Thursday, June 27, 2013

Death by Corset: A Nineteenth-Century Book about Fatal Women’s Fashions (and Animal Physiology)

Normally at the BHL we examine zoology-related books in our Book of the Week posts, but this week we're entering new territory and taking a look at a comparative physiology book that examines the only species to mutilate its own body: Homo sapiens.

If you go by what J. L. Comstock, M.D., had to say in 1848 about what it was like to be a lady, times were difficult.  In this week's book of the week, Outlines of Physiology, both Comparative and Human; in which are Described the Mechanical, Animal, Vital, and Sensorial Organs and Functions; Also, The Application of These Principles to Muscular Exercise, and Female Fashions and Deformities, Comstock explains that young women were under enormous pressure to be aesthetically pleasing to men (not a bad goal, he points out), and this pressure to look good by wearing a corset or stays was causing rampant deformities, illness, and even death: “. . .I have no doubt that the ladies themselves, to a considerable extent, will agree with me in believing, that hundreds, nay thousands, of females literally kill themselves every year by this fashion in our own country: and if suicide is a crime, how will such escape in the day of final account!” (311).   

While he may have thought that women who died of tight-laced corsets were going to hell, he did sympathize with their goal to look beautiful for men: “what possible motive could have induced the females of the present age, and especially those of these United States (where ultraism in respect to this deformity [by corset] is carried to a much greater extent than in any other country). . .Can it be for the purpose of making themselves more agreeable, and more acceptable to the lords of creation?  Then certainly their motives ought to meet with the law of kindness, and the tortures through which they are willing to pass in order to arrive at perfection—the sympathy and commiseration of those for whom such perils are encountered” (321).  

Comstock explains: “We have represented by figures 134 [normal skeleton] and 135 [deformed skeleton] the difference between a natural human skeleton, and one in which the pressure of stays has pushed the front ends of the ribs inward, bending the soft cartilages, so as to make them form acute angles outward” (311-312).  This results in the ribs pressing inward upon the lungs.

The force of a tight-laced corset upon the ribs caused them to create pressure not only upon the lungs, but also the other internal organs which undergo a shifting in position to accommodate for the new skeletal shape.  This illustration from 1884 represents the contemporary medical opinion about organ displacement due to corset wearing.

Ann Buermann Wass and Michelle Webb Fandrich, two fashion historians, describe what corsets looked like during Comstock’s period:

By the 1840s, the line of women's corsets extended to well below the waist. The corset of the 1840s and 1850s was boned throughout with whalebone and, as it had been in decades prior, outfitted with a metal, wood or whalebone busk at the center front. Commenting on the gradual lengthening of the corset in 1841, the Handbook of the Toilet noted that “[t]he modern stay extends not only over the bosom but also all over the abdomen and back down to the hips…they have been growing in length by degrees”. . .By this time, corsets had lost their shoulder straps and were most commonly fastened up the front with busk outfitted with clips and laced up the back to achieve a more precise fit. (306)

An early example of a stay, a type of corset with shoulder straps made of thick material.  This particular example is a woman's corset from France, c. 1730-1740, made in a silk plain weave with supplementary weft-float patterning.  From the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

A corset ad from 1898 developed by Earnest Elmo Calkins for R & G Corset Company.  This corset represents the longer shape described by Wass and Fandrich.

The deformities caused by stays and corsets were a serious problem for Comstock, not only because they could result in death but because he believed that children born of corset-wearers were weak, small and sickly; this is owing to Comstock’s belief that corsets deplete the mother’s milk supply: “[the breasts of a corset- or stay-wearer] present a mere pretence, a nullity, a source of starvation, rather than one of sustenance, to the nascent beings, who are so unfortunate as to be thrown upon such cotton and wool resources of existence” (320-321).

Figure 136 represents an ideal woman who does not wear a corset or stays and can thus produce breast milk and strong children.  Figure 137 represents the typical woman contemporary to Comstock who wears stays and thus cannot produce breast milk or healthy children, according to the M.D. (320).

And shoulder-baring dresses?  Ladies, forget about it!  Comstock notes that:

[the] cause of distorted shoulders. . .is the recent fashion of dressing so wide across the neck as to leave one, or perhaps both the acromion processes, or shoulder tips, in a state of entire nudity. . .The consequence of this fashion was, that, judging from the perpetual motion of [the shoulders], the wearer constantly felt as though her dress was in danger of slipping down, and which she made as constant efforts to prevent, or to ascertain by feeling with the shoulder whether this was the case, or not, until these motions became habitual, and therefore insensible. . .until [one shoulder] became permanently higher than the latter. (296-7

Comstock’s only hope to ending the serious deformities and risk for death caused by stays, corsets and fashionable clothing was that the country simpletons who didn't know that corsets were fashionable would move to the city and literally create a new race of revitalized humans: “It is true that there are parts of our country where the practice of excessive lacing, and therefore its degenerating consequences do not exist; and whence we are happy to know that many of the daughters of unsophisticated nature are transplanted into our cities, there to become the fostering angels of a renovated species” (321).

While Comstock also explores similarities between human and animal physiologies in his book, a large part of his focus is on remedies for men and women to avoid illness.  Among Comstock’s recommendations for different forms of “exciting exercise” for adults and children to prevent illness are "field-sports," angling, riding, calisthenics and archery—but also “cheerfulness” and “laughing” (239-266).  

And ladies, while he doesn’t want you to wear a corset during your archery practice, don’t forget to wear your long-sleeve, floor-length gown with giant feathered hat (270).

If you are sitting at a desk right now while you read this, beware that you don’t become the lazy, deformed, lolling, school-girl type described by Comstock in his section on the evils of the seated posture: 

One posture which school-girls are exceedingly apt to take, is that of leaning forward, and placing the elbow on the desk for support; and this they often do, even when their seats are provided with backs.  This posture, if continued so as to form a habit, will often show its effects on all occasions, the young lady having such a disposition to lean, as to indulge it when any support happens to be near where she sits, let the place or company be what it may.  Such a one will lean, with the hand supporting the head, when at home, on a table, or window-stool, or any other convenient lolling-place, for hours together. (294)   

If you spend your time leaning with your head in your hand while sitting, you can look forward to deformed shoulder blades, according to Comstock, “one of which is sometimes thrown so far out of place as to give it the appearance of absolute dislocation” as in Figure 133 (294-295).

While Comstock’s pronouncements and prescriptions may seem amusing, corsets and stays presented a very real danger in the minds of many of his contemporaries.  Comstock’s descriptions of the physiological changes caused by corsets were sometimes accurate, such as his description of compressed lungs and organs, which resulted in difficulty breathing and could make recovery from any underlying illness harder.  Valerie Steele, a fashion historian, explains 19th-century beliefs about the dangers of corsets: 

The corset has been blamed for causing dozens of diseases, from cancer to curvature of the spine, deformities of the ribs and displacements of the internal organs, respiratory and circulatory diseases, birth defects, miscarriages, and “female complaints,” as well as medical traumas such as broken ribs and puncture wounds.  The Lancet, Britain’s most important medical journal, published more than an article a year from the late 1860s to the early 1890s on the medical dangers of tight-lacing.  Deaths from tight-lacing were also mentioned.  In one case, for example, the “heart was found to be so impeded in its action as to render life impracticable. (67)

Today, corsets are still in fashion among people interested in recreating historical costume, and also among various different types of lingerie enthusiasts.  Regardless of one’s beliefs about the safety or practicality of corsets, they present a fascinating reflection of human beliefs about beauty and the ability to manipulate the human body. 

  • Comstock, J.L. Outlines of Physiology, both Comparative and Human; in which are Described the Mechanical, Animal, Vital, and Sensorial Organs and Functions; Also, The Application of These Principles to Muscular Exercise, and Female Fashions and Deformities.  New York: Pratt, Woodford & Company, 1898.
  • Steele, Valerie.  The Corset: A Cultural History.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.  p. 67.
  • Wass, Ann Buermann and Michelle Webb Fandrich.  Clothing through American History: The Federal Era through Antebellum, 1786-1860.  Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010.  p. 306.
Written by: Laurel Byrnes, Marketing Intern at the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Botanical Research in the Asian Tropics

"If you intend to work at 40°C you need a bathrobe, a glass of cold, crispy dry, white wine and WiFi to access BHL." Dr. Eric Danell, Director, Dokmai Garden, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Nestled within the Hang Dong district, Chiang Mai, Thailand, is a 10 acre botanical garden called Dokmai Garden. Run by the Thai family Seehamongkol, it boasts over 1,000 plant species, including orchids, laurels, banana plants, birds-of-paradise plants, and gingers. The Seehamongkol family, and the garden's biologist and Director, Dr. Eric Danell, have the lucky fortune of not only working in this garden, but also of calling it home.

While living amidst such a paradise is undeniably enchanting, for Dr. Danell, being a botanist in the Asian tropics also has its challenges. Access to taxonomic literature is scarce, and the closest library may still be many days away. Even if a researcher is able to gain access to local library collections, the breadth of these collections are often limited, lacking titles critical to enabling further research. For researchers in these situations, digital, open access projects like the Biodiversity Heritage Library are indispensable.

Dr. Danell began his botanical adventure in Sweden at an early age. "Born a botanist," Eric spent the weekends of his youth at the Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, pursuing a lifelong love of plants that resulted in a PhD in Plant Physiology from Uppsala University in 1994. Following the degree, Danell taught at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences as an Associate Professor in Forest Microbiology.

Eric's passion, however, is gardens. "Essentially, I am a gardener," said Dr. Danell when asked about his chief area of interest. It comes as no surprise, then, that he left his teaching position for the opportunity to garden in the Asian Tropics at Dokmai Garden. Caring for over a thousand plant species (not to mention countless other varieties of birds, insects, reptiles and fungi that also call the ecosystem home), and conducting further botanical research, requires access to natural history literature collections, including many rare titles. As discussed, this access is often glaringly absent in developing countries.

Fortunately for Dr. Danell, a few years ago, he stumbled upon BHL via the Kew Gardens/Missouri Botanical Garden joint project,  The Plant List. It was love at first click. "[BHL] is a crucial tool since I am located in the Asian tropics. Although I have a private rare books collection in Sweden, I do not dare bring it here due to termites and moulds. Rare books can hardly be found at local university libraries," articulated Danell.

Since discovering BHL, Eric uses it several times a week, typically verifying plant species descriptions online but occasionally also downloading PDFs. "We have frequent electricity cuts which would otherwise disconnect me from ongoing work," explained Danell. "A laptop with battery keeps you focused in spite of tropical rainstorms!"

The true magic of BHL for Danell, however, is the truly global access it provides. "The fact that I can sit in a remote corner of the world and access rare books is awesome! BHL is my favorite."

Being located in a developing country also provides opportunities for Dr. Danell to suggest improvements specific to users with varying Internet connectivity strengths. He suggests that the development of an interface specifically designed for old computers with poor Internet access would be particularly beneficial. This was a major discussion point at the recent BHL-Africa meetings, as much of Africa also has limited Internet connectivity. The development of a "BHL in a Box" application, which would allow some version of BHL to be installed on a local computer to limit the need for continuous internet availability, or the development of a text-based interface, were some options proposed. BHL and its African colleagues hope to pursue funding in the future to make this ambition a reality.

For many of our users, there is one special title in BHL that makes their knees weak and their hearts beat a little faster. For Dr. Danell, that book is Linnaeus Species Plantarum (1753, volumes 1-2). "This is the origin of plant research and so many important plants, also in the tropics, are described here. [Linnaeus'] spelling, his comments and his references are crucial to botanical research," emphasized Danell.

Thanks to BHL, Eric can access his favorite eighteenth century botanical masterpiece while sitting in a fairy tale garden in the Asian tropics, dressed comfortably in his favorite bathrobe, sipping a glass of crisp white wine. All scientific research should be this perfect!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Bookplate for the Birds

Swann, H. Kirke, 1871-1926. A Synopsis of the Accipitres (Diurnal Birds of Prey), Comprising Species and Subspecies Described up to 1920, with their Characters and Distribution. 2nd edition, revised and corrected throughout. London: Privately Printed for the Author, 1921-1922. 

Plate illustrating Swann's Synopsis of the Accipitres
The Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History has a number of rare volumes formerly owned by naturalists. Some of the books have autographs or inscriptions attesting to their provenance. Occasionally, a book may have a special binding design or stamp to honor its former owner. However, my favorite symbol of ownership happens to be the custom bookplate, and the book featured this week has a particularly elegant example.

The book, recently acquired by the Cullman Library, is A Synopsis of the Accipitres (Diurnal Birds of Prey), by H. Kirke Swann (isn't that a great name for the author of a bird book!). A noted ornithologist, Swann (1871-1926) worked for the natural history bookseller, Wheldon & Wesley, in Great Britain. Swann's research on the Accipitres was based on his own collection of bird eggs and skins, as well as the fabulous collections at the British Museum.

This copy of Swann's Synopsis of the Accipitres is from the second revised and corrected edition, privately printed for the author on large paper during the years 1921 and 1922. Only twenty-eight copies were printed in this edition. The text includes twenty-two leaves of colored plates illustrating eggs from the species featured in Swann's book. A smaller, octavo-sized version of the second edition, lacking the colored plates, was also issued in 1921-1922.

Plate illustrating Swann's Synopsis of the Accipitres

Bookplate of John Colebrook-Robjent
The Cullman Library's copy of the Synopsis of the Accipitres has a handsome bookplate identifying its former owner, Major John Frederick Robert Colebrook-Robjent. An accomplished ornithologist who lived on a farm in Zambia and specialized in the study of wild birds' eggs, Major Colebrook-Robjent commissioned this bookplate which reflected his interest in birds. The design features a Hoopoe, an Old World bird with a dashing feather headdress that resembles a crown, which sits atop a heraldic device with the Latin motto "Servato Fidem" (meaning "Keep Faith").

View this rare 2nd revised and corrected edition in BHL.

Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger
Smithsonian Libraries

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

BHL Program Director accepts Computerworld laureate award

Martin Kalfatovic
As noted in our blog post from March 22, 2013, BHL was named a 2013 Computerworld Honors Program Laureate.

On June 3rd, BHL Chair Nancy Gwinn and I accepted the award on behalf of BHL and BHL staff at the Computerworld Honors Laureate Ceremony and Awards gala held in the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, DC.

In addition to the presentation of the laureate medals, the event was keynoted by Vinton Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, and, truly, one of the "creators of the Internet."

About the award:
Established in 1988, and celebrating its 25th anniversary, The Computerworld Honors Program brings together the men, women, organizations and institutions around the world whose visionary applications of information technology promote positive social, economic and educational change.
Laureates' achievements will be recognized publicly at the Computerworld Honors Laureate Ceremony and Awards Gala being held at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington D.C. on June 3, 2013. During this black tie ceremony, honorees are presented with a medallion inscribed with the Program's mission, "A Search for New Heroes." Additional recognition is given to five Laureates in each category who, selected by Program Judges to represent outstanding innovation, become Finalists for the 21st Century Achievement Award. One Finalist in each category is then named a 21st Century Achievement award winner, receiving special recognition by the Program Judges to be the very best among their peers.

Martin Kalfatovic
Program Director | Biodiversity Heritage Library

Friday, June 14, 2013

Celebrating Humankind's Best Friend, the Dog!

As a bone-a-fide dog lover, it gives me great pleasure to highlight Baynes and Louis Agassiz Fuertes' beautifully illustrated "The Book of Dogs: an intimate study of mankind's best friend" as this week's book of the week. In it, the famous ornithologist and illustrator  lends his hand to the descriptions and art of drawing various breeds of "man's best friend" while Baynes tells stories of dog fame, adventure, and heroism, such as this one about Red Cross dogs in WWI:

pg. 55
"The Red Cross dogs rendered invaluable service in feeding and aiding the wounded. Each one carried a first-aid kit either strapped to its collar or in a small saddle pouch. When they found a soldier who was unconscious, they were taught to bring back his helmet, handkerchief, or some other small article as a token of the discovery. Many of them learned wholly to ignore the dead, but to bark loudly whenever they came upon a wounded man." [pg. 73]
Published in 1919 by the National Geographic Society, this "study" remarks on the history of dogs but does little to dive deeply into the science behind this subspecies of Canidae. Canis lupus familiaris are a subspecies of Canis lupus or Gray Wolf. Dogs are one of 38 subspecies of C. lupus along with a series of wolves and the feral dog, otherwise known as dingos [1]. Dogs, dingos, and wolves can all interbreed and share morphological and behavioral similarities including being social, highly expressive, and (depending on your dog of course) intelligent animals. It is not certain when exactly dogs were first domesticated but recent evidence points to one of the oldest known domesticated dogs to 33,000 years ago [2]. A study from 2010 points to the Middle East as the most likely locality of origin of the subspecies [3].
With such a rich history of domestication and intimacy with our species, one would think we'd have Canis lupus familiaris figured out, but it was not until recently that dogs' taxonomy was resolved according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System's report. Linnaeus first described the domestic dog as Canis canis in Systema Naturae 1735 and later revised his own classification. As our good friend over at illustrates, the taxonomic story of the dog has gone through many iterations including C. domesticus and C. familiaris, finally settling as a subspecies of C. lupus.

As pack animals, dogs lend themselves well to a close relationship with humans and have been highly selectively bred to serve a variety of roles. From the tiny Chihuahua to the Great Dane, nearly 280 official breeds are recognized by the Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club combined. Baynes and Fuertes discuss over 60 breeds in their book highlighting such classic favorites as the Collies, Greyhound, and Terriers (poor kitty!).
pg. 27
pg. 54
pg. 78
For more of Louis Agassiz Fuertes' beautiful illustrations of our canine friends, please visit our flickr set for this book.

As all members of the C. lupus group can interbreed there are a wealth of possibilities for mix-breeds and as any "mutt" owner will tell you they make for some fantastic companions, bringing some the of the best of multiple breeds together. Popular mixes of today include Labradoodles (Labrador + Poodle), Puggles (Pug + Beagle), and well you figure it out… (Shih Tzu + Poodle).

No dog post would be complete without cute pictures, thus I bring you some of the best shots of our very own BHL Staff pooches:
Maggie taken by Tim Ashman
Crash & Biscuit

Lilly, Maddy, & Bertie


-By Bianca Crowley, BHL Collections Coordinator

[1] accessed 6-14-2013.
[2] Druzhkova AS, Thalmann O, Trifonov VA, Leonard JA, Vorobieva NV, et al. (2013) Ancient DNA Analysis Affirms the Canid from Altai as a Primitive Dog. PLoS ONE 8(3): e57754. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057754
[3] vonHoldt, Bridgett; et al. (2010-03-17). "Genome-wide SNP and haplotype analyses reveal a rich history underlying dog domestication". Nature 464 (7290): 898–902. Bibcode:2010Natur.464..898V. doi:10.1038/nature08837. PMID 20237475.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wait, is that the original?

Recently, the librarians at the Smithsonian Libraries’ Botany-Horticulture Library uncovered a “mini-mystery” involving one of our titles. It started when the botanical illustrator in the Smithsonian’s Department of Botany got a call from a colleague asking why a work in BHL was appearing with black and white illustrations rather than the beautiful color originals.

Opuntia atrispina, Opuntia phaeacantha, and Opuntia engelmannii, from
Vol. 1. Color image from BHL. Black and White image in IA.

The work in question is Britton and Rose’s The Cactaceae, Descriptions and Illustrations of Plants of the Cactus Family (The Cactaceae). The four volume set is an early definitive taxonomic work on the family Cactaceae. When the first volume was published in 1919 it sold for $18, the equivalent of $242.19 today. Noted by a contemporary reviewer as “the most sumptuous botanical publication since Dykes’ ‘The genus Iris,’” The Cactaceae was an ambitious project funded by the Carnegie Foundation. The final work was a result of the combined effort of botanists across North and South America, and the Caribbean islands. One of the reasons the work is so important is that it reexamined type specimens and original descriptions. As noted in the introduction to volume one, it was a necessary task due to many species having been incorrectly identified, descriptions incorrectly interpreted, and common names attributed to the incorrect species.

By doing further investigating on the BHL website, it was discovered that the New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library had provided its copy for scanning, now available in all its technicolor glory.

Hylocereus trigonus and Selenicereus boeckmannii, from Vol. 2.
Color image in BHL. Black and White image in Internet Archive.

However, why did BHL have a copy with black and white illustrations in its database? As it turns out, that black and white copy of The Cactaceae had been ingested into BHL from the Internet Archive (IA) through a scan done at North Carolina State University Libraries (see Volume 1 here). For BHL to capture as much of the digitized biodiversity material as possible, it accepts scans of books and journals already present within the Internet Archive corpus that meets a set of subject heading and call number criteria in line with its collection development policy. This was the case with the NCSU Libraries’ copy of The Cactaceae, which is a reprinted version of the original 1919 publication. The publisher reissued it with black and white illustrations. For more information about our ingest of non-BHL member materials from the Internet Archive see this post.

Echinocereus engelmannii, Lobivia corbula, Lobivia lateritia, and Lobivia pentlandii, from Vol. 3. Color image in BHL. Black and White image in Internet Archive.

Using BHL’s Feedback link, the librarians requested that the black and white version’s URL be redirected to the color version of The Cactaceae, so this misunderstanding will not happen with a future user.

Mystery solved---

Find all images in Flickr:
Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3 | Volume 4

By Adriana Marroquin and Robin Everly | Smithsonian Libraries

Monday, June 10, 2013

Recap of the 3rd International Conference on African Digital Libraries and Archives and BHL participation.

2013.05.31-IMG_3529We had a very good 3rd ICADLA meeting in Ifrane, Morocco. As part of the Advisory Committee, I was very pleased with the over all program (though disappointed that there was so much confusion in having a representative from the Google Cultural Institute and then the person ended up not attending).

The opening keynote, by Misako Ito (UNESCO Office for Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia) provided a good kick off to the meeting.

Next up was a special panel presentation by members of the Global Biodiversity Heritage Library community. I moderated the panel and the presenters included Nancy Gwinn (Smithsonian Libraries/BHL), Ely Wallis (Museum Victoria/BHL Australia), Anne-Lise Fourie (SANBI/BHL Africa), Magdy Nagi (Bib. Alex/BHL Egypt), Jiri Frank (National Museum, Prague/BHL Europe), and William Ulate (Missouri Botanical Garden/BHL).

Here's the abstract for the panel:

2013.05.30-IMG_3424 Creating a Global Biodiversity Heritage Library
The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), originally formed in 2006 with twelve U.S. and U.K. museum and botanical garden libraries, has grown to incorporate regionally-based global nodes in Europe, Australia, South America, Egypt, China, and most recently Africa. BHL now globally aggregates nearly 40 million pages of biodiversity literature representing over 110,000 volumes. Including both pre-Linnean (i.e. 1753) and contemporary volumes, the BHL allows life-science researchers to find important references to the planet's biodiversity. Created to provide open and free access to the published literature of biodiversity, the BHL serves as a model for a large-scale curated digital library collection. Coordinating content selection, digitization, and post-digitization service to a world-wide audience. Recent projects have started to identify illustrations that have a user-base beyond the core-science community of BHL to a wider audience of school children and life-long learners. Topics to be discussed in this panel include strategies for creating and maintaining a multinational digital library program; digitization platforms and services; creating value-added features for discipline-specific digital libraries; use of social media and outreach to increase use and build new audiences; and migration of projects to sustainable programs. This session will include participation from BHL global partners from Africa, Egypt, the United States, and Australia. A one hour time slot would be preferable for this session. Presenter from the BHL Africa project will be finalized shortly.
Here's my presentation (thanks to Bianca Crowley for suggesting that title). [others are planned to be added]

Said Ennahid of Al Akhawayn U. On the topic of digital library MSS collections in Morocco @ #icadla3The first day was then filled with breakout sessions on the topics of "Policy and Skills Development," "National and Collaborative Projects", and "Institutional Experiences". The day concluded with a gala dinner and local Berber music and dancing at the Al Akhawayne University Faculty Club.
Day two began with an excellent presentation by Driss Khrouz, Director of the National Library of the Kingdom of Morocco. Mr. Khrouz covered the development of the Moroccan Digital Library, particularly in relation to manuscripts. He also discussed relations between Morocco and other national libraries as well as issues around theft and black market sales of Moroccan manuscripts. Mr. Khrouz is a passionate advocate for libraries and made a passionate plea for increasing library services in Morocco to promote overall literacy. Too many children do not have a place to read and too many universities are not devoting resources to libraries.
I then participated in the panel discussion on "A Roadmap for Digitization in Africa". The topics generated out of that panel (and the roadmap document) fed three breakout sessions that discussed the topics in more depth and which were then presented in a plenary reporting session.
The meeting ended with a final statement by Felix Ubogu and Abraham Azubuike, representing the ICADLA Standing Committee.

Thank you to Felix Ubogu, Michelle Pickover and Gabriele (Wits) and the rest of the ICADLA steering committee. And also a special thanks to our hosts at the Al Akhawayn University Library for wonderful local logistics: Abdelhamid Lotfi, Hanane Karkour, and the other staff of the library.



Martin Kalfatovic
Program Director | Biodiversity Heritage Library

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Celebrating Oceans and Marine Biodiversity

50 Fish from American Waters (1870-1900). Allen and Ginter.


The Seafood Picture

Shrimp (the most-consumed seafood in America) and other Crustaceans. Natural History of the Animal Kingdom for the Use of Young People.
This Saturday, June 8, is World Oceans Day, the UN-designated day for the global community to celebrate and take action to protect Earth's oceans. 71% of the Earth's surface is covered with water, and every living thing depends on water to survive. Sadly, according to the United Nations, with the world eating more seafood than ever before, approximately 2/3 of the ocean's species are overfished.

According to NOAA, in 2009, Americans consumed 4.833 billion pounds of seafood - translating to 15.8 pounds of fish and shellfish per person. Approximately 50% of that seafood was wild-caught, and 50% was farm-raised.  The top ten most-consumed seafood in the U.S. in 2010 was:

  1. Shrimp (4.10 lbs) 
  2. Canned Tuna (2.8 lbs) 
  3. Salmon (1.84 lbs) 
  4. Tilapia (1.34 lbs) 
  5. Pollock (1.19) 
  6. Catfish (0.92 lbs) 
  7. Crab (0.61 lbs) 
  8. Cod (0.44 lbs) 
  9. Pangasius (0.43 lbs) 
  10. Clams (0.341 lbs)
*lbs average per person

50 Fish from American Waters

Have you ever wondered what marine species can be found in American waters? While not exhaustive, 50 Fish from American Waters is a pictorial work that presents a delightful collection of such species through illustrations.

Curiously, the fish illustrations in this book were originally published as individual cigarette cards for collecting and trading. The tobacco firm, Allen and Ginter of Richmond, Virginia, was the first firm to use tobacco trading cards as a means of advertisement in cigarette packages, and, between 1870-1900, select packages of Allen and Ginter Virginia Bright cigarettes contained one of the 50 varieties of American fish trading cards (see the poster advertising the cards from Library of Congress). All of the cards were later published in the book 50 Fish from American Waters.

Lobster, Grouper, Moonfish, and Chub. 50 Fish from American Waters.

Tomcod, Bluefish, Blowfish, Toadfish, and Seabass. 50 Fish from American Waters.

Whitebait, Whitefish, Swordfish, Sturgeon, Flounder, Catfish. 50 Fish from American Waters.

Butterfish, Eel, Porgy, Mullet, Skate, Crab. 50 Fish from American Waters.

View all images from 50 Fish from American Waters in Flickr.

What can you do to help?

According to the ongoing The Ocean's Project survey, most Americans care about the ocean and want to protect it, but many feel that they themselves can make little impact on the ocean's health and, interestingly, that American waters are less imperiled that foreign waters. While these may be somewhat troubling responses, on the bright side, 22% of the 30,000+ people surveyed said that they are active in the environmental movement and 57% expressed sympathy but not active involvement. Most indicated a high willingness to alter their seafood consumption habits to help protect the oceans.

So, what can you do to help? provides some great examples of small actions you can take to help protect our oceans, including reducing seafood consumption in general, using re-usable grocery bags and water bottles, choosing abundant, farmed, and locally-caught species, reducing meat consumption (which reduces the demand for forage fish), and choosing sustainable seafood buyers and sellers.

Marine Biodiversity and BHL

Ocean Sunfish. Ichthyologie.
BHL is celebrating World Oceans Day by highlighting marine biodiversity on Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.  For instance, did you know that the Gray Whale is more heavily infested with a greater variety of parasites than any other cetacean? Or that the Ocean Sunfish, the heaviest known bony fish, can grow up to 2300 kilograms, and that the Giant Oarfish, at up to 11 confirmed meters (and possibly 17 meters), is the world's longest bony fish? Or that the adorable Common Blanket Octopus has been known to carry around tentacles of the Portuguese-Man-of-War as a defensive measure and means of capturing prey? Learn more about these species and get other watery factoids on Twitter and Facebook.

Be sure to check out our Marine Biodiversity Flickr collection with free images that you can download and reuse for your own World Oceans Day celebrations!

Gray Whales. The Marine Mammals of the North-west Coast of North America.
Are you a whale-lover? Then Smithsonian Libraries, one of BHL's founding members, has an exhibit for you! Learn about whale research at the Smithsonian, and how research and fossils are translated into publications, in the new Whales: From Bone to Book exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Check out the books that support the exhibit in the BHL Collection and get fabulous whale illustrations in Flickr.

Remember, every living species requires water to survive, and our oceans play a huge part in our communal ecosystem. No matter where you live, your local water will eventually make its way to the ocean. We each have a responsibility to protect our oceans. Together, we can make a difference!

Grace Costantino
Program Manager | Biodiversity Heritage Library