Friday, January 29, 2016

New Postage Stamps Featuring Images from the NYBG Nursery & Seed Catalog Collection

Today, January 29, 2016, the U.S. Postal Service released 10 new postage stamps featuring images from catalogs in The New York Botanical Garden's nursery and seed catalog collection.

The Botanical Art Forever stamps featuring illustrations from nursery catalogs in The New York Botanical Garden's nursery and seed catalog collection.

The 10 Botanical Art Forever stamps feature illustrations from American nursery catalogs printed between 1891 and 1912. NYBG's nursery and seed catalog collection is one of the largest and most important collections in the United States. The collection and similar collections in other institutions are treasure troves of historical information for scholars and scientists studying a wide range of subjects, including the history of botany, horticulture, commercial agriculture, landscape design, plant exploration, graphic arts and publishing.

John Lewis Childs. Childs' fall catalogue of bulbs, plants & seeds. Digitized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library.

The flowers featured on the stamps include corn lilies, tulips, stocks, roses, petunias, dahlias, Japanese Iris, daffodils and jonquils. The artists responsible for the work seen on early nursery catalogs are mostly unknown, but thanks to these stamps, the catalogs, and ongoing work to digitize the catalogs and make them freely available worldwide, the incredible works of these artists live on.

Dreer. Dreer's autumn catalogue : 1899 bulbs plants, seeds, etc. Digitized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library.

You can find most of the catalogs featured in the stamps in BHL. Below is the list of catalogs featured on the stamps and, where available, the links to them in BHL. The copies in BHL were digitized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library. The remaining catalogs will be uploaded to BHL by NYBG.

We're excited that so many letters will now be adorned with stunning botanical art thanks to the Botanical Art Forever stamps. You can browse over 20,000 seed and nursery catalogs contributed by both NYBG and other BHL partner institutions in BHL. Learn more about the importance of these catalogs in our Garden Stories campaign.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Celebrating Mary Gunn and 100 Years of Library Excellence in South Africa

Compiled by:
Anne-Lise Fourie
Assistant Director, SANBI Libraries
The South African National Biodiversity Institute

In 2013, BHL Africa officially launched with the mission to provide open access to the valuable biodiversity literature found within African libraries and institutions. Today, eleven institutions have signed the BHL Africa MOU and, thanks to support from the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, each is working to contribute content from their collections to BHL. The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), which has been a member of BHL Africa since its inception, leads the current JRS-funded work.

SANBI has two libraries: the Harry Molteno Library at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, and the Mary Gunn Library at the Pretoria National Botanical Garden. The mission of SANBI libraries is to meet the information needs of all SANBI staff and to address a public demand for comprehensive, easily accessible information on the biodiversity of southern Africa.

The Mary Gunn Library dates back to 1916 and will celebrate its centenary this year. Today, Ms Mary Gunn’s efforts are reflected in this library’s being one of the most important botanical and biodiversity resources in Africa. Subjects covered in the collection include taxonomy, biodiversity, climate change, global warming, morphology, plant anatomy, plant geography, ethnobotany, conservation ecology, history of botany, palaeobotany and plant exploration.

Mary Davidson Gunn (1899–1989) 

Mary Davidson Gunn. 1919-20.

Mary Davidson Gunn was born on 15 May 1899 in Kirriemuir, Scotland. Her father served in a Scottish regiment during the Anglo Boer War in South Africa and after the war, he decided to immigrate his family to South Africa. They settled in Pretoria where Ms Gunn attended the now defunct State Gymnasium. In September 1916, Ms Gunn was appointed as a clerk with ‘knowledge of typing’ in the Department of Agriculture’s Botany Division. She was not constantly busy and to keep herself occupied, she would dismantle and study the workings of her watch. Caught in the act by the chief of the division, Dr Pole Evans, she was tasked with the job of taking care of the books and building up a library. She approached her new responsibilities with great enthusiasm even though the few books did not even fill one shelf. Every night at home, she would describe each book she catalogued in detail to her father.

As Ms Gunn did not have a botanical background, she studied the catalogues of well-known antiquarian booksellers to establish which works were available and how she could purchase them. She became more and more interested in botanical literature and her knowledge developed rapidly. With enthusiasm and dedication she purchased relevant books and journals and even obtained a great number of publications as gifts – the basis of the current extensive antiquarian collection of the library. Her love for old botanical works became one of her main passions in life and made her one of the country’s most knowledgeable persons on rare botanical books and plant collectors of southern Africa.

Because of limited funds, various ways and means were devised to acquire treasures. She was very persuasive in getting rare and expensive books donated or sponsored to the library during her time as librarian. In her own words, ‘I frequently had to go hat-in-hand asking for money from influential people so that I can buy what I wanted!’ Her acquiring gifts, as well as purchasing and exchanging books and journals, populated Ms Gunn’s library until she had enough of a variety for the public. To this day, the global exchange programme remains one of the chief ways in which the Mary Gunn Library receives new journals.

Redouté, Pierre Joseph. Les liliacees. v. 1 (1805). Image from the copy in BHL digitized by the Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter H. Raven Library.

The Mary Gunn Library houses a magnificent Rare Antiquarian Book Collection that includes publications such as the broadsheet edition of Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s Les Liliacées. Redouté published Les Liliacées from 1802–1816 and the institute’s copy is one of only 18 broadsheet editions published. Redouté himself finished the plates in this edition by hand. Ms Gunn bought this rare work in England and conveyed it to South Africa in General Jan Smuts’ personal luggage after attending the signing of the Versailles Treaty. Smuts was a good friend of Ms Gunn and introduced her to businessmen such as Myles Bourke, Charles Maggs and J.J. Kirkness who donated funds to the library for purchasing rare books.

Nikolas Joseph Jacquin published Stapeliarum in 1808. The book contains 64 colour plates of stapeliads grown in the botanic garden of the University of Vienna. In 1938, Ms Gunn spotted the book in a booksellers’ catalogue and, with donations, she managed to purchase this rare book. The library now also houses other rare works by Jacquin.

Bergius, Peter Jonas. Descriptiones plantarum ex Capite Bonae Spei. (1767). Image from the copy in BHL digitized by the Biblioteca Digital del Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid.

One of the rarest and oldest works on the botany of the Cape of Good Hope is Descriptions plantarum ex Capite Bonae Spei (1767) by Peter Jonas Bergius, based in part on specimens collected at the Cape by the Swede, Mikael Grubb. It predates Linnaeus’s famous Mantissa Plantarum by one month. The library’s copy of this work was once owned by Prof. W.H. Harvey, the co-initiator of Flora Capensis. A handwritten note in the book explains that the book once belonged to a young botanist, George Forster, who, with his father, accompanied Captain Cook on his second voyage around the world with this very book.

Xylotheque (wooden) book set by C.H. Wehdemann.

The unique 52 xylotheque (wooden) book set by C.H. Wehdemann is the only South African example ever made. Wehdemann came to the Cape Colony in the early 1800s as part of the army of the Dutch East India Company. After his dismissal in 1806, he moved to the Eastern Cape settling on a farm near Somerset East where he died in 1836. Each wooden book represents an indigenous tree. At the top of the book is a slide which gives you access to the inside of the book. Inside is a short description of the tree, some illustrations and a small cane tube with seeds inside. Of the original set of 60, the Mary Gunn Library has the remaining 52 books.

Selection from the Xylotheque (wooden) book set by C.H. Wehdemann held in The Mary Gunn Library.

Other treasures in the library:

Dr Pole Evans’ continuous queries about botanical explorers led Ms Gunn to her second passion, namely biographical research of early botanists and plant collectors. Information on Thunberg, Burchell, Masson, Ecklon, Drège and more were collected from all corners of the world. In 1981 the major part of this information was used to publish Botanical exploration of southern Africa: an illustrated history of early botanical literature on the Cape flora. This work, produced in collaboration with Dr Leslie Codd, was the culmination of more than 60 years of research. In 2010 the work was revised and published as part of SANBI’s Strelitzia series.

Ms Gunn possessed charm, coupled with a sharp wit, a sense of humour, steely determination and a high regard for those she felt warranted respect. After her official retirement in 1954, she continued working at the institute until 1973. In honour of Ms Gunn’s devotion to botanical literature for 60 years of her life, the National Herbarium Library was renamed the Mary Gunn Library in 1969.

The official opening of the Mary Gunn Library, 15th January 1970. From left to right: Dr. B de Winter, Deputy Director, Botanical Research Institute; Dr JW Geyer, Chief Director of Research, Department of Agriculture; Ms Gunn and Dr. LE Codd, Director, Botanical Research Institute.

Through their participation in BHL Africa, SANBI will work to digitize the treasures in the Mary Gunn Library and make them openly, globally, and freely available in BHL. In the meantime, you can view many of the books mentioned in this post in the BHL collection thanks to contributions from several of our other partner libraries.

We are excited to see the continued growth of BHL and its collections thanks to the dedicated efforts of our partners around the world. We have a feeling that Ms Gunn would heartily concur.

Ms Gunn in her later years.


  1. Fourie, D. Obituary of Mary Davidson Gunn. Bothalia 20, 1: 127-130 1990. 
  2. Fourie, D. The history of the Botanical Research Institute 1903-1989. Bothalia 28, 2 1998.
  3. Glen, H.F. Botanical Exploration of Southern Africa: An illustrated history of early botanical literature on the Cape Flora, Biographical accounts of the leading plant collectors and their activities in southern Africa form the days of the East India Company until the modern times. 2nd ed. Pretoria: SANBI, 2010.
  4. Gunn, M. and Codd, L. Botanical exploration of southern Africa: an illustrated history of early botanical literature on the Cape flora. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981. 
  5. Killick, D.J.B. The Mary Gunn Library. 1992. Pamphlet.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Biodiversity Heritage Library staff attend the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Boston, MA

Ronnie Broadfoot
A number of BHL staff attended the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in an unseasonably warm Boston, MA during the run of the conference, January 8-12, 2016. Taking advantage of the meeting's location near BHL Members, The Ernst Mayr Library (Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University) and the Harvard Botany Libraries, staff at those institutions hosted visits by BHL Program Director Martin Kalfatovic and Program Manager Carolyn Sheffield, as well as staff from The Field Museum Library (Christine Giannoni, Diana Duncan, and Melissa Anderson).

BHL staffer Matthew Person, from the MBLWHOI Library in nearby Woods Hole, MA, said of the meetings, "After attending ALA Midwinter sessions on 'linked data' and cooperatively developed tools to help researchers communicate on an inter-institutional level, I felt good about the work BHL is putting into aligning metadata for BHL published science literature with publishing standards and requirements for discovery systems. This work will make BHL content and metadata available through multiple avenues of research exploration, which assists inter-institutional research worldwide." Added the Mayr Library's Ronnie Broadfoot, "Overall, I had a great conference for the usual reasons -- good conversations with colleagues I know from previous conferences and with colleagues just met. That's what keeps me coming back."

During a visit to the Mayr Library, staff Joe DeVeer and Broadfoot provided tours of the general and special collections as well as an overview of the Internet Archive Table Top Scribe scanner.

2016.01.08-IMG_5429 2016.01.08-IMG_5408 2016.01.08-IMG_5448
Mayr Library (Joe DeVeer, left and right; Ronnie Broadfoot, center)

Judy Warnement, librarian of the Harvard Botany Libraries, provided an overview of the botany collections of the botanical libraries in Cambridge, including the Economic Botany Library of Oakes Ames, the Oakes Ames Orchid Library, and the Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany. Among the treasures Judy showed us were botanical specimens collected by Henry David Thoreau and some of the amazing early herbals in the libraries' collections.

2016.01.08-IMG_5457 2016.01.08-IMG_5467 2016.01.08-IMG_5464
Harvard Botany Libraries

2016.01.10-IMG_5484During the conference, Giannoni met with Kalfatovic and Sheffield to discuss scanning operations as well as the upcoming "BHL @ 10" meetings to be held at the Natural History Museum (London) and the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. Said Giannoni, "ALA is a great way to reconnect with colleagues from all over the country. While folks are oftentimes surprised to encounter a 'museum' librarian at ALA, there are still a lot of great opportunities to connect with librarians dealing with the same issues we encounter: intellectual property, digitization initiatives, marketing. We're more alike than many folks realize!"

Participating in the conference exhibitions was the Internet Archive, which brought one of the Table Top Scribes from their Boston scanning facility.

Tim Bigelow of the Internet Archive
Matthew Person
The conference also included a reception at the New England Aquarium, hosted by ProQuest.

During the reception, Matthew Person noted "I attended an ALA Midwinter session on organizational change and leadership during which it was discussed that in building and growing organizations, when transparency is practiced, it can have a huge payoff in the success and sustainability of the organization. BHL has been unique as it was conceived as a transparent organization from the bottom to the top, and BHL successes are a positive example that transparency works!"

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fantastic Worlds: Exploring the Ocean through Science and Fiction

In July 2015, BHL founding institution Smithsonian Libraries opened a new exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History entitled Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780-1910. The exhibit invites visitors to explore the fantastic worlds of fiction inspired by 19th century scientific discovery and invention. It features fabulous natural history books on topics ranging from marine life to geology and dinosaurs and expeditions to the polar regions and interior Africa. Exhibit curators Kirsten van der Veen (Special Collections, Dibner Library, Smithsonian Libraries) and Doug Dunlop (Metadata Librarian, Smithsonian Libraries) not only walk visitors through some of the remarkable scientific discoveries of the Victorian era but also demonstrate the profound impact these advances had on popular fiction.

Kingsley, Charles. Glaucus. 4th Ed. (1859).

In the exhibit section entitled "Sea Change: Underwater Worlds," visitors can experience 19th century ocean exploration through the lens of publications, both scientific and fictional, produced during the time period. As the exhibit articulates:

"The sea was a vital part of 19th-century life: distant travel, commerce, and the livelihoods of many depended on it. Tales of sea voyages, both fact and fiction, were immensely popular. As scientists explored the depths of the oceans, however, stories began to take place not just on the sea, but in it.  
In the early 1800s, scientists believed the deep sea simply could not sustain life. Knowledge of the oceans had largely been limited to shores and shallow waters, but the mid-19th century saw the start of our exploration of this immense underwater world. Technological improvements to submersible vessels and diving gear helped make the seas more accessible. The bold plan to lay a telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean made understanding the ocean floor essential, and helped drive deep-sea exploration further. 
Victorian Britain had a fascination with the sea, and with the natural world in general. The pastime of shell collecting became very popular in the mid-1800s. As the middle class grew and people found themselves with leisure time, the seaside became a frequent holiday destination. Amateur naturalists and vacationers scoured the shores for specimens to add to their collections. Collecting and cataloging one's findings was considered a morally appropriate, enriching activity, and a worthy antidote to idleness. This fascination mirrored the interests of the scientific community, as newly coordinated efforts to dredge for marine fauna and survey the coasts were initiated, to address the notable lack of new knowledge of the undersea world.  
Kingsley, Charles. Glaucus. 4th Ed. (1859).
Books on the identification of sea life, like Rev. Charles Kingsley’s Glaucus, or, The Wonders of the Shore, were very popular. Perhaps best known for his children’s book The Water Babies, Kingsley was a prolific writer of non-fictional works as well, including sermons, social commentaries, and scientific treatises. He was a capable amateur naturalist, too, well-versed in the scientific issues of the day (he and Charles Darwin corresponded) and a proponent of science education. Glaucus, named for an ancient Greek sea-god, encouraged personal and religious improvement through knowledge of the natural world, in this case the corals, mollusks, and anemones found at the seashore. 
Interest in sea life found its way into the home in the 1850s as the first aquariums (or “aqua-vivariums”) appeared. Having a miniaturized version of the ocean floor at home became a mid-19th century fad. The first public aquarium opened in 1853 in London. Purveyors of aquatic plants and animals catered to aquarium enthusiasts. Books [such as Henry Noel Humphreys' Ocean Gardens: The History of the Marine Aquarium. London, 1857] offered advice to enthusiasts on creating and maintaining their indoor “ocean gardens."
Humphreys, Henry Noel. Ocean gardens : the history of the marine aquarium, and the best methods now adopted for its establishment and preservation (1857).

As the exhibit shows, the public's growing interest in the deep ocean can be clearly seen in the popularity of many of the fictional works of the time, especially Vingt Mille Lieues Sous les Mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas in English) by Jules Verne. Within the work, the famous Captain Nemo takes his captive guests on a journey through the oceans in his submarine. The work draws on many of the scientific advances, such as self-propelled submarines and diving suits, and features many of the exotic underwater species, that were captivating the public during the era.

Not only were the inventions and species featured in works like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas a reflection of the advances of the time, but the very idea of extended underwater expeditions like that undertaken by Captain Nemo also mirrored the scientific endeavors being launched. According to the exhibit:

"Britain’s Challenger expedition, a massive four-year undertaking begun in 1872, vastly increased knowledge about the deep sea. Its goal: to circumnavigate the globe and study the ocean's depths. It was the first large-scale government-funded scientific expedition. The HMS Challenger was a British naval warship outfitted for scientific study and included a chemistry lab and a workroom for the study of specimens.  
The expedition resulted in 50 volumes of scientific reports. More than 4,500 new species of marine life were recorded, and scientists were finally able to prove that life did indeed exist in the ocean's depths. The hundreds of crates of specimens were painstakingly studied and illustrated by experts worldwide, like those by Ernst Haeckel [Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger during the years 1873–76...Zoology: Report on the Deep-Sea Keratosa. Edinburgh, 1889], and formed the basis for the marine collections at the Natural History Museum in London."
Haeckel, Ernst. Report on the scientific results of the voyage of H.M.S. Challenger during the years 1873-76. Zoology v. 32, pt. 82 (1889).

Many of the books featured in the "Sea Change: Underwater Worlds" section of the exhibit, such as Glaucus, Ocean Gardens, and Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger during the years 1873–76, can be found in BHL. You can learn more about underwater science and fiction in the Victorian period in the Fantastic Worlds online exhibit from Smithsonian Libraries. The exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History runs through February 26, 2017, and is free to the public. Be sure to visit the exhibit if you're in Washington, D.C., or browse the online exhibit to learn more about the fantastic intersection of science and fiction in the Victorian era.

Exhibit Text Featured in this Post by: 
Kirsten van der Veen
Special Collections, Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Libraries

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Happy New In-Copyright Materials!

Welcome to 2016 and BHL's latest batch of in-copyright content! We have 8 new titles to add to the list since our last post.

Over the course of 2015, BHL secured the following:

Where possible, BHL acquires permission in the form of a signed license agreement from copyright holders to digitize post-1922 publications. These publications are available for open access under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. Users are welcome to reuse the in-copyright content in BHL so long as they adhere to the terms of the CC license, meaning:

  • you attribute the content to the copyright holder
  • use the content for non-commercial purposes such as educational or personal use
  • share the content under the same license (CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0)

This time around we have contributions from South Africa, United States, Scotland, Italy and England:

Special thanks to our Affiliate partners with BHL Africa from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) who are contributing 3 new titles to the BHL collection. 
  1. Bothalia (1918 to present) - named after General Botha, South Africa's first Union Premier and Minister of Agriculture, the journal continues to this day as a principal publication about South Africa's flora and fauna. Most recently, it is expanding in scope to include more information about African biodiversity and conservation topics.
  2. "Atlas and red list of the reptiles of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland" (2014)
  3. Flora of Southern Africa (1963 to present)
Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press has contributed "Watershed Research Perspectives" (1986) edited by David L. Correll. This publication is a collection of papers resulting from a 1985 watershed research workshop held at the Smithsonian's Environmental Research Center.

The earliest issues of the newsletter Nemophila, published by the California Botanical Society, are now in BHL from 1919 to 1927. CBS is better known for its premier publication, Madroño which is also in BHL. We are very pleased to support the digital archives of this 103 year old society who support the scientific research initiatives and community outreach for Western American botany.

The quarterly magazine and journal for members of the Scottish Ornithologists' ClubScottish Bird News, will be in BHL soon. The following graphic summarizes nicely the importance of the SOC for Scotland's bird enthusiasts and researchers alike. For now, selected back files are available via the organization's website. 

Dating back to the 1870s, Italy's foremost organization dedicated to malacological research, the Società Italiana di Malacologia (SIM), has generously contributed later volumes of its Bollettino Malacologico (1979 to present, with 3 yr embargo) to the BHL collection. Its earliest volumes actually preceded the formalization of the society and are available in BHL as the Bullettino malacologico italiano. Stay tuned for the later volumes to come.

Now in their 155th year, the Yorkshire Naturalists' Union "is devoted to studying and recording Yorkshire's flora and an association of amateur and professional naturalists covering a wide range of aspects of natural history." BHL will soon include later volumes of their triannual publication The Naturalist in our online collection. You can see its earliest volumes in BHL from 1864.

Digitization is in progress for these titles and you can see them appearing via our recent additions list.

Want to see more in-copyright content in BHL? Let us know what you’d like to see!

-Bianca Crowley, BHL Digital Collections Manager

Friday, January 15, 2016

New IMLS-Funded Project: Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has selected the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project as one of nine National Digital Platform Projects funded in 2015 as part of the National Leadership Grants for Libraries program. The project will work to position the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) as an on-ramp for biodiversity content providers that would like to contribute to the national digital library infrastructure through the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature will help libraries, museums, and natural history societies make their content more widely available by providing the tools and support necessary to facilitate contribution to DPLA through BHL. The award of $846,457 will support work over a two-year period (October 2015-September 2017). The Project Team will interact with content providers to improve metadata through training and quality control, engage the community through outreach on a national level, pursue copyright permissions, and improve BHL’s digital infrastructure through system enhancements.

The goals of the project are to: 1) Expand BHL’s role as a subject-specific content provider for life sciences; 2) Serve as an aggregator to allow small natural history collections to present their content in DPLA via BHL and expand the community of content providers by working with new partners; 3) Preserve and provide access to small natural history and botanical collections and publications through outreach, assistance with scanning, and software tools to format and normalize data for ingest; and 4) Increase the quality of partner metadata through use of DPLA metadata best practices.

The Project Team has four intended outcomes and a means towards measuring the success of these outcomes: 1) Expand public access to biodiversity literature; 2) Increase in the number of new and first time content providers to both BHL and DPLA, ideally with at least 100 added by the second year; 3) Serve as a model for “subject-based” hubs; and 4) Develop processes that will ensure long-term biodiversity contributions to DPLA.

The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) will serve as the lead institution on the project, with additional participants including Harvard Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), and Smithsonian Libraries (SIL).

The Project Team includes several veteran BHL participants, including Susan Fraser (Director of the NYBG LuEsther T. Mertz Library) as Project Director; Susan Lynch (Systems Librarian at NYBG) as Data Manager; Constance Rinaldo (Librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library of the MCZ/Harvard University) as Community Coordinator; Joe deVeer (Project Manager and Museum Liaison for the Ernst Mayr Library of the MCZ/Harvard University) as Project Manager for MCZ's participation in the project and mentor to the project's Community Manager; and Trish Rose-Sandler (Digital Projects Coordinator, Center for Biodiversity Informatics, Missouri Botanical Garden and Data Analyst for BHL) who will write functional specifications needed to accommodate new types of content, provide normalization and data clean up, and identify improved workflows for moving content from BHL to DPLA.

As part of the project, two new team members also joined the family, although the people filling those positions are no strangers to BHL.

Mariah Lewis, Metadata Specialist, Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature

Mariah Lewis, Metadata Specialist, Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature
Mariah is a recent graduate from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. where she completed a Master’s in Library and Information Science with a focus on Cultural Heritage Information Management. Previously, she worked with Florida State University, the National Library of Medicine, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, New York University and Scholastic. Mariah has nearly two years of experience with BHL in a variety of intern and volunteer positions, working under BHL Digital Collections Manager Bianca Crowley. Her work involved updating tutorials and creating a video tutorial, conducting a title merging webinar, and working with bibliographic issues and copyright in BHL.

As the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature Metadata Specialist, Mariah will work closely with content providers, typically small museums, cultural heritage institutions and publishers, to ensure that they understand project requirements, workflows and the use of existing tools. She will work with new partners to normalize the metadata for new content and will train new content providers on the use of the tools used to ingest content into BHL. She will work closely with the Data Manager to ensure conformity to set standards and best practices. Her home institution will be The New York Botanical Garden.

Patrick Randall, Community Manager, Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature

Patrick Randall, Community Manager, Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature
Originally from Brunswick, Maine, Patrick will complete his MLIS at Simmons College this spring. Prior to joining the Expanding Access project, he did outreach as part of the Purposeful Gaming and BHL project.

As the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature Community Manager, Patrick will be responsible for the identification of potential content providers and will perform outreach services to potential providers such as society publishers and small natural history libraries. He will perform due diligence in determining copyright status of new content and will work with the BHL Digital Collections Manager, Bianca Crowley, to process license agreements for copyright. He will also solicit requests for permission to ingest in-copyright born digital material. His home institution will be the Ernst Mayr Library at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

We are proud to be part of the IMLS National Digital Platform Projects program, which aims to advance the digital capability and capacity of libraries across the U.S. Each funded project contributes to enhancing the combination of software applications, social and technical infrastructure, and staff expertise that provide library content and services to users across the U.S. The Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project addresses challenges facing content providers—including insufficient amounts of content, indexing of scientific names, and metadata creation—and makes necessary digital infrastructure enhancements by creating an innovative model for collaboration and open access to data.

Learn more about the project on the IMLS website.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

BHL: Continuing to Inspire a Love of Natural History

In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter season is well underway. Cold temperatures mean that species of all kinds must face many new challenges in order to survive the next few months.

Spiders are no exception.

One might assume that spiders die off once winter hits. While this is true for some species, it is not true for all spiders - many remain active in winter months. How do they manage this? Through a variety of physiological and behavioral adaptations. Behavioral adaptations include moving their homes to "overwintering sites" such as the "subnivean zone," an area between the snow and the ground, or concealed locations in leaf litter or under bark, where it's warmer. Spiders also have a physiological adaptation that helps them brave the cold months. They are able to accumulate glycols in their blood (i.e., antifreeze), which allows their tissues to remain unfrozen at temperatures well below freezing. And spiders aren't the only critters capable of this - many invertebrates also possess this ability.

So, through a combination of ingenious adaptations, spiders are able deal with the cold of winter. The process isn't perfect, of course. Spiders are not freeze tolerant, and their tissues cannot survive the process of freezing. However, their adaptations still give them much better odds than they would have otherwise.

Dr. Christopher Buddle. Associate Professor, McGill University.

Fascinating information like this can be found for a variety of arthropods on Arthropod Ecology. The site is a blog authored by Dr. Christopher Buddle, an Associate Professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Chris has been in his field of study for twenty years, and his interests include, not surprisingly, arthropod ecology, arachnology, and natural history.

Chris discovered BHL some time ago, but recently enjoyed a "rediscovery" when he found us on social media. By following @BioDivLibrary on Twitter and browsing our albums on Flickr, Chris discovered the stunning visual resources that BHL has to offer, and through this exchange, developed a new love for our collections. In fact, Twitter and Flickr have become his favorite BHL features. He checks the Twitter feed daily and our Flickr collections every few weeks. His use of the website itself happens about once a month, particularly when he's trying to locate a specific publication, which he often subsequently downloads as a PDF for future use.

McCook, Henry C. American spiders and their spinningwork. v. 3 (1893).

For Chris, BHL's true impact comes from its ability to spark interest in natural history. As he explained,

"I feel that BHL has helped reignite a love of natural history, both for me at a personal level, but also more broadly in biology. Our current science is built upon those before us, and it's easy to forget this. We tend to focus on current whiz-bang publications, using new techniques and new analytical approaches. We are in an era of big data, and big science. I applaud many of these new approaches, but we must be reminded that without Wallace, Bates, the Peckhams, or McCook, we wouldn't be where we are today. Their contributions are still relevant and help inform current science, and these contributions are stored on BHL and accessible because of BHL. That is significant and important and should not be taken for granted.  
I don't use BHL directly in my research all that much, but it has happened! As an example, I was working on a paper related to jumping spiders, and as part of that, was collecting ant-mimicking jumping spiders in a local forest. I wanted to learn more about the species, and try to uncover what we know about its life history. An online search revealed a few recent papers on the species, but the really good stuff was written in the late 1800s by the Peckhams. George and Elizabeth Peckham were teachers in Wisconsin, back in the 1800s, and in their spare time watched and wrote about insects and spiders. Their work was quite meticulous. Thankfully, BHL had their paper, and I was able to download the PDF and learn a great deal about the species courtship. Having access to the old literature made this possible.  
Peckham, George and Elizabeth. Ant-like spiders of the family Attidae. Occasional papers of the Natural History Society of Wisconsin. v. 2 (1892).
Browsing through BHL, and the images from BHL on the Flickr page (which is probably where I spend the most time!), is truly inspiring. The old sketches, drawings, and paintings are masterpieces. Many of them tell a story: for example, I recall seeing some drawings of "Spiders and their enemies" - these images are more than a depiction of a species. These images tell about ecological interactions.
McCook, Henry C. American spiders and their spinningwork. v. 2 (1890).
Natural history is seeing a revival, and papers such as Tschinkel & Wilson remind us about how our world makes more sense when we uncover the natural history of species, whether it's a Pseudoscorpion, woodpecker or epiphyte. Igniting a passion for natural history sometimes takes a catalyst: perhaps a field trip, story, a line from an old paper, or an image. To me, this is among the most valuable contribution that BHL makes to our world. It's not necessarily a 'tangible' outcome; it can't be easily measured in clicks, research dollars, publications or citations. But the long term benefits may be enormous, whether it's a researcher like me being reminded about the value of old literature, or whether it's a high school student being inspired by the BHL Flickr set about orchids. We need passion and engagement about biodiversity across all sectors of society, and BHL certainly facilitates this."

"Inspiring discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge." That's BHL's vision statement. Through not only open access to natural history literature, but also through other engagement outlets like Twitter and Facebook, through new presentations of our content, such as Flickr or online exhibitions, and through citizen science initiatives, we're working hard to realize that vision and are thrilled to see the fruits of our labors through Chris' testimony.

So, if you're bundled up for the winter months, take a moment to think about the intrepid spiders in your local ecosystems that are putting millions of years of evolution to good use to brave the cold right along with you. And if we've sparked your interest in these amazing animals, do a search in our collection or browse our Flickr images to help fan the flames of discovery. It's a blaze that just might help keep you warm this winter.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

BHL Receives 2015 Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives award for Field Notes Project

The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) has selected the “Biodiversity Heritage Library Field Notes Project” for a 2015 Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives award. The award of $491,713 will help support increased accessibility to original scientific documentation found in archival field notes in participating institution collections.

Field notes provide valuable, primary research data about species and ecosystems that is often unpublished or unavailable through other sources. They can also be extremely valuable for museum research, providing key specimen data related to study sites, collecting details, and ecology.

Hereward Chune Dollman's scientific notes, held in the Natural History Museum, London, Library and Archives. Image © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London. Image credit: Natural History Museum, London, Library and Archives.

A recent article in The Linnean (VOL 31(2) OCT 2015) by Hellen Pethers (Reader Services Librarian, Library and Archives, Natural History Museum, London, UK) and Dr. Blanca Huertas (Senior Curator of Lepidoptera, Life Sciences Department, Natural History Museum, London, UK) illustrated the importance of field notes to museum research. The paper focuses on the collections of Hereward Chune Dollman, an entomologist who worked extensively on the natural history and identification of insects in Zambia. Dollman's natural history collections, which were donated to the British Museum of Natural History (now the Natural History Museum, London) upon his death, include 3,500 butterfly specimens comprising 300 species, 157 watercolor drawings of caterpillars, and a notebook containing data related to his breeding and collecting. Dollman's caterpillar illustrations link directly to his scientific notes through unique identification codes, thus allowing researchers to explore details of the caterpillars' lives, their transformation to adult forms, and the study sites from which Dollman collected. The watercolors are the only record of the immature counterparts of the adult specimens that Dollman studied.

Watercolor from Hereward Chune Dollman's collection at the Natural History Museum, London, Library and Archives. Image © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London. Image credit: Natural History Museum, London, Library and Archives. 

Dollman's collections were never consolidated with the main museum's collection, and thus have been little studied even though they contain important specimens from remote locations in Africa that are not widely represented in other collections. Recent initiatives at the Natural History Museum are working to amalgamate and arrange collections by taxonomy, providing greater accessibility to researchers. Dollman's notebook, held in the museum's Library and Archives, provides researchers will invaluable information necessary to effectively and efficiently study these collections and articulates the importance of field notes to scientific research and the necessity of collaboration between library and specimen collections.

Watercolor from Hereward Chune Dollman's collection at the Natural History Museum, London, Library and Archives. Image © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London. Image credit: Natural History Museum, London, Library and Archives. 

While this case study at NHM provides an example of one attempt to bring together disparate specimen and related field note collections, the disassociation of these two types of collections is common within institutions. What's more, field notes from related persons and expeditions are often scattered across institutions, inaccessible to any but the determined researcher. The “Biodiversity Heritage Library Field Notes Project” aims to enhance research methodology by improving access to these field notes, thus allowing researchers to more easily connect them to related specimens and other scientific work.

Over a two year period, the BHL Field Notes Project will coordinate work to digitize field notes, assign metadata, and publish the field notes online through the Biodiversity Heritage Library and Internet Archive, with an emphasis on quality, quantity, and closely related content. The Smithsonian Libraries and Smithsonian Institution Archives will serve as the lead institutions on the project. Additional project participants include Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter H. Raven Library; American Museum of Natural History; Yale Peabody Museum; Harvard University Herbaria, Botany Libraries; Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library; University of California, Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology; The New York Botanical Garden, The LuEsther T. Mertz Library; The Field Museum; and Internet Archive.

The Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives awards program, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, funds projects in which locally executed protocols contribute to a national good, using methods that are cost efficient and subject to wider adoption. It supports the creation of digital representations of unique content of high scholarly significance that will be discoverable and usable as elements of a coherent national collection. Eighteen projects were selected from among one hundred sixty-seven proposals submitted in 2015. This is the first group of projects supported by the Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives awards program.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Kingfishers and National Bird Day

Today is National Bird Day, a day to celebrate and raise awareness about birds.

We're celebrating by highlighting one of the rare ornithology titles in the BHL collection: A monograph of the Alcedinidae : or, family of kingfishers (1868-71) by Richard Bowdler Sharpe. The work contains 120 hand-colored lithographed plates by and after famous Dutch bird illustrator Johannes Gerardus Keulemans. Printing and coloring of the plates was entrusted to Mr. P.W.M. Trap.

Sharpe, Richard Bowdler. A monograph of the Alcedinidae : or, family of kingfishers. (1868-71). Art by John Gerardus Keulemans.

In April, 2015, a first edition copy of this title sold at a Sotheby's auction for 10,000 GBP. But you can browse and download this work for free in BHL. Our copy was digitized from the collections of the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

According to the Encyclopedia of Life:

Kingfishers belong to the order Coraciiformes and the family Alcedinidae. Within Coraciiformes, kingfishers are grouped into the suborder Alcidines, with todies (Todidae) and motmots (Motmotidae). Alcedinidae comprises approximately 17 genera and 91 species, and is frequently subdivided into three subfamilies; Alcedininae, which comprises most of the “fishing” kingfishers, Halcyoninae, which comprises the “forest kingfishers” that reside primarily in Australasia, and Cerylinae, which includes all of the New World kingfishers.  
Kingfishers are small to medium sized colorful birds with short necks, large heads and long, thick bills. They live primarily in wooded habitats of tropical regions, often near water. Despite their name, not all kingfishers are fishing specialists. While some species do consume primarily fish, most species have unspecialized diets that include a high proportion of insects. Most kingfishers are monogamous, territorial breeders, though a few species breed cooperatively.

Sharpe, Richard Bowdler. A monograph of the Alcedinidae : or, family of kingfishers(1868-71). Art by John Gerardus Keulemans.

Richard Bowdler Sharpe was born in London in 1847. At a young age he took an interest in ornithology and desired to write a monograph on kingfishers. In 1865, he joined the Bernard Quaritch bookseller company, which allowed him to begin working on his kingfisher monograph in earnest. He used his small income to help acquire specimens. In 1867, he became a librarian at the Zoological Society of London and over the next couple years (1868-71) issued his first book, A monograph of the Alcedinidae : or, family of kingfishers, in parts.

Sharpe, Richard Bowdler. A monograph of the Alcedinidae : or, family of kingfishers(1868-71). Art by John Gerardus Keulemans.

Johannes Gerardus Keulemans was the artist for the work. Keulemans illustrated some of the most well-known ornithological titles of the nineteenth century, including works by Daniel Giraud Elliot, Sir Walter Lawry Buller, and Henry Eeles Dresser. He also regularly provided illustrations for The Ibis and The Proceedings of the Zoological Society. In 1869, Sharpe persuaded Keulemans to not only illustrate his monograph, but also to move to London, where Keulemans lived for the rest of his life.

In 1872, Sharpe joined the British Museum as Senior Assistant in the Department of Zoology, where he took charge of the bird collection. He founded the British Ornithologists' Club in 1892 and edited its bulletin. He also wrote thirteen and a half of the 27 volumes of the Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum (1874–1898). He authored many ornithology titles over his career, including Wonders of the Bird World, which we highlighted last week as one of the works illustrated by A.T. Elwes. Sharpe died in 1909 from pneumonia.

Sharpe, Richard Bowdler. A monograph of the Alcedinidae : or, family of kingfishers(1868-71). Art by John Gerardus Keulemans.

Be sure to explore A monograph of the Alcedinidae : or, family of kingfishers in BHL and the illustrations in Flickr. You can see other works authored by Sharpe in BHL as well. Happy National Bird Day!