Monday, September 30, 2013

NESCent-EOL-BHL Research Sprint

We invite participants for an event that will pioneer the mining of the Encyclopedia of Life ( and the Biodiversity Heritage Library ( to address outstanding and novel questions about the ecology and evolution of biodiversity. We aim to identify questions and data for which biologists may lack informatics skills and resources to address or analyze successfully; and symmetrically, to guide informaticians to pressing ecological and evolutionary questions. We seek to make actual discoveries through joint activities and to test the “computability” of major biodiversity databases.
We invite proposals for synthetic research on any aspect of biological science that will leverage EOL and BHL resources.  Successful applicants will be matched with an informatician, in 2 person teams, and receive support to travel to and work on-site at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center for 4 days.
Applications for participation will be evaluated on the extent to which they
  • address an important and outstanding biological question,
  • are "risky" endeavors but with a reasonable chance of success,
  • reflect EOL’s mission to empower scientific research by providing comprehensive and trusted biodiversity data and/or NESCent’s scientific mission to advance research that addresses fundamental questions in evolutionary science. Both organizations promote the integration of methods, concepts, and data within and across disciplines (for more on the context and a classification of synthesis in evolutionary science please read Linking Big: The Continuing Promise of Evolutionary Synthesis),
  • provide evidence that sufficient data are available to tackle the question,
  • provide evidence that appropriate analytical tools are available or will be developed during the event,
  • generate products that typically fall into three broad categories (in order of importance):
    • Synthetic papers and reviews,
    • Software or mathematical tools that solve a major analytical problem.
    • New open data for Encyclopedia of Life allowing others to build on your foundation.
We will not support collection of original data or field research, but encourage the mining of public and private databases such as EOL and BHL.  NESCent is committed to making data, databases, software and other products that are developed as part of NESCent activities available to the broader scientific community. Applicants should review the Data And Software Policy for NESCent.
Proposals will be evaluated in terms of both the scientific value of the project and the qualifications of the applicant.  Visitors will receive support for travel to and from NESCent, lodging, and a per diem for meals not provided. 
Before you Apply
All applicants are encouraged to contact Craig McClain, Assistant Director of Science of NESCent, or Cynthia Parr, Chief Scientist of Encyclopedia of Life, for feedback on project ideas. Proposals will be considered through November 15.  The event will likely take place February 3-7, 2014. Please review our Reporting RequirementsTravel Guidelines, and Data and Software Policy before applying. 
Proposals Guidelines
Proposals are short and not to exceed 2 single-spaced (12-pt type) pages, plus a 2-page CV.   Proposals should be organized as follows:
  1. Title (80 characters max)
  2. Name and contact information
  3. Project Summary (250 words max)
  4. Public Summary (250 words max) – written for the public and visible on the NESCent web site
  5. Introduction and Goals – A statement of the outstanding question being addressed and a concise review of the concept and the literature to place the project in context.
  6. Proposed Activities - A clear statement of any specific data (include citations or urls) and analytical tools that will be required for the project.  The proposal should also include a clear statement on how synthesis will occur. Letters of support are required from the proprietor of datasets, analytical tools, or software not publically available or owned by the applicant or managed by EOL and BHL.
  7. Rationale for support - Why can this activity be most effectively conducted at NESCent and with the Encyclopedia of Life or BHL.
  8. Anticipated IT Needs - Briefly describe any needs for IT support that are important to the success of the proposed project. Please indicate whether development of software will be required. Also, briefly describe your plans to make resulting data and software available; including any conditions that might limit your ability to make these available. Please remember you need not possess the informatics skills to address the questions but do need to identify what skills are lacking.  You may propose an informatician to collaborate with.  Prior contact and letter of support with the informatician is encouraged.  If no teammate is suggested EOL/NESCent will work to identify proper support for you.
  9. Anticipated Results - include a clear statement of anticipated papers, data and software products, and anticipated public release of data and products
  10. Short CV of the applicant(s) (2 pages)
Proposal Submission
Proposals will be accepted in digital format only as a single pdf file. Graphics should be embedded directly into the proposal document. Note that proposals should be submitted as a single pdf file including all of the components listed above, including the CV. Email your proposal to Craig McClain and Cynthia Parr, by November 15, 2013.
Data, Software and Publication Policy
The open availability of data, software source code, methods, and results is good scientific practice and a key ingredient of synthetic research. NESCent expects that all data and software created through NESCent-sponsored activities be made publicly available no later than one year after the conclusion of the NESCent award, or immediately upon publication of an associated article, whichever comes earlier. For more information please visit our Data, Software and Publication Policy.
Funding for this opportunity is generously provided by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.

Friday, September 27, 2013

BHL Book Highlights for International Rabbit Day

"Promoting the protection and care of rabbits, both domestic and wild," Saturday September 28 is International Rabbit Day and we couldn't think of a better way to celebrate the Leporidae than to highlight some of our favorite literature about rabbits from the BHL collection.
Pl. LX from Johnson's household book of nature

From our Darwin's Library collection, a virtual reconstruction of the set of the surviving works held in Charles Darwin's personal library, "The rabbit book" outlines the history of the rabbit, its varieties at the time, and provides instructions for their care and breeding. While a relatively quick read on such topics as the difference between rabbits and hares, treating dropsy (edema), and establishing a proper rabbit "court," the most striking aspect of the book is its drawings of rabbit varieties from Angora to Full-lop. Check out our flickr image set of "The rabbit book" to see them all together.

Previous blog posts highlight another fantastic work about the Leporidae, James E. Harting's "The Rabbit" (1898), as featured in our 2011-Year of the Rabbit post and Laurel Byrnes' discussion of how the young Beatrix Potter's love of natural history and study of rabbits inspired her famous children's work, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902).

Want to cozy up with a few more selections of Lepus literature from the BHL? See our burgeoning list of articles related rabbits and hares and a variety of works that mention the genus, and the many species of this group, via our taxonomic search functionality.

More information about International Rabbit Day can be found on the House Rabbit Society's website

-Bianca Crowley, BHL Collections Coordinator

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Stormy Waters, Venomous Snakes and a Cup of Coffee: My Experience as a BHL Marketing Intern

A blinking cursor on a blank screen. 137 million objects, 8.2 million digitized items, illustrations and photographs, artifacts and first editions, spanning 19 institutions, 9 research centers, and hundreds of years. Where to begin?

It's me, your local virtual marketing intern

It didn't begin earlier this summer when I started working as the marketing intern at the BHL, and it didn't begin earlier this year when I originally applied for the position. It probably didn't even begin when I enrolled in the University of Washington's master of library and information science iSchool. For the sake of argument, I'd say the beginning for me was when I was 6 years old and took my first trip to Washington, D.C. --it was my first visit to the White House and my first visit to a lot of the impressive and stunning historical sites and memorials.

But it wouldn't have been a D.C. tour without marveling at the expansive and breathtaking collections of at least a few of the Smithsonian museums. The National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Air and Space Museum, and, of course for a 6 year old, the National Zoo. I wasn't aware that much information even existed, let alone could be housed in a complex of galleries, institutions, and cultural centers all free and open for anyone and everyone who had the inclination to explore.

This was a revelation. I wanted to be there, I wanted to be a part of any organization who's mission centered on preserving history for the purpose of sharing it to contribute to our understanding of the world around us. That was the beginning, and it's what set me on the path to pursue a profession in library sciences--though the love of cardigans, glasses, and metadata didn't hurt either.

I didn't get the same experience as a lot of BHL interns--mine was a virtual one. Instead of walking the halls of the prestigious institution, I received impromptu tours via Skype and experienced the library through my MacBook. Despite some of the drawbacks of not being physically present--or even in the same time zone--it also felt utterly appropriate to be connected to the BHL via a cable modem. This consortium of natural history and botanical libraries have created a highly-accessible, global, digitized collection with a mission of open access and adding to the biodiversity knowledge commons. Through BHL efforts, millions of pages of taxonomic literature have been digitized, and as part of my internship I was able to sort through tens of thousands of titles to share with the blog-reading public. Where to begin?

Under the expert guidance of Bianca Crowley, I used the BHL collection to explore and bring to light old stories and fascinating records. I traveled to the depths of the North Sea and learned of the adventurous men who trawled the harsh waters. Within the volumes also lay the life story of the prison-educated pioneer botanist, John Torrey, whose birthday necessitated a celebration of his contributions to the scientific community. I sought out among the acquisitions more information to soothe my coffee addiction and reviewed the history of the innocuous, but oh-so-delicious coffee berry. Ophidiophobia didn't stop me from diving into the creepy, crawly world of venomous snakes. And the intriguing case of Elizabeth Blackwell and her wonderfully detailed, colorful illustrations of medicinal plants, just another highlight in the expansive literature.

I was only charged with finding five works to highlight from the BHL, but I didn't want to stop, there was so much to discover. The blinking cursor gave way to a flow of words and I took full advantage of the 9 weeks of my summer term and the access to hundreds of thousands of titles. I was also asked to create a tutorial for the blog-publishing service that you're using right now to read this post. From this, I discovered that I love instruction. These tutorials will ensure that my learning experiences will make it easier for the next BHL intern.

Bianca introduced me to the wonderfully supportive staff who encouraged me to pursue all my interests in this profession, including social media marketing, copyright issues, and information literacy. I will always be so grateful for this opportunity and those who were so giving of their time and experience to assist me on my path.

Now the question isn't where to begin, the question has become where does it end?

Please check out my post highlighting Alfred Russel Wallace during BHL's week of Wallace in November.

-Kirsten Hostetler, Marketing Intern at the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Connect with me on LinkedIn or Follow me @Kirsten_Clair

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book of the Week: The Curious Cures

Take two of these and call in the morning. Those aren't unusual words coming from a doctor if the "two of these" refers to some aspirin or Tylenol. It'd be a little more curious if the prescription called for two stalks of mugwort, infused with wine and a dash of salt. An interesting remedy for the common malady, but not something easily procured from the corner drug store. In the context of modern medicine this might seem an ineffective treatment, but in this week's book of the week, "A curious herbal," it's the go-to recommendation for any and all disorders of the stomach, jaundice, general malaise, or swelling of the tonsils.

Blackwell's illustration of the
Artemisia absinthium, cure for
the common stomachache. 

While this is not the first time "A curious herbal" has made an appearance on the BHL blog, this book offers such a variety of remedial plants that there's an almost endless supply of medicinal instructions. Looking for a cure-all ointment or oil? Try Petum tabaccum, commonly known as tobacco. The green leaves of the plant can be used for wounds, ulcers, inflammations, tumors, and the mysterious "King's Evil." Even the dust "destroys Fleas, Lice, & other Vermine (sic)." Some of the plants require caution, but the Palma christi, referred to as "The greater Spurge" in the herbal, but also known as a castor oil plant, is recommended to be used with care for "watery Humors" as well as the oil extracted from the seeds "to destroy Lice in Children's Heads." And for a great preventative against the Plague, the Vitis vinifera, grown in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France and flowering in April, is the approved plant of choice, also used to strengthen the stomach, help digestion and comfort the bowels. 

Petum tabaccum
Palma christi
Vitis vinifera

Capturing the habitats, descriptions, uses, and even the likeness of these functional plants was Elizabeth Blackwell. The legacy of Blackwell is non-existent in the history of medicine, her efforts largely
Elizabeth Blackwell,
herbalist and bondsman,
from The British Library.
dismissed as unscientific, but she was the first woman to produce an herbal, one that was innovative with an illustrated list of medicinal plants available to the medical community and the public.

Blackwell's hand-drawn illustrations and engravings were prompted by a debt and a prison sentence. Her husband and second cousin, Alexander, had a somewhat loose relationship with the law. Some shady dealings and a few questionable business decisions later, and Alexander found himself in debtors' prison, and Blackwell found herself in a position where she needed a way to make some money quickly.

At the time, botany and the natural sciences had become a worthy pursuit of proper ladies. Blackwell had training in drawing and illustrating, had access to a printing press from one of her husband's ne'er-do-well business pursuits, and had an idea to fill what she perceived as a void in the literature. "A curious herbal: containing five hundred cuts, of the most useful plants, which are now used in the practice of physick engraved on folio copper plans, after drawings taken from the life" was the result, issued in weekly parts and later published in two volumes.

It wasn't the quickest means to pay off Alexander's debts, but six years later, the book was published and Alexander was out of prison. The story didn't end well for the couple. The two were separated after Alexander found himself on the wrong side of the law yet again, he attempted to flee, but was tried and hung for treason in 1748. Blackwell, who dedicated so many years to the herbal and immediately sold the copyright to pay off her husband's debts, never saw him again and died ten years later.

The lack of notoriety for Blackwell herself notwithstanding, "A curious herbal" drew from the works of Sir Hans Sloane, Dr. Richard Mead, Isaac Rand and Philip Miller from the Society of Apothecaries, and Maria Sibylla Merian's "Neues Blumen Buch," and was the most prominent herbal of the day, still acclaimed for its detailed illustrations. Blackwell was by no means a doctor, but her herbal reference work informed the doctors--and patients--in this pre-drug store era and provides some tips for future herbalists when the Tylenol just doesn't cut it.

Interested in more natural remedies? Check out Dr. Alain Touwaide and Emanuela Appetiti's PLANT digital library, or rather the PLantarum Aetatis Novae Tabulae, a collection of full-text books on botany and medicinal plants printed during the 1481-1650 period. Or explore the great virtual exhibit from our BHL-Europe colleagues on all the history, legends, and, most importantly, delicious recipes surrounding other multi-use herbs and spcies.

Like the illustrations from this post? Check out this collection of medicinal plant illustrations from the BHL's Flikr account.

-Kirsten Hostetler, Marketing Intern at the Biodiversity Heritage Library

  • Beatty, K. (2013). "The Illustrated Herbal of Elizabeth Blackwell: A Curious Story." Suite 101, retrieved from 
  • Madge, B. (2001). "Elizabeth Blackwell--the forgotten herbalist?" Health Information and Libraries Journal, 18, p. 144-52.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Book of the Week: Don't Tread On Me

Ophidiophobia is the irrational fear of snakes--those slithering, scaly reptiles that have been cast as the archetypal villain throughout history. Their unnatural movements and eerily flexible jaw joints do nothing to lessen their evil reputation. And even though the likelihood of encountering a snake is low, ophidiophobia is one of the most pervasive phobias in the world, making the famous question posited by Indiana Jones a fitting query, "Why did it have to be snakes?" In this week's Book of the Week, we explore the notoriety and reality behind this cringe-worthy and feared animal in Doris Cochran's "Poisonous reptiles of the world."

Ancistrodon rhodostoma, a venomous pitviper species.

Despite the improbability of encountering a snake in the wild, there is still good reason to be afraid. Of the almost 3,000 varieties of snake species, about a third are deadly--killing prey with a venomous bite, squeezing victims to death, or, truly poisonous snakes known by the genus Rhabdophis, that carry a toxin to be absorbed indirectly.

But Cochran did not see a significant need for concern, especially in the United States where only one-sixth of the native snake population is dangerous, noting that "In the Untied States alone automobiles kill more than 30,000 people annually, snakes probably 160; for every person killed by a snake, 200 die in automobile accidents." Granted, that was almost 80 years ago, but the statistics haven't changed much over the years.

There is at least one species of venomous snake indigenous to each of the 48 contiguous United States--belonging to two major groups, Elapidae or Viperidae.

Coral snakes represent
the Elapidae group.

An example of the
Viperidae group,
most commonly recognized
as a rattlesnake.

The Elapidae group, most commonly represented by coral snakes, is similar in appearance to many harmless snakes. The North American variety rarely exceeds three feet in length and is commonly found in Southern states from North Carolina to the Gulf. To deliver its deadly bite, the short, vertical fangs must fully impale the victim's flesh. While characterized as "sluggish" and "gentle" when handling, coral snakes tend to strike suddenly, leaving behind an almost imperceptible mark. The small impressions left by the attack can lead to neglect in dealing with the venom, often with deadly consequences.

Pit vipers have a more threatening name, a more notorious reputation, and outnumber the Elapidae in the United States with more than 35 species and subspecies recognized. The Viperidae group includes rattlesnakes, massasaugas, copperheads, and cottonmouths and have greater variety in physical attributes than found in the coral snakes.

The way pit vipers go after prey is most accurately described as a strike. North American snakes never jump completely off the ground during an attack, with the snake wrapped in an S position, leaving the posterior grounded for greater leverage. This allows for the body weight to drive the hollow fangs deep into the victim's tissue, sometimes even breaking off and remaining in the wound, only to be regrown by the snake in several days. If a handler wished to remove all the fangs, rendering the snake harmless, the upper jaw would be so damaged that the snake would likely die. The venom is distributed by a tube connecting a specialized salivary gland in the jaw to the hollow tooth on the movable maxilla, and ultimately to the blood stream of the prey.

Figure of the venom apparatus in a standard
rattlesnake, with the jaw closed and fangs folded,
the jaws open and the fangs at the ready.

If a person is extremely unlucky, and circumstances align in such a way that a snake is encountered in the wild, and during that brush with danger the unlikely scenario occurs in which the snake attacks and venom is delivered, what happens next can vary widely, but consistently does not tend to be pleasant.

All venoms contain several toxins, the most important of which are the hemorrhagins and the neurotoxins. The hemorrhagins constitute the chief toxic elements of the venom of rattlesnakes and most of the other pit vipers while the neurotoxins characterize the venom of the coral snake and its relative the cobra. These venoms can coagulate blood within seconds, paralyze the respiratory system, or attack the nervous system, but common symptoms include blurred vision, convulsions, dizziness, fever, nausea, numbness, swelling, and weakness.

The effects of even a chance encounter with a snake are not encouraging. Despite medical advancements since this book's publication, the standard recourse for a snake bite remains the same: get thee to a hospital! And if you weren't sympathetic to Indiana Jones' ophidiophobic plight in his adventures prior to reading this post, perhaps you are now.

For more information on the snakes described in Cochran's "Poisonous reptiles of the world" and other creepy crawlies that pose a threat, check out this great virtual exhibit from our BHL-Europe colleagues on all things poisonous in nature.

-Kirsten Hostetler, Marketing Intern at the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

BHL's Summer Newsletter

BHL is pleased to announce that its Summer Newsletter is now available! 

As you're enjoying the final days of summer, check out our latest newsletter to catch up on all that we've accomplished in the past few months.  For example, find out how our partnership with EOL has recently become a little closer, learn what our first iBook is about,   and see our latest digitization statistics. Also included is a very big thank you to our summer interns for all of their contributions! 

Stay up to date in the future by subscribing to our quarterly newsletters.
Summer 2013 BHL Newsletter

Friday, September 6, 2013

John Cassin’s Vireos

It’s been going on for six weeks now, but these first days of September see the southbound migration of songbirds in full swing. And all up and down the east coast of North America, birders are taking to the field in search of little brown birds and little green birds and little greenish-brown birds.

It was no different in the early autumn of 1842. On a fine September morning, the 29-year-old John Cassin set out for Bingham’s Woods, then and now—as part of today’s Fairmount Park—one of Philadelphia’s favorite birding playgrounds. It’s unlikely that Cassin, the bicentennial of whose birth in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, we mark today, was carrying field glasses; but we do know that he had his gun. One of the migrants he shot that day 

was in the upper branches of a tree of considerable heighth [sic], engaged in capturing insects, and attracted [Cassin’s] attention by its slow and apparently deliberate movements.

He skinned the bird and added it to his private collection, where it lay for the better part of a decade before Cassin—meanwhile Curator, Life Member, and Corresponding Secretary of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia—described it in 1851 as the type of a new species, which he named Vireosylvia philadelphica.

That was the first, last, and only Philadelphia Vireo John Cassin would ever see; indeed, “this rare species”, was not found again in Pennsylvania until September 1878, almost ten years after the untimely death of the man who,
more than any other student of Natural History in America, ha[d] advanced the science of Ornithology, and whose matured and well[-]cultivated mind enabled him to render cheerfully and generously much assistance to younger students and to institutions of learning in that and other branches of knowledge.    


In the same article—titled, with characteristic modesty, a “sketch” —Cassin described two more new vireos.

The first, “recognized without difficulty by the very delicate cream color of the entire under surface of its body, which color [he had] never seen in any other bird,” had come to Cassin’s attention in the form of three skins, two from Monterey, California, in the collections of theSmithsonian (now specimens A 3724 and A 3725 and one from Georgetown, California, in the Philadelphia Academy. 

The Academy’s skin had been collected and donated by “the far-famed Taxidermist” John G. Bell, “a man of marked personality and ardent enthusiasms” who over his long life was both field companion to the aging Audubon and mentor to the young Theodore Roosevelt.

Bell, of course, already had a vireo named for him, and Spencer Baird, Cassin’s counterpart at the Smithsonian, urged the Philadelphian to name this novum instead after the collector of the specimens now in Washington, William Hutton. Cassin at first resisted:

Calling that Vireo after your friend Hutton is one of the severest things. I don’t want to do it – when he gets better known I will call something after him. This kind of thing is bad enough at best, but to name a bird after a person utterly unknown is worse than that. I do not doubt his entire capability but I don’t like to thrust honors upon him.

Baird, though, ever amiable and ever persuasive, prevailed, and Cassin graciously took “the liberty of naming” the new bird for “Mr. Wm. Hutton, a zealous and talented young naturalist now resident at San Diego, in California.” 

Like Cassin’s Philadelphia Vireo, the Hutton’s Vireo remained little known and mysterious for some years after its discovery and description. Not until California observers had figured out how to tell itconsistently from the Ruby-crowned Kinglet was the species’ true abundance recognized.

The third of Cassin’s novae species is based on skins collected by Bell in Panama and by Philippe August de Barruel-Beauvert, a French businessman in Nicaragua.

Abandoning patronyms, Cassin named this “very handsome speciesflavoviridis for its “fine yellowish olive” upperparts and “fine greenish yellow” of the flanks and undertail. By 1858, the bird’s known range had been extended to northeastern Mexico, with two specimens taken in Monterrey by Darius Couch of kingbird fame. Twenty years later, the young James Cushing Merrill collected a male on Fort Brown, Texas, the first record of this species in the United States.


Cassin himself, of course, lauded by Coues—whose praise was never cheap—as the “Nestor of American ornithology”,  was honored by his contemporaries in the names of numerous other birds, among them, inevitably, a vireo.

In 1858, John Xantus, prized by Baird as a collector of “matchless skill and diligence,” described two new birds from Fort Tejon, California; he named one of them Vireo cassinii.   

Xantus, one of the more colorful of Baird’s protégés, had been elected—under the name Louis de Vésey—to membership in the Philadelphia Academy in December 1856; according to Harry Harris, Xantus / de Vésey, on his roundabout way from Leavenworth to Tejon by way of New York in March 1857, “found time to attend a meeting … in order personally to acknowledge his election.” Presumably, he and Cassin met then, and they obviously found each other congenial souls: in January 1859, Xantus wrote enthusiastically to Baird that

Mr Cassin wrote me a very long & interesting letter, I returned his compliments with a still longer one….

For all his faith in Xantus, Baird harbored some doubts about the validity of the new vireo. Just months after its formal description, he (and Cassin) included the species in their summary of the ornithology of the great Pacific Railroad Surveys, but warned the reader that the bird—still known from only the single specimen—was obviously closely related to either the Hutton’s Vireo or the Blue-headed Vireo. 

In 1865, Baird again reviewed Xantus’s type, and this time pronounced himself

now inclined to consider the specimen upon which Vireo cassini was based to be only a dull-plumaged, winter skin of V. solitaria, with the under parts tinged with brownish-buff, and the olive shades obscured. I have never seen a specimen killed in eastern North America having this coloration, nor even making a decided approximation to it, but I can find no tangible characteristic of external form to distinguish them.

Not long thereafter, Robert Ridgway sent two new specimensof the vireo back to Washington, collected in Nevada as part of the seventeen-year-old naturalist’s duties on the King Survey. In their 1874 History, Baird, Thomas Brewer, and Ridgway describe those skins as “even more different from true solitarius” than Xantus’s type, and concluded that the Cassin’s Vireo was after all “really distinct, as a variety,” that is to say, as a subspecies of the Solitary Vireo.

So things stood for the next century and a quarter, with the bird once named for Cassin treated as “just” racially distinct from the other big, wing-barred, white-spectacled vireos. In July 1997, however, the American Ornithologists’ Union reversed that venerable taxonomic decision to restore the Cassin’s Vireo to full species status, giving it once again a place in the field guides, the checklists, and birders’ memories.


The bird that John Cassin shot in Bingham’s Woods on that long-ago September morning is now officially known as the Philadelphia Vireo. But the species has also had another label: even into the early twentieth century, it was sometimes called the Brotherly-love Greenlet, a charming if straightforward translation of the scientific name Cassin gave his first specimen.

It’s too sentimental for us today, no doubt, and the bland and logical alternative sanctioned by the AOU will prevail forever. But the notion of “brotherly love” recalls not just the city on the Delaware, but the collegial affection and professional respect that bound the great ornithologists and collectors of what Elliott Coues would call, in a deserved tribute to a man “patient and laborious in the technic of his art, and full of book-learning in the history of his subject,” The Cassinian Period.

By Rick Wright

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

From BHL User to Virtual Reference Intern

Me and a new friend at the 2013 CBHL Meeting,
MSU Children's Garden. Photo by Bill Musser.

Like most people who go for a library science degree, I was a kid who loved libraries and books, often checking out more than I could get through in three weeks. (Admittedly, this still happens today. So many books, so little time.) Surprisingly instead of wanting to be a librarian, I figured I’d become a writer. As things tend to happen, the plan wasn't as straight forward as I’d expected. In a few years I went from wanting to write a darling hipster novel to interning at a paleoecology lab to finally applying for grad school to pursue a master’s degree in library science.

After finishing my undergraduate degree at Emerson College, I moved back to Maryland to jump into the MLS program at the University of Maryland iSchool. With so many libraries in the area, it was an easy decision to make. I completed my field study as a bibliographic data intern at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Central Library earlier this year. It was my first exposure to real-world use of MARC holdings records and OCLC standards. Around the same time I also started my internship at the Smithsonian Botany-Horticulture library. There I've been working on a collection management project in addition to some reference work. I even do some shelving every once in a while to get a better idea of what the library holds — not to mention there is something calming about shelving material.

 A few weeks into my Botany-Horticulture library internship I met Bianca Crowley and Jackie Chapman of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. As I had been helping fulfill BHL requests for items in the Botany library, it was suggested that I get more involved. Over the next few months I helped with scanning requests, a preview of the internship that was to be. However, that wasn't my first experience with the BHL.

My relationship with the Biodiversity Heritage Library started years before I had the opportunity to intern here. During my senior year of college, I did some research at the Harvard University Botany Libraries — a BHL institution I interned for the previous summer — in hopes of finding a great image for a tattoo of Ulmus americana, commonly known as the American or white elm. I came across a citation for a white elm plate in Francois Andre Michaux’s North American Sylva. Unfortunately, Harvard’s copy was unavailable at the time so it was suggested I look in the BHL. Lo and behold, there it was ingested from the Internet Archive. Ever since, the BHL has been my go-to resource for natural history images.

Ulmus americana plate from "North American Sylva"
Ulmus americana. Perfect tattoo inspiration.
Needless to say, officially starting as the BHL virtual reference intern was a great way to go from user to provider. Over the past few months I worked on the back-log of user requests submitted through the feedback form. The general process of going through a request would start by confirming the citation provided by the user. Sometimes the user is working with a partial citation so this can take some time. Thankfully, verifying citations is something I really like to do. From there I double-check that the title isn't already available through the portal. Finally, if it’s indeed unavailable, I determine if a BHL member has it in its collection, and assign the scanning task accordingly.

One of the benefits of this internship is interacting with librarians from so many of the BHL institutions, be it through the Gemini interface, a staff call, or here at the Museum of Natural History. It’s great getting a chance to experience how every member does his or her part to make the BHL such a great resource.

My internship ends this month, but I will be sticking around the Smithsonian Libraries as a volunteer. Also (because I can’t get enough of these DC libraries) I will be volunteering at the Library of Congress to work with their mini-comics collection.

It’s been incredible interning for the BHL and Smithsonian Libraries. I've met some wonderful people I’m happy to call colleagues and mentors. Seeing the work they do is an inspiring reminder of why I chose to be a librarian. Plus, it's been wicked cool working a short walk away from the Hall of Bones!

Written by: Adriana Marroquin, Virtual Reference Intern at the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Connect with me via LinkedIn. To read about my internship with the Botany-Horticulture Library, check out my post on Unbound, the Smithsonian Libraries blog.