depicts deformed humans as monsters, but also Centaurs, Satyrs, Monk and Bishop Fish, and Sea Devils, to name a few. Human deformities as monsters has been discussed at length, but many other creatures presented by Schott exemplify the practice of misrepresenting real creatures, or imposing religious elements on natural entities. For example, the monk and bishop fish, which were popular beings illustrated throughout the 16th-17th centuries, demonstrate how religious tensions resulted in the association of clerical figures with monsters. Nevertheless, many authors still purported these creatures to be real. In the late 1600s, Johann Zahn wrote that the bishop fish he illustrated in Specula Physico-Mathematico-Historica was fished out of the Baltic Sea in 1531.

The Sea Devil was also a popular monster, which Conrad Gessner, in the 16th century, recorded as having been captured in both Norway and Rome. Historians today postulate that this creature was actually based on the monk seal. Seals were extremely disliked by both fisherman and farmers as nuisances. Aristotle recorded accounts of seals raiding orchards, which Gessner and Ulisse Aldrovandi maintained.

Reality...Kind of

While Schott clearly saw a distinction himself between fantastical creatures and those found in the natural world (as evidenced by the division within his book), he still asserts some incredible beliefs associated with real animals. For instance, he claims that "both fish and bird are made from water," barnacle geese are born from rotting wood, and that angels may have carried men and animals to the New World and distant islands. This demonstrates the tie between magic and science that still permeated Baroque Europe.

Impact on Science

Mermaids, Demons and Monsters, oh my!
It may seem, with extensive conversations about diabolical magic, demons, and monk fish, that Physica Curiosa is little more than a perpetuation of the superstition that characterized the Dark Ages. But believe it or not, Physica Curiosa played an important part in the development of scientific reasoning. For instance, while it still purports some "mystical" explanations for certain miraculous events, Schott also condemns a great deal of the accepted superstitions of the time. For instance, he discredits the use of divining rods to locate treasure, rejects the notion that a corpse bleeds in the presence of its murderer, and condemns drinking the blood of one's beloved in order to cure infatuation. Indeed, within Physica Curiosa, Schott writes regarding many accepted beliefs, "I do not approve of all, because I know that some are doubtful, if not false; others superstitious; others perhaps even manifestly false." Schott also acknowledges that many unexplained phenomena may indeed be scientifically true when he "implores the reader not to be so inhuman as to refuse to believe anything unless he sees it with his own eyes, [as] many things which antiquity thought fabulous are now proved true by frequent experiment."

Thus, Physica Curiosa represented a critical step along the journey of accepting science over superstition. Furthermore, this work and the others of its time, by aggregating the fanciful beliefs of the era in a single publication, presented an excellent body of work against which those of the Enlightenment could react. By comprehensively recording what was accepted as truth during the time, the authors made it easier for future scholars to pinpoint and address widespread, unscientific doctrine.

In conclusion, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a fascinating time in history, as we watch science battle superstition, and see scholars like Schott struggle to make sense of their cultures and their reasoning. Monsters were a inherent part in this discovery process. Deciphering truth from myth, and exploring medical and natural explanations for the unexplained, is what science is all about.

Physica Curiosa Illustrations

Created with flickr slideshow.

You can see more books about the Curious and the Bizarre in BHL and our iTunes U collection. See a collection of fascinating "monster" illustrations in Flickr. See illustrations from the first six parts of Physica Curiosa in Flickr and the slideshow above.

Special thanks to Lilla Vekerdy, Head of Special Collections, Smithsonian Libraries, for her consultation on this post. The Smithsonian Libraries' collection contains 16 books by Schott. The version of Physica Curiosa digitized for BHL is from the Smithsonian Libraries' collection.

Grace Costantino
Program Manager | Biodiversity Heritage Library


  • Gillispie, CC. "Schott, Gaspar." Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980. 
  • Thorndike, L. A History of Magic and Experimental Science. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1923. 596-608. 
  • Michon, Scott. "Sea Monsters." Strange Science, 16 May 2013. 17 May 2013.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Latest News from BHL!

Latest BHL Quarterly Report
If you think all we do is digitize books, get ready to be surprised! Besides adding over 700,000 new pages of open access biodiversity literature to our collection in 2013 alone, we've launched a new website, celebrated the birth of another regional node - BHL-Africa, grown our consortium by adding the Library of Congress as our 15th member library, published two new iTunes U collections, received two prestigious awards, and hosted our seventh Annual Institutional Council Meeting, just to name a few things!

Learn all about these developments, and see how our project is performing, in the latest BHL Quarterly Report and Newsletter! Stay up to date in the future by subscribing to our quarterly newsletters.

We know you'll be impressed at the ways we're inspiring discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge!

Spring 2013 BHL Newsletter

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Celebrating the International Day for Biological Diversity

Water and Biodiversity

Water covers 71% of the Earth's surface. 96.5% of Earth's water is found in oceans, 1.7% in groundwater, 1.7% in glaciers and ice caps, and 0.001% in vapor and clouds. Only 2.5% of that water is freshwater, with most of that found in ice and groundwater.

Water is essential for all life on Earth. From the smallest microbe to the largest known life form on Earth - the Blue Whale - life cannot exist without water.

Today is the International Day for Biological Diversity, and the theme is Water and Biodiversity. This theme was chosen to coincide with the International Year of Water Cooperation (2013, as designated by the United Nations), which was specifically celebrated on March 22 as World Water Day. The objective of World Water Day and the International Year of Water Cooperation is to raise awareness about challenges facing water management and ties to sustainable development while also exploring ways to cooperate to ensure that everyone has access to the clean water needed to survive.

The International Day for Biological Diversity was established in 1993 by the United Nations "to increase awareness and understanding about biodiversity issues." It occurs every year on May 22 and is organized by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

While all life depends on water, aquatic species live in water for most or all of their lives. The diversity of aquatic animals and plants is staggering, and the adaptations developed to support this wet lifestyle are numerous. For instance, some breathe by absorbing oxygen in the water through their skin or using gills. Others breathe air, but are specially adapted to hold their breath for extended periods of time. For instance, the sperm whale, one of the deepest-diving mammals, can remain submerged for 90 minutes!

Sperm Whale. Compléments de Buffon. T. 1 (1838).

To celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity and the International Year of Water Cooperation, we've created a collection of aquatic species illustrations from BHL. We hope you take some time to enjoy the images but also consider what you can do to support water security. Not convinced it's an issue? Take a look at the implications of water insecurity from the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Improving the Efficiency of Scientific Research

The Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Hymenoptera Anatomy Ontology

Katja C. Seltmann
The realm of ontology concerns the nature of reality, determining what exists, how it fits within a hierarchy, and how various elements are organized according to similarities and differences. Traditionally a philosophical question within metaphysics, today ontology has a firm application within systems biology as well.

Anatomy ontologies describe the structural and developmental relationships between the various parts of an organism. Defining anatomical ontologies reveals a complete list of distinguishing characteristics for that organism or group of organisms. The act of creating an anatomical ontology requires precise definitions of the terminology used to describe a variety of phenotypes.

Authors that have contributed to the past 250 years of taxonomic literature did not use standardized vocabularies. Katja C. Seltmann (Project Manager for the Tri-Trophic Thematic Collection Network at the American Museum of Natural History) desired to find a way to efficiently analyze this multi-century body of literature to create a single anatomical ontology, specifically for the insect order Hymenoptera. Accomplishing this feat required utilizing the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL).

Millions of pages of analog biodiversity literature, spanning the 15th-21st centuries, are digitized and made freely available online by the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Among the over 59,000 titles in the collection is the Journal of Hymenoptera Research (JHR), published by the International Society of Hymenoptera since 1992. Seltmann and a team of four other researchers utilized this publication from BHL to help build the Hymenoptera Anatomy Ontology (HAO).

The Order Hymenoptera contains sawflies, wasps, bees and ants. Find this and other 1807 illustrations of the Order in Nouvelle méthode de classer les hyménoptères et les diptères.
The NSF-funded Hymenoptera Anatomy Ontology is based on a language recognition tool (called the “Proofer”), which can be implemented across biodiversity literature in order to discover domain-specific anatomy terms. Employing the tool across the OCR for JHR resulted in the discovery of nearly 1,200 new terms for HAO. Furthermore, the development of the ontology is iterative. As the “Proofer” is applied to new collections of literature, it finds matches to existing terms as well as proposes new terms to add to the ontology. A human is required to review the proposed terms, selecting those to be added to the growing database.

After creation, this ontology can be applied as a filter to the literature in order to reveal trends in term occurrence within species descriptions, ultimately allowing researchers to analyze hundreds of years worth of scientific publications without having to sift page by page through the texts. The tool is thus instrumental in improving the efficiency of scientific research, and the process and impact was detailed in the 2012 PLoS ONE article “Utilizing Descriptive Statements from the Biodiversity Heritage Library to Expand the Hymenoptera Anatomy Ontology” (Seltmann et al.).*

According to Seltmann, the Biodiversity Heritage Library plays a critical role in modern scientific research, including her own work:

“I am very fond of the BHL. It set a precedent for open access to literature that I feel initiated a cascading of change in our expectations. Sharing information, publications and open access is no longer the suspicious topic it used to be only a few years ago. Now, expectation is that publications, data and otherwise will be readily available. BHL, in my opinion, was truly one of the first examples of an open model becoming successful in the biological community, and, because it was useful, it changed attitudes.” 

The process used to create the Hymenoptera Anatomy Ontology can be applied to other disciplines in order to build any phonotype-relevant ontology. However, as the PLOS article articulates,

“Natural language processing methods for biological data discovery is only possible through open access publications, and efforts such as the Biodiversity Heritage Library to make legacy literature freely available. This exercise to observe trends in the terminology illustrates how the accessibility to literature facilitates anatomy ontology construction.” 

This use case thus provides a clear example of how the BHL is inspiring scientific discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge.

Interested in telling us about how BHL has helped support your research? Send us feedback or write to

Grace Costantino
Program Manager | Biodiversity Heritage Library

* Seltmann KC, Pénzes Z, Yoder MJ, Bertone MA, Deans AR (2013) Utilizing Descriptive Statements from the Biodiversity Heritage Library to Expand the Hymenoptera Anatomy Ontology. PLoS ONE 8(2): e55674. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055674

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Biodiversity Heritage Library Receives the CBHL Long Award of Extraordinary Merit

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is pleased to announce that it is the recipient of the Charles Robert Long Award of Extraordinary Merit from the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL).

The highest honor bestowed by CBHL, the Charles Robert Long Award for Extraordinary Merit was founded to honor outstanding contribution and meritorious service to CBHL or to the field of botanical and horticultural libraries or literature. Since 1988, only 14 people have received this award.

Receiving two separate nominations highlighting BHL’s global collaboration among libraries, innovative outreach, and exceptional bibliographic and technology standards, this year marks the first time an organization has won the award.

As the award letter articulates, “BHL envisions collaboration among botanical libraries on a scale not attempted previously. It fosters research across borders and disciplines and has made itself indispensible in many areas of the globe where botanical and biological libraries are unavailable to scholars. In an era that is increasingly focused on biodiversity, it has become an indispensible resource for many scholars, scientists and students.”

The award was announced during the CBHL Annual Business Meeting in East Lansing, MI, on May 9. Representatives from the Smithsonian Libraries, Harvard Herbarium Botany Libraries, and the New York Botanical Garden accepted the award on behalf of BHL. As part of the honor, BHL received a certificate and lifelong institutional membership to CBHL.

“We hope this [award] will encourage awareness of and further cross-collaboration between natural history libraries and CBHL,” said Laurie Hannah, Chair of the CBHL Long Award Committee.

About the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries 

The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries, Inc. (CBHL) is an international organization of individuals, organizations and institutions concerned with the development, maintenance and use of libraries of botanical and horticultural literature. The purpose of CBHL is to initiate and improve communication and coordinate activities and programs of mutual interest and benefit to its membership.

See the CBHL Press Release about the award.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Visual Riches of BHL Dazzle those Outside the Biodiversity Domain

Museums and the Web poster. Trish Rose-Sandler.

This spring BHL staff member Trish Rose-Sandler participated in two conferences which were outside of the biodiversity community but whose attendees were very much interested in the natural history illustrations found within the pages of BHL books and journals. These included the Visual Resources Association (VRA) annual conference held in Providence, Rhode Island, April 3-5, and the Museums and the Web (MW) conference held in Portland, Oregon, April 17-20.

Attendees at the VRA conference are image curators, librarians, and archivists who support scholars in arts and humanities departments within universities or museums. Rose-Sandler’s talk at VRA was part of a session on how visual resource collections are reaching out to new audiences through promotion of their content and collaboration with other disciplines. Much in the same way, BHL is reaching out to new audiences through its image content which has a broad appeal among many different fields of research.

MW Demo Table.
The MW conference is attended by folks who work on the technology side of cultural heritage organizations, mostly museums, but also some libraries and historical societies. The story of BHL and its images was told through a one hour demo session that included a poster, one page handouts, and a slideshow of the illustrations. Rose-Sandler and her Art of Life colleague, Kyle Jaebker, explained the challenges BHL faces in identifying the location of millions of images, how we are providing limited access via Flickr, as well as how the Art of Life project is helping scale this effort by automating their identification and crowdsourcing their description. These visually-oriented professionals were enamored of the image content we possess. One visitor at MW, a scientific illustrator from Prague, commented that her students had used images from the BHL Flickr stream for a scientific illustration course she taught. Other visitors were interested in the algorithms we were developing for automatically identifying the location of images within text resources.

Most of the attendees at both conferences were completely unaware of BHL. Those who had heard of BHL were surprised to learn we provided access to natural history illustrations. VRA and MW provide unique opportunities for us to showcase the BHL content to communities who might not have heard of us otherwise. Natural history illustrations provide common ground where the art and scientific communities intersect. If you have any suggestions for other conferences or venues we should be present at, please send us feedback or email us at

View Handouts from the Museums and the Web Conference:

Trish Rose-Sandler
Data Analyst | Biodiversity Heritage Library
Missouri Botanical Garden

Monday, May 13, 2013

Refining BHL: New Vision, Mission, and Goal Statements

We are pleased to announce that the BHL Steering Committee has approved new vision, mission, and goal statements for the Biodiversity Heritage Library!


Inspiring discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge.


The Biodiversity Heritage Library works collaboratively to make biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community.


Goal 1: Relevant Content 
Build and maintain the BHL as the largest reliable, reputable, and responsive repository of biodiversity literature and archival materials. 

Goal 2: Tools and Services 
Develop services and tools which facilitate discovery and improve research efficiency of BHL content. 

Goal 3: User Engagement 
Increase global awareness about the BHL through outreach, learning and education, and branding through engagement and collaboration with existing and new user communities. 

Goal 4: Membership and Partnerships 
Grow BHL consortia membership and partnerships while fostering cross-institutional collaboration that continues to serve as a model for digital library development. 

Goal 5: Financial Sustainability 
Ensure sustainability and relevance by being flexible, adaptable, and financially sound while the content and services remain openly and freely available.

Work on revising BHL's vision, mission, and goals began at the September 2012 BHL Staff and Technical Meeting. During the meeting, BHL staff dedicated several hours to pinpointing exactly what the BHL project is about and translating that into elements for a BHL vision statement. Staff also dissected BHL's existing goals, paring them down to simple statements outlining the most important objectives of the project.

Following the meeting, two staff subcommittees worked to take the resulting suggestions and mold those into draft vision and goal statements for BHL. The BHL Secretariat, including the BHL Program Director, Program Manager, and Collections Coordinator, then took all of the recommendations provided by staff and produced final draft vision, mission, and goal statements.

These statements were presented at the 2013 BHL Institutional Council Meeting, May 6-7, in Woods Hole, MA, where the BHL Steering Committee applied final revisions to the statements before approving them as BHL's new official vision, mission, and goals!

You can now see BHL's vision and mission on the homepage of our website, and our goals are clearly articulated on the BHL About page. We hope you find them as inspiring as we do!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

2013 BHL Institutional Council Meeting

Attendees at the 2013 BHL Institutional Council Meeting. Back Row, Left to Right: Martin Kalfatovic (BHL Program Director); Marty Schlabach (Mann Library, Cornell University); Judy Warnement (Harvard University Herbarium); William Ulate (BHL Technical Director); Diane Rielinger (MBL-WHOI); Tom Baione (American Museum of Natural History). Front Row, Left to Right: Bianca Crowley (BHL Collections Coordinator); Susan Fraser (the New York Botanical Garden); Nancy Gwinn (Smithsonian Libraries); Connie Rinaldo (Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology); Grace Costantino (BHL Program Manager); Jane Smith (Natural History Museum, London).
The seventh annual BHL Institutional Council Meeting occurred at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Library (MBL-WHOI) in Woods Hole, MA, on May 6-7, 2013.

The BHL Institutional Council is composed of the directors (or designated alternative representatives) of the BHL member libraries. The annual meetings serve as an opportunity for council members to provide updates about BHL activities at their institutions, discuss governance issues, make funding decisions, and strategize about the future of BHL. It also allows BHL Administrative Staff to inform council members about developments in their areas of expertise.

Representatives from eight member libraries were able to attend the meeting in person, and, for the first time in IC Meeting history, those who could not be present physically were able to virtually join the meeting using video conference software available within the MBL-WHOI library. Representatives from California Academy of Science, the Field Museum Library, and our newest BHL member, The Library of Congress, participated in a virtual capacity throughout the meeting. As part of the meeting, each representative gave updates on the BHL activities that occurred at their institutions over the past year.

Hard at work at the 2013 BHL IC Meeting!
Day one of the meeting began with a BHL Program Director update, provided by Martin R. Kalfatovic, discussing project developments and achievements.

Also during day one, William Ulate, BHL Technical Director and Global Coordinator, detailed BHL's work in the past year, highlighting the implementation of the new user interface, work to date on the Art of Life  project, and the status of BHL's six global nodes. BHL Program Manager, Grace Costantino, also provided an update on BHL's outreach activities, including the presentation of a new BHL Outreach and Communication plan. Finally, Bianca Crowley, BHL Collections Coordinator, outlined her recent work and that of the BHL Collection's Committee, including an overview of collection analysis needs and a new Permissions Plans which proposes a strategy for obtaining and fulfilling agreements with publishers to scan in-copyright content for BHL.

The BHL Business Meeting occurred on day two. Topics covered included approval of the 2013 budget, discussion of a new proposed member library organizational structure for BHL, and brainstorming about fundraising options to achieve financial sustainability. One final topic of discussion was a review of a proposed revision to BHL's vision and mission statements:

"Inspiring discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge."
"The Biodiversity Heritage Library works collaboratively to make biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community."

As always, these meetings serve as a valuable opportunity to bring together BHL's geographically dispersed leadership in order to make important decisions about BHL's future. The decisions reached at this meeting promise to ensure continued positive growth and prosperity. We look forward to the ninth annual meeting next spring.

See presentations from the meetings by:

* Photo Credits: Martin Kalfatovic, BHL Program Director

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Documenting Scientific Knowledge One Handwritten Note at a Time

Connecting Content: The Wonderful World of Field Books

The California Academy of Sciences and our partners (all of whom are also BHL member institutions) are in the midst of a 3 year IMLS National Leadership Grant titled "Connecting Content: A Collaboration to Link Field Notes to Specimens and Published Literature." This project aims to digitize published scientific findings, their related field books and specimens, and metadata for these items, link all of these resources, and make them available for harvesting, reuse, and repurposing without cost. At this point, the bulk of the field books selected for this project have been digitized and made available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library. (*You can see the sixty-one titles digitized for this project by searching for “Connecting Content” in the BHL search box.) You can download a selection of these field book for free via the latest BHL iTunes U Collection: Connecting Content through Archival Field Notes.

Field books (or field notes) are the original documents which chronicle specimen collection and the events and observations that led to scientific discovery.  Field books are unique unto the creator and vary greatly from book to book. Here are a selection of highlights from the collection which demonstrate the wealth of information and styles found throughout the selection of field books:

William Whitman Bailey and the USGS Exploration of the 40th Parallel

Page One. A diary of a journey in California and Nevada. William Whitman Bailey.

Portuguese Man of War. Bailey.
Riccinus communis. Bailey.
William Whitman Bailey’s life story reads like a blockbuster movie plot. When young William was just nine years old, he and his family took an ill fated boat trip aboard the 198 foot side-wheeler, the Henry Clay. On this fateful day, the Henry Clay was involved in a minor collision with another vessel, but pressed onwards as it seemed that the ship has sustained little damage. However, about an hour outside of its final New York destination, the ship beached itself on shore near Yonkers as a result of a fire that had been burning unnoticed since the collision. The lucky passengers on the bow of the ship were either thrown or able to jump onto land, but the Baileys were not so fortunate. Separated from land by 140 feet of water and a wall of fire, the Baileys had no choice but to jump into the water as the fire approached. William’s mother and sister succumbed to the depths and his father barely survived. William managed to grab hold of a floating wicker chair and was eventually picked up by a passing ship, but the experience would leave him with permanent health problems.

However, this tragic setback did not lessen Bailey’s enthusiasm for adventure and curiosity about the natural world. Bailey would eventually study under Dr. Asa Gray at Harvard University and at 24 years old, he became the botanist for the United States Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel. The field book for this expedition chronicles Bailey’s journey through California and Nevada in a flowing prosaic style with beautiful illustrations and photographs of Bailey’s observations. The very first page of Bailey’s journal opens with a beautiful demonstration of his illustrative pen and ink style. Bailey’s rich descriptions are paired with exquisite drawings that seem to jump off the page whether he is waxing poetic about the Portuguese Man of War or closely observing the leaf of the Riccinus communis. Bailey’s flowing narrative style and gorgeous illustrations make this field book a charming and informative look at the exploration of the 40th parallel that will surely captivate readers.

Washington H. Ochsner and the Galapagos Islands

Charles Island. Ochsner.
In 1905, the California Academy of Sciences sent 11 men off for a year and a day on an eighty-five foot schooner destined for the Galapagos Islands. While the expedition was underway, the California Academy of Sciences would fall into ruin during the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The specimens gathered during the Galapagos expedition would come to form the crux of the new California Academy of Sciences’ collections. Of the young men on that voyage, 26 year-old Washington Henry Ochsner travelled as the expedition’s geologist. His journals are more technical than Bailey’s in what they intended to capture and often included geological survey information, as well as inferences about how the geological features were formed. Ochsner also drew detailed surveys of the island terrains like this map of Charles Island. Ochsner’s field books have a scientifically focused structure and tend to be not-so-much a diary but a close and careful record of his scientific observations.

The Diaries of William Brewster, 1865- 1919

Eggs and Nests. Brewster.
Renowned ornithologist William Brewster mused over his daily observations in a personal and often humorous way. William Brewster’s love of ornithology blossomed early, and he kept careful records of the birds he observed throughout his life. These journals begin when Brewster was 14 years old, and it is interesting to see how his hand, knowledge, and confidence all develop over time.  In his later journals, Brewster takes care to write in a colloquial manner, and these notes provide unique insight into the daily life of a researcher over a 54 year span. This collection of journals also provide an enticing perspective on the detrimental changes to the environment and bird populations as a result of industrialization and the growth of urban centers.

All of the field books digitized for the Connecting Content project offer inimitable insight into how scientific data is gathered, synthesized, and extrapolated. It is the hope that by sharing these unique resources, researchers can better understand scientific findings and that the insights gained from this will promote further inquiry and the spirit of discovery.

Yolanda Bustos
Connecting Content Project Manager | Archives and Digital Collections Assistant Librarian
California Academy of Sciences

Want more Field Book Content?
View 61 field books digitized by the Connecting Content grant in BHL
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Find out more about the link between expeditions, field books, and publications in our previous blog posts with Smithsonian's Field Book Project: Post One | Post Two | Post Three

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Expedition Documentation Trifecta: Harriman Alaska Expedition (1899)

This is the third 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.

View post one | View post two

In 1899 Edward Harriman, President of the Union Pacific Railroad, turned a family vacation into a two month foray into Alaska. Originally proposed as a hunting expedition, it was transformed into a scientific exploring expedition on the advice of Clinton Hart Merriam, Chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey. Harriman and his family, accompanied by 126 researchers, traveled to Alaska aboard the S.S. George W. Elder. In the end, the work of the many researchers resulted in vast amounts of valuable scientific data, including the discovery of a new glacier and an array of floral and faunal specimens.

Reid Inlet, Glacier Bay 1899. Photographed by Edward S. Curtis.    
Harriman and the Washington Academy of Sciences collaborated to fund the entire expedition, and Harriman chose researchers with diverse scientific backgrounds in order to collaborate on all fields of plant, animal, and earth science. After the expedition had ended, the scientists published a multi-volume Harriman Alaska Series, sometimes simply known as Alaska, of which vols. 6-7 were never published.

The Harriman Expedition is a particular favorite, because among the field documentation at Smithsonian Institution Archives, are two photograph albums of images from during the trip. Many of these images are available to view on Smithsonian Collection Search Center.

For such a large expedition with participants from across the Institution, you would think the field notes would be numerous and comprise their own collection. There are only as few as 6 field books from the Harriman Expedition found across the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA).

The photograph albums mentioned above reside in SIA; field notes of A. K. Fisher are in NMNH, Division of Mammals; T. H. Kearney’s journal is in the Department of Botany’s field book collection housed in the Main NMNH Library. Additionally there is item “Walpole, paintings, 1899 – 1904” whose abstract explains it may contain illustrations from the Harriman Expedition. One would only know this by the abstract or reading the field book content. Additionally these various field notes were cataloged by the Field Book Project, November 2011 - July 2012.

Specimens are equally difficult to track down. Though US National Museum received a collection of mollusks, birds, and plants, many of these specimens do not state they came from the expedition. One must know the collector, location, and/or time period.

Publications resulting from the expedition are a bit easier to locate, given the close relationship between Harriman and the Washington Academy of Sciences. In addition to the Harriman Alaska Expedition series linked above, the Biodiversity Heritage Library provides the following publications:

Whether an expedition is large or small, its resulting natural history documentation can lose its connections and become increasingly difficult to locate. Cataloging and digitization efforts by Smithsonian and consortiums like the Biodiversity Heritage Library offer researchers increasingly better odds of rediscovering those connections. Stay tuned for the fourth and final blog post in the series.

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