Monday, June 30, 2014

Game Laboratory Tiltfactor Selected for the Purposeful Gaming and BHL Project

BHL and the Missouri Botanical Garden are pleased to announce a major milestone reached in the project, “Purposeful Gaming and BHL”. Dartmouth College’s Tiltfactor was chosen to design the game that will help improve access to texts from the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL).

The Purposeful Gaming and BHL project is based at the Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT) in St Louis, Missouri. In the fall of 2013, MOBOT was awarded a $449,641 grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to test new means of using crowdsourcing and gaming to support the enhancement of texts from the BHL. Grant funding began in December 2013 and ends in December 2015. The Garden is partnering with Harvard University, Cornell University and the New York Botanical Garden on the project.

Principal Investigator for the project, Trish Rose-Sandler, reports that the project received "several strong bids for the design of the game so it wasn’t an easy decision. We are very excited to have found a great partner for this project because the game will be the critical component to improving access to digitized texts of the BHL." The project’s goal is to demonstrate whether or not online games are a successful tool for analyzing and improving digital outputs. Users will be presented words that are difficult for software to recognize as tasks in a game.

User engages with Zen Tag, one of Tiltfactor's games available via the Metadata Games platform.
Tiltfactor had several strengths that made their bid stand out, including extensive experience designing games for the education sector. “We were also impressed that not only do they design games but they do extensive research into the impact of those designs on players from a psychological perspective – they even have two social psychologists on their design team,” states Rose-Sander. Tiltfactor’s greatest strength, however, is arguably their work with crowdsourcing metadata as demonstrated in their Metadata Games platform, which entices players to engage with and help improve access to archival content found in cultural heritage institutions.

The folks at Tiltfactor were interested in bidding on the project for several reasons. "The 'Purposeful Gaming and BHL' initiative extends our work with metadata games creation to bring in the public to meaningfully participate in our nation’s robust archives," states Tiltfactor’s founding director, Dr. Mary Flanagan. "Games can be harnessed to provide fun experiences that also improve transcription and make bioheritage accessible to many more people. Tiltfactor is thrilled to work with BHL and their partners on an endeavor with such a high social return."

The two teams will begin working collaboratively on the design of the game in July of 2014, and it is expected that the game will be released publicly sometime in early summer of 2015.

To learn more about project details see

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [LG-05-13-0352-13].

Friday, June 27, 2014

Breathing Life Into a Museum Exhibit About Extinction

Once There Were Billions, the new Smithsonian Libraries/BHL exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History.  The Passenger Pigeon on the left, with her back to the viewer, is Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon that died 100 years ago in 1914.
You are living in the midst of earth's sixth great extinction event. You've been living in it since you were born. So have your parents, your grandparents, your great-great-great-great-grandparents, and all of your ancestors for about 10,000 years. It dates back to the extinction of the mammoths and has been increasingly accelerating as human actions and climate change reshape the balance of our planet.  Within the next century, 75% of the conservatively estimated 8.75 million species on earth may be extinct.

When many of us think of extinctions, we think of the countless species disappearing in the Amazon rainforest, the ocean's coral reefs, or the forests of South-east Asia. But the truth is that extinctions happen in every corner of the globe. Some are noticeably notorious, others occur without us even knowing that the species existed in the first place. One of the most infamous North American extinctions is the demise of the Passenger Pigeon.

By the time Europeans first came to the New World, approximately 40% of all land birds in North America were a member of the species Ectopistes migratorius, or the Passenger Pigeon. Their population numbered in the billions, and their abundance spurred intense human hunting in the mid-1800s. Less than a century later, the Passenger Pigeon was extinct.

Gilbert Borrego, co-curator of the Once There Were Billions exhibit.
The fate of the Passenger Pigeon, and three other extinct North American bird species (Great Auk, Carolina Parakeet, and Heath Hen), are the focus of the new joint BHL/Smithsonian Libraries' exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History: Once There Were Billions

The exhibit represents the culmination of three years of work for its curators, Gilbert Borrego (former BHL Library Technician for Smithsonian Libraries) and Dr. Helen James (Curator in Charge, Division of Birds, National Museum of Natural History). The histories of these lost species are told through compelling narratives, taxidermied specimens (including Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon), books from the Smithsonian Libraries' collection (many of which are available digitally in BHL), and images from BHL.

Most people are unaware of how involved and sometimes challenging building an exhibit can be. Several years, countless meetings, copious research, and dozens of individuals are required to bring an exhibit from conception to public launch. Sometimes the most difficult part can be simply honing in on the exact story you want to tell.

Positioning the Great Auk in the exhibit.
"The most challenging part of the exhibit was narrowing down our source material," said Borrego. "The topic [of the exhibit] was originally much more general, focusing on extinct species. We knew Martha the Passenger Pigeon was to be included, but we looked at many other types of animals and plants before settling on the plight of birds from North America." 

Borrego first presented the proposal for "Once There Were Billions" in 2011, and since then he, James, and an army of scientists, librarians, and museum support staff defined the scope, drafted a script, selected specimens and images, and fashioned layouts for the physical and supplementary digital exhibits

Once all the foundational work was complete, it was time to bring the exhibit to life. Plaques fresh off the press, freshly-cleaned bird specimens, and carefully conserved books were artistically arranged within two mammoth exhibit cases in the Evans Gallery on the Ground Floor of the National Museum of Natural History. 

Adjusting the Carolina Parakeet specimens.
And voila! This specialized hub for extinction education opened to the public this past Monday, June 24, 2014, and will remain open until October, 2015. 

If you're visiting D.C., be sure to check out the exhibit. And if you're an art fan, take some time to see the massive bronze sculptures of the birds crafted by artist Todd McGrain as part of "The Lost Bird Project" and situated around the Smithsonian grounds. 

If you're not in the area, you can still enjoy "Once There Were Billions" via the online exhibit, by browsing digital versions of select exhibit books in BHL, or by downloading free, spectacular illustrations of the featured species.

Educating each and every person about the plight of biodiversity on our planet, and the repercussions of doing nothing, is a critical part of ensuring that today's species do not become just another extinction statistic. Exhibits like "Once There Were Billions" are just one way we can achieve this global awareness. But while you might not be in a position to build a museum exhibit, there are other ways you can help change the fate of doomed species. Supporting initiatives like BHL, which enable the research of scientists trying to document and conserve species around the world, helps prevent species decline. 

Everyone can make a difference. What will you do to help curb the tide of the Sixth Great Extinction Event?

- Grace Costantino | BHL Outreach and Communication Manager

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Welcoming Grace Costantino, BHL Outreach and Communication Manager

Grace Costantino, BHL Program Manager. Image Credit: MYH Photography.
We are pleased to announce that Grace Costantino has joined BHL as our new Outreach and Communication Manager!

Grace is no stranger to BHL. She started with the project back in 2008 as a BHL Librarian at the Smithsonian Libraries, after which she served as the BHL Program Manager from 2012-2013. Over her years on BHL, she has helped shape the program's digitization workflow, assisted in the implementation and administration of the user feedback system, facilitated strategic planning efforts, organized evaluation and reporting policies, spearheaded marketing and promotional activities, performed financial administration, and developed and managed BHL's outreach and communication strategy.

In her new capacity, Grace will further refine BHL's outreach strategy, expand social media initiatives, supervise marketing and promotional activities, and engage with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage and knowledge available in BHL while also educating them about its critical importance to modern scientific, conservation, and informatics efforts.

Grace with her husband, Justin, and their dog, Jack.
Image Credit: MYH Photography.
Grace received her BA in Studio Art, Graphic Design, and Art History, as well as her Master's degree in Information Systems and Management, from the University of Maryland, College Park. She currently resides in Crofton, Maryland, with her husband, Justin (a middle school art teacher), and their dog, Jack. Her hobbies include drawing, painting, reading, writing fiction, watching fantasy and sci-fi movies, and traveling. She hopes to one day travel to every US state and continent. She has 21 states and 4 continents to go...Come on BHL-Antarctica!

The BHL Outreach and Communication Manager position is part of the BHL Secretariat, housed at the Smithsonian Libraries. The position is made possible in part through funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (Grant number LG-00-14-0032-14).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Russian librarians visit Smithsonian Libraries' BHL operations

On 17 June 2014, a visiting delegation of librarians from across Russia visited Smithsonian Libraries and our BHL operations. Coming from a wide variety of institutions in Russia, the group was particularly interested in digitization and digitization workflow.

Smithsonian Libraries (SIL) Deputy Director Mary Augusta Thomas provided a welcome and general overview of Smithsonian Libraries to the group and the SIL Associate Director and BHL Program Director discussed Smithsonian and BHL digital initiatives.

The highlight for the group, however, was their visit to the SIL scanning room in the National Museum of Natural History where they met with Jackie Chapman (SIL BHL Librarian) and discussed BHL and pan-BHL scanning operations.

The visitors and their institutions were:

  • Ms. Iulia Maratovna GABIDULLINA
    American Center Coordinator, Perm Krai Library n.a. Gorky, Perm
  • Ms. Sofia Alekseevna KOCHERGINA Jr.
    American Shelf Coordinator, St. Petersburg
  • Ms. Olga Yurievna MAKAROVA Sr.
    Director, Central City Public Library 'Chitay-Gorod, ' Novgorod Velikiy
  • Mr. Kirill Arkadyevich SAMARKIN
    Library Manager, Moscow City Library Center
  • Mr. Sergey Gennadievich SOLOVEV
    Acting Director, Vladivostok Centralized Library System, Vladivostok
  • Ms. Nadezhda Yurievna VALIAEVA
    Chief Librarian, Library of American Literature, Nizhegorodskiy State Linguistic University n.a. Dobrolyubov, Nizhniy Novgorod
  • Mr. Renat Bulatovich ZAKIROV
    Deputy Director, Automation, Moscow City Library Center
  • Mr. Alexandr Ivanovich KUNIN
    Department Head, Center of Comics and Visual Culture, Russian State Library for Youth 
Visitors "Folding the Flock" for the upcoming "Once There Were Billions" exhibition at Smithsonian Libraries:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Once There Were Billions: The Great Auk

Once an amazing diversity of birds--some in breathtaking abundance--inhabited the vast forests and plains of North America. But starting around 1600, some species began to disappear, as humans altered habitats, over-hunted, and introduced predators.

A notable extinction occurred 100 years ago, with the death of Martha the Passenger Pigeon, the last member of a species that once filled America's skies.  The story of the last Passenger Pigeon and the disappearance of the Great Auk, Carolina Parakeet, and Heath Hen reveal the fragile connections between species and their environment.

To help tell their story, the Smithsonian Libraries, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the National Museum of Natural History have curated a joint exhibit entitled Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America that will open June 24 in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.  Over the next several weeks, we'll be highlighting each of the four birds with content from the exhibit and illustrations found in BHL.

Naturgeschichte der Vögel Mitteleuropas
[Natural history of birds of Central Europe]
Johann Andreas Naumann et al.
Gera-Untermhaus, Germany: F.E. Köhler, 1897–1905   

Great Auk: Flightless, Social ... and Doomed
The Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis) once lived in large, dense colonies along North Atlantic shores. Clumsy and flightless on land, they were perfectly adapted to "fly" underwater, with their small wings and streamlined bodies.

Extinct Birds. Walter Rothschild
London: Hutchinson, 1907
Plate 38, Alca impennis
The caption for this image of the Great Auk gives its old scientific name, Alca impennis. Now termed Pinguinus impennis, the auk may look penguin-like, but it is related to the puffin. Great Auks mated for life nesting in crowded colonies on rocky islands. Females laid one egg per year on bare rock, and both parents took turns incubating the egg.

Unfortunately, they could not flee human predators.  Hunters slaughtered Auks by the thousands for meat, eggs, feathers, and oil. Once the bird's numbers dwindled precipitously, naturalists hurried to add them as specimens to their collections before they disappeared forever.  By the mid-1800s the species went extinct--the final result of centuries of human exploitation.

What can be done to prevent future extinctions? One way is to support researchers who seek a better understanding of the biodiversity of this planet.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a global project that is changing the way research is done, by digitizing and sharing biodiversity literature online. BHL makes more than 43 million pages and nearly 100,000 scientific illustrations--of animals and plants, living and extinct--freely available to scientists and others around the world.

The Great Auk is documented in over 3,000 pages of the literature found in the BHL corpus. BHL relies on donations from individuals to support scanning of the biodiversity literature held in some of the world's most renowned natural history and botanical libraries.  To learn more about how your donation supports the continued growth of BHL, please visit We hope you'll consider making a contribution today!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Global BHL visitors in Washington, Patricia Mergen and Abel Packer visit BHL Secretariat and Smithsonian Libraries

Patricia Mergen at Smithsonian Libraries
Staff from BHL Europe and BHL SciELO visited with BHL Secretariat staff

Dr. Patricia Mergen, Liaison Officer,  Legal Entity Appointed Representative (LEAR) at the European Commission, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium, visited the BHL Secretariat and Smithsonian Libraries on 31 May 2014.

Mergen was in Washington to attend the Catalogue of Life Workshop and  Symposium (2-4 June 2014). In discussions with Program Director Martin Kalfatovic and Program Manager Carolyn Sheffield, Mergen gave updates on activities of BHL Europe and upcoming European biodiversity initiatives, including the Horizon 2020 programme. There were also updates from Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) of which Mergen is the Secretary.

Dr. Abel Packer, head of BHL SciELO (Brazil) also stopped by between the Society for Scholarly Publishing 2014 meeting (in Boston) and other work in Philadelphia. Packer gave updates on the work being done to upload BHL SciELO content to the BHL portal. As planned host for the 2015 Global BHL meeting, Packer outlined some ideas that will be presented to the Global Steering Committee.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

BHL and EOL co-host a Smithsonian Associates event

On May 28, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) and the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) co-hosted an evening program on digital volunteerism.  The event was organized by The Smithsonian Associates (TSA) and was attended by 74 people.

Jen Hammock presenting at the
Smithsonian Associates program
Carolyn Sheffield (BHL), Katja Schulz (EOL), and Jen Hammock (EOL) presented on BHL, EOL, and examples of how people could contribute to growing our knowledge of the planet's biodiversity.  Presentations were followed by a hands-on session where attendees were encouraged to start machine tagging images in BHL's Flickr Photostream, cropping and rating images, and exploring the iNaturalist platform.

BHL has hosted similar events in the past for Smithsonian staff to learn about--and add--machine tags to the images in BHL's Flickr Photostream.  A machine tag is a tag that is structured in such a way that a machine can read and understand it. In our case, we're assigning machine tags of scientific names to the BHL illustrations in Flickr so that EOL can recognize those as images that can be harvested and associated with the appropriate species page in EOL.  See an example of an EOL species page with a BHL image here:

EOL species page for Magnolia hodgsonii with
illustration from BHL's Flickr photostream

The structure that we use for the machine tags is:

taxonomy:binomial="genus species"

You can replace "binomial" with another taxonomic tag, such as "genus" or "family, if you can only identify the organism at that level.  Learn more about the Flickr tagging process and machine tag formats in the instructions we provided to session attendees.

Katja Schulz working with
some of the TSA attendees 
The TSA event was not only an opportunity to expand our cadre of machine taggers but also gave us a chance to share multiple ways that people could get involved with BHL and EOL. For example, images that depict multiple species can create confusion when associated with a single species page in EOL.  Attendees were shown how to replace such images with a cropped version showing only the relevant species.  The evening also provided a chance to showcase EOL's recently launched iNaturalist Collections.

All told, it was a very successful event.  Several guests said they were delighted to learn about EOL and BHL and, by the end of the day, 129 more images in BHL's Flickr Photostream boasted machine tags.  We look forward to the continued contributions of these amazing Smithsonian Associates session attendees!

Looking for a way that you can get involved?
Check out the instructions on machine tagging or visit EOL to sign up for an account and to learn more about recording your own observations of the natural world through EOL's iNaturalist collections.

Friday, June 13, 2014

BHL is happy to be a charter signatory of the Bouchout Declaration for Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management

The Biodiversity Heritage is a charter signatory of the Bouchout Declaration  for Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management. The Declaration is a call to action for institutions to support biodiversity knowledge management. On 12 June 2014, the Declaration was officially launched at the pro-iBiosphere Final meeting at Bouchout Castle, Botanic Garden Meise, Belgium

As an outgrowth of the pro-iBiosphere project, the Declaration has wide ranging support from a world-wide group of institutions and individuals. Other BHL partners that are signatories include the Museum of Comparative Zoology (Harvard University) and the Encyclopedia of Life.

The opening of the Declaration asserts:
Our natural world is a source of food, water, resources, protection and enjoyment that our society needs. The richness and complexity of nature, and the speed of new discoveries made possible by genomic and digital technologies, challenge us to find new ways to benefit from and be better custodians of the natural world. Digital information management systems can bring together the wealth of information now dispersed in a myriad of different documents, institutions, and locations. With such systems, we can harness the benefits of rapid discovery and open up our legacy of over 270 years of biological observations. 
The fundamental principles of the Declaration are:

  • The free and open use of digital resources about biodiversity and associated access services; 
  • Licenses or waivers that grant or allow all users a free, irrevocable, world-wide, right to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly as well as to build on the work and to make derivative works, subject to proper attribution consistent with community practices, while recognizing that providers may develop commercial products with more restrictive licensing. 
  • Policy developments that will foster free and open access to biodiversity data; 
  • Tracking the use of identifiers in links and citations to ensure that sources and suppliers of data are assigned credit for their contributions; 
  • An agreed infrastructure, standards and protocols to improve access to and use of open data; 
  • Registers for content and services to allow discovery, access and use of open data; 
  • Persistent identifiers for data objects and physical objects such as specimens, images and taxonomic treatments with standard mechanisms to take users directly to content and data; 
  • Linking data using agreed vocabularies, both within and beyond biodiversity, that enable participation in the Linked Open Data Cloud; 
  • Dialogue to refine the concept, priorities and technical requirements of Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management; 
  • A sustainable Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management that is attentive to scientific, sociological, legal, and financial aspects.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Nine Smithsonian Field Books Now in BHL!

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is pleased to announce that nine of the Smithsonian field books that were cataloged and imaged as part of the Field Book Project are now available through the BHL portal!

With over 43 million pages of the published biodiversity literature, BHL has greatly improved the efficiency of access to the published literature--much of which was previously available in limited physical copies in but a few select libraries in the developed world.  As unique primary source documents, field books present similar challenges and we are very pleased to provide another layer of access to these important materials.

Scientists' field notes are, in many ways, the precursors to the published literature.  Journals (the unpublished kind), diaries, collecting lists, photo albums, and other primary source documentation of collecting events can enhance not only the scientific understanding of what has already been published but can also provide insights into the historical, sometimes even personal, context behind the research.

The Field Book Project has cataloged over 7,000 Smithsonian field books and imaged over 400 of those which are available through the Smithsonian Collection Search Center along with additional contextual information in the form of collection records and authority files.  The nine field books chosen as the first testbed set for ingest into BHL include item records and page scans for seven diaries created by David Crockett Graham and two photo albums from the Harriman Alaska Expedition (1899) from the collections of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.  Each item not only tells its own fascinating story of exploration but also provides information and insights that complement materials already in BHL.

In addition to making these available alongside the related literature in BHL, we are especially pleased to see these notes joining the 62 other field notes that are already in BHL thanks to the Connecting Content project.  The original vision for the Field Book Project was to create one online location for field books, regardless of physical location. Now you can view the Smithsonian field notes alongside those from the California Academy of Science, Missouri Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden, Harvard Botany Libraries and Museum of Comparative Zoology.  And with the crowdsourcing transcription efforts underway both at the Smithsonian Transcription Center and kicking off with BHL's Purposeful Gaming project earlier this month, we're looking forward to seeing more great things come out of our continued partnership with the Field Book Project!

David Crockett Graham (1884-1961) was an American missionary and collector working in China over the period of 1911-1948.  In the U.S., Graham had studied theology, anthropology, and ethonology.  As part of the Proceedings of the United States National Museum (v.80, 1932), BHL has made available an article authored, detailing the architectural structures, carvings and artifacts he observed in the artificial caves in Szechuan Province.  But his work was not limited to cultural and anthropological inquiry.  Graham also spent summers collecting biological specimens for the U.S. National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History), receiving the honorary title of Collaborator in Biology in 1932. His diaries from those summers provide a fascinating perspective onto his experiences while collecting, from the logistical aspects of organizing a collecting team and their supplies to the impact of heavy rains and extreme heat on their travels.  His natural curiosity is evident as he pesters a stinky beetle (June 6, 1928) and marvels at how, after discovering a large number of moths in a nearby bush, they do not come to his lantern at night (June 14, 1928).

Entry from June 6, 1928 of David Crockett Graham's
Diary no. III., May 27, 1928 - October 12, 1928

The Harriman Alaska Expedition (1899) is the fascinating--and true--story of a railroad tycoon's family vacation and scientific expedition rolled into one.  After his physician recommended a vacation to combat exhaustion, Edward Henry Harriman, President of the Union Pacific Railroad, began planning a big game hunt for his family.  Exhausted as he may have been, though, he remained ambitious even in rest.  By the time they set sail for Alaska on May 31, 1899, the family vacation transformed into a full-scale exploring expedition.  The list of participants reads like a roll call of renowned scientists, naturalists, and artists of the time, many of whom whose names are still well-known today: Clinton Hart Merriam, Frederick Vernon Coville, Thomas Kearney, William Healey Dall, Robert Ridgway, and over a hundred others.

Fairweather Range --Seen across Glacier Bay from Sunday Island
Souvenir of the Harriman Alaska Expedition, May-August, 1899,
volume 1, New York to Cook Inlet
Not surprisingly, the expedition resulted in several publications, including the Harriman Alaska Series a multi-volume report on Alaska's geography and biodiversity, including insects, crustaceans, and invertebrates.  The two photo albums were assembled as souvenirs for expedition participants and include hundreds of photographs, the bulk of which show Alaskan landscapes and glaciers as they appeared in 1899. While some photographs from the expedition were also included in the reports and other publications, as a whole, these albums help to fill in our contextual understanding of the place and time in which Alaska's biodiversity was being recorded by the Harriman Expedition.  They also offer a glimpse into the human experience of the expedition, from a family outing on Lowe Inlet to a fire drill aboard the George W. Elder.

Fire Drill
Souvenir of the Harriman Alaska Expedition, May-August, 1899,
volume 1, New York to Cook Inlet

We hope you enjoy taking a look through the first of the Smithsonian field notes to be added to BHL. Let us know what you discover by leaving us a comment!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Biodiversity Heritage Library Adds University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as New Member

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Main Library

The Biodiversity Heritage Library, headquartered at the Smithsonian Libraries, welcomes the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a new member. The 16th member of the BHL consortium, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will help identify and digitize historical science literature from its collections and add these to the BHL’s online holdings, where all materials may be accessed free by the public.

“The Biodiversity Heritage Library is the preeminent global repository for historic science literature,” said Martin Kalfatovic, BHL program director and associate director for digital services at the Smithsonian Libraries. “The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has partnered from the start with the BHL and BHL members for many years and we are excited that we can formalize our partnership by welcoming them as our 16th member.”

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library is a campus-wide network of libraries serving programs of learning and research in many disciplines and is the largest public university research library in the country with more than 13 million volumes. The Biology Library collection alone contains over 137,000 volumes and there are many more in related departmental libraries on campus, such as the agriculture, natural history, and rare book and manuscript collections. For more information about the University Library, please visit

The current members of the BHL include: the American Museum of Natural History (New York, N.Y.), the California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco, Calif.), Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.), the Botany Libraries (Harvard University), the Ernst Mayr Library at the Museum of Comparative Zoology (Cambridge, Mass.), the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.), the Marine Biological Laboratory of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Woods Hole, Mass.), the Missouri Botanical Garden (St. Louis, Mo.), the National Library Board (Singapore), the Natural History Museum (London), the Kew York Botanical Garden (Bronx, N.Y.), the Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew, United Kingdom), the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.) and the United States Geological Survey. Additionally, three institutions participate at the affiliate level: the Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago, Ill.), the American of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pa.) and the Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County (Los Angeles, Calif.).

Beyond the English-language efforts, BHL-Europe includes 28 institutions that are working to digitize European literature. In addition, China, Australia, Egypt, Brazil and Africa have created national or regional nodes that may be accessed through the BHL portal.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Transcribing the Field Notes of William Brewster

Ivory-billed woodpecker from
Brewster's journal of 1890
William Brewster (1851-1919) was a renowned American amateur ornithologist, first president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and a president of the American Ornithologists' Union. He was an avid collector of birds and their nests and eggs, and collected over forty thousand specimens from 1861 until his death in 1919. His collection, bequeathed to the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, is considered one of the finest private collections of North American birds ever assembled. Though Brewster collected throughout North America, his collection is especially comprehensive in its coverage of the birds of New England. Brewster thoroughly documented his collecting trips. His journals and diaries are a gold mine of scientific observations and a delightful account of years spent exploring the woods, fields, lakes, and rivers of New England.

The Ernst Mary Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology is in the process of digitizing its collection of Brewster’s field notes and observations, and making these available worldwide via the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). As part of the Purposeful Gaming project led by the Missouri Botanical Garden, and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we have begun efforts to transcribe Brewster’s voluminous field notes, with the ultimate goal of making the full text of his observations searchable and available for any number of uses.

As an initial trial project, we have placed ten digitized volumes of field notes on two crowdsourcing websites, and we invite anyone interested to help us accomplish our goal of transcribing at least 2000 pages of Brewster’s journals. The crowdsourcing websites chosen for this project are the Biodiversity Volunteer Portal (BVP), a collaboration between the Australian Museum and the Atlas of Living Australia; and a BHL installation of FromThePage, a transcription tool developed by Ben Brumfield.

Birds observed by Brewster on Martha's Vineyard in 1890
Please feel free to visit one or both of these sites, create an account, and enjoy Brewster’s idyllic writing style while helping to unlock his valuable observations for the benefit of all. We also invite you to browse Brewster's diaries and journals on the BHL portal.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Life of a Field Biologist and Practical Biodiversity Informatician: Cam Webb

As part of our regular BHL & Our Users series, Connie Rinaldo (MCZ Librarian and BHL Executive Committee Member) recently caught up with Cam Webb, a Senior Research Scientist at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.  We were very pleased to hear about how he has been exploring BHL and what he discovered.  Enjoy!

1.  What is your area of interest?

I study the trees and forests of SE Asia, from ecological, floristic and biogeographic angles. I also enjoy ‘practical informatics’: mashing up biodiversity data from a variety of sources.

2.  How long have you been in your field of study?
Broadly defined... about 25 years.

3.  When did you first discover BHL?

I think pretty much when you first opened.

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

BHL is a vital tool for me.  I live in West Kalimantan, Indonesia and so have no local physical access to botanical libraries. The nearest one is on Java, at the Indonesian National Herbarium (Herb. Bogoriense); it has a surprisingly good range of older publications, but I don’t get there as often as I’d like.  But with BHL, in a few seconds (or longer... depending on bandwidth here!), I have access to many of the original (and sometimes only) descriptions for the plant taxa out here.

5.  How often do you use BHL?

I use BHL a couple of times a month on average, sometimes more frequently.

6.  How do you usually use BHL?  

Almost always I’m looking for species descriptions, ecological details, and particularly images.

7. What are your favorite features and services on BHL?

So, I have to admit, as I was answering these questions, I started digging into the API options (Application Programming Interface) you offer, that I hadn’t really looked at before, and was blown away as to how many ways you offer to query your database and view the publication pages. One of the main challenges I have for using BHL, given the limited  bandwidth available here in Kalimantan, is the multiple webpage loadings required to get from submitting a taxonomic name to being able to check if a page will be worth reading, partially because the default page viewer loads a fairly high-resolution page image in the popup. So I hacked together a simple script ( that takes a taxonomic name, calls your API, and returns a single page with embedded thumbnails of matching pages in BHL. This way, I can quickly identify which pages might be worth looking more carefully at.  So now I have to say that my favorite service on BHL is the API!  Thanks!

8.  What would you like BHL to focus on developing next?

For myself, I’d have to say that continuing to expand the coverage of the core document set would still be the highest priority.  There are a number of key references for Indonesia (many of them in Dutch)
that I have not found yet in BHL.

9. If you had to choose one title or item that has impacted your research or something that you love in BHL, what would it be?

It is having Flora Malesiana scanned and available online!

Thank you, Cam, for sharing your work and how you use the Biodiversity Heritage Library!