Thursday, June 30, 2016

Information about Upcoming Changes to BHL Commenting Feature


A new and enhanced commenting system is being planned for BHL. The current commenting system will be disabled on July 5.

More Information 

In December 2015, we launched the ability to add comments to pages in BHL books. Our audience has since used this feature to provide details about taxonomic changes, link field notes to crowdsourced transcriptions, and provide species and common name information for scientific illustrations.

Our community has both demonstrated the value of having a commenting feature in BHL and helped identify the need for additional functionality that is not supported by the current system. In order to respond to this feedback and address residual technical issues, we have decided to implement a new and enhanced commenting system as part of BHL Version 2, the next iteration of the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature.

We will be disabling the current system from the BHL website on July 5. This strategic decision allows us to focus development time on implementing an enhanced system without the need to provide continued support for the existing platform. Requirements gathering for the new system will begin in early 2017 as part of the work of the BHL NDSR resident program. We will provide updates via this blog and social media.

While the current system will no longer be available in BHL as of July 5, all comments added to BHL pages to date will remain available through the BHL Disqus profile. Those comments on Disqus will also remain linked to the corresponding BHL pages, meaning that you can still access the information that our communities have added via these comments and explore the related pages in BHL. We will also be archiving these existing comments with the plan to re-ingest them into BHL once the new commenting system is implemented.

We want to extend a huge thanks to everyone who has contributed comments to BHL, demonstrating the value that such a system has for our community. We’re excited about the way commenting allows our audience to share their expertise and enhance our collections, and we look forward to incorporating the feedback we’ve received from our users into the design of the next generation of our commenting system.

Questions? Feel free to submit feedback.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

BHL Receives Funding to Host National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) Cohort

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), led by the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University (MCZ), will host a National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) cohort as part of the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Entitled “Foundations to Actions: Extending Innovations in Digital Libraries in Partnership with NDSR Learners,” the program will include five geographically-distributed residents, all graduates of LIS or related master's programs, in a collaborative project to improve tools, curation, and content stewardship at BHL. This work will help support the development of BHL Version 2 (BHL v.2), the next generation of the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature.

Residents will be hosted by the Field Museum of Natural History and the Chicago Botanic Garden, Harvard University, Missouri Botanical Garden, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and Smithsonian Libraries. The project will run from 1 June 2016-31 May 2018, with residents at host institutions for twelve months, from 1 January 2017-31 December 2017.

Each host institution will provide mentorship to a resident for a specific project designed to improve the functionality of BHL and will identify how tools and processes may be transferred to or from other digital library and museum environments. Outcomes will include a best practices guidelines document for digital libraries incorporating transcriptions, image searching, collection analysis techniques and better connections to museums, archives, and other relevant databases. Better functionality for BHL, based on user needs, will feed into other data systems and provide enhancements for BHL biodiversity and library partners such as the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), and Europeana.

The BHL NDSR cohort will work together with mentors to plan BHL v.2 and characterize the tools necessary to improve data management and reuse. The Chicago partners’ resident, which will be co-hosted by the Field Museum of Natural History and the Chicago Botanic Garden, will address content and gap analysis, reviewing the domain of biodiversity literature underpinning the field of biodiversity, estimating the amount of that literature in the public domain, and exploring methodologies to visualize digital collections. The Harvard University MCZ resident will develop methodologies and propose tools for verification and integration of crowd-sourced data corrections, building on previous work undertaken by the Ernst Mayr Library and the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG). The MBG resident will explore user interface modifications to the BHL portal to enable image searching, browsing, and display. The Los Angeles County Natural History Museum resident will consult with BHL partners such as DPLA and Europeana to determine how BHL data works in these large-scale digital libraries and categorize high value tools and services. Finally, the Smithsonian resident will work with the BHL Secretariat to determine additional digital library needs and services that will provide increased value to a broader set of BHL users.

The Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program (LB21) supports professional development, graduate education and continuing education to help libraries and archives develop the human capital capacity they need to meet the changing learning and information needs of the American public. Through a strong mentorship focus, and by providing opportunities to connect with professionals in biodiversity fields as well as libraries, museums, and archives, the BHL NDSR residencies will establish new leaders with skills in digital stewardship related to collection development and services, archives management, data curation, information systems management, informatics and community management, and distributed, virtual collaboration. In addition to fostering digital stewardship skills in these new graduates, the residencies will result in enhancements to BHL such as innovative tools, services, and best practices to trigger the development of BHL v.2, while providing users with improved interfaces, data discovery, and database connections.

We are now accepting applications for the five resident positions. For more information, visit the vacancies posting page here. To apply, click here.

You can learn more about the program on the IMLS website or the BHL public wiki.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Nicolas-Edme Roret: Insects and Natural History Manuals

Atlas des insectes, composé de 110 planches, représentant la plupart des insectes décrits dans le Manuel d'histoire naturelle et dans le Manuel d'entomologie. Digitized by Library of Congress.

By: Tomoko Steen
Science Section
Science, Technology and Business Division 
The Library of Congress

Atlas des insectes, composé de 110 planches, représentant la plupart des insectes décrits dans le Manuel d'histoire naturelle et dans le Manuel d'entomologie [Translation: Atlas of insects, consisting of 110 plates, representing most of the insects described in the Natural History Manual and the Manual of Entomology] was digitized from the Library of Congress (LC)’s collection on May 1st, 2012 by the Internet Archive and included in the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL).

Atlas des insectes, composé de 110 planches, représentant la plupart des insectes décrits dans le Manuel d'histoire naturelle et dans le Manuel d'entomologie. Digitized by Library of Congress.

One of the oldest publications scanned from the LC’s collections and added to BHL, this early natural history publication includes 110 plates of various insects. The publisher, Nicolas-Edme Roret, is a French publisher most known for an important series of manuals (Encyclopédie Roret or Manuels Roret), which are dedicated to diverse subjects including science, art, crafts, culture, and more. Atlas des insectes illustrates many of the insects described in Pierre Boitard's Manuel d'entomologie, ou Histoire naturelle des insectes (1828) - which it was meant to accompany - as part of Roret's Manuels. The text and plates were republished as new editions within L'Encyclopédie Roret in 1843 and 1844 (respectively).

Atlas des insectes, composé de 110 planches, représentant la plupart des insectes décrits dans le Manuel d'histoire naturelle et dans le Manuel d'entomologie. Digitized by Library of Congress.

Roret moved to Paris while he was a still young man to work in the library of his brother, Pierre-Jean Ferra. In 1815, he obtained a position at a large library of the Palais Royal, in Arthus-Bertrand, where he was assigned to be the chief clerk. He then moved on to become a bookseller and a licensed publisher in 1820 (license No 1419). In 1822, with his experience as a licensed publisher, Roret became an editor and published a variety of natural history books. His projects were often funded by his cousin Pierre Deterville, another bookseller and publisher. Deterville held rare natural history texts including those of Buffon (1707-1788), Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Roret also edited and published Suites à Buffon (also issued under the title of Nouvelles Suites à Buffon), which involved naturalists such as Pierre André Latreille (1762-1833), Charles-Nicolas-Sigisbert Sonnini Manoncourt (1751-1812), Charles-François Brisseau Mirbel (1776-1854), Louis Augustin Guillaume Bosc (1759-1828) and René Richard Castel Louis (1758-1832).

Atlas des insectes, composé de 110 planches, représentant la plupart des insectes décrits dans le Manuel d'histoire naturelle et dans le Manuel d'entomologie. Digitized by Library of Congress.

Reference: Bulletin des Bibliothèques de France : 1997 - Paris, t. 42, n° 02.; Le Vitrail et les traités du Moyen Âge à nos jours. Corpus Vitrearum. XXIIIe colloque international. Tours 3-7 Juillet 2006.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Expanding Access and MiBio team members present at the annual Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Meeting

The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries hosted its 48th Annual Meeting in Cleveland, Ohio May 24-28th, 2016.  With perfect weather and a packed schedule, members were kept busy experiencing a number of different museums, attending meetings and hosting member presentations and speakers.  Tours of the Cleveland Botanical Garden, West Side Market, Great Lakes Science Center, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Dittrick Museum of Medical History, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Herb Society of America, and the Holden Arboretum allowed attendees to gain a well-rounded sense of Cleveland’s landscape.

Photo credit: Jennifer McDowell

The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL) is made up of organizations, institutions and individuals from around the world.  It was created to initiate and facilitate communication between those focused on libraries and botanical and horticultural literature and dates back to November 13, 1969 when the first conference convened in Boston, Massachusetts.  It was more formally founded the following year at the Second Conference.  Members of CBHL include the Denver Botanical Gardens Helen Fowler Library, Michigan State University Libraries, the Morton Arboretum and many others.  Some BHL affiliates and partners are also a part of CBHL including the Missouri Botanical Garden, the New York Botanical Garden, and the California Academy of Sciences Library.

One of the member presentations was titled “Towards better accessibility to biodiversity knowledge: The Biodiversity Heritage Library as a platform for content sharing and discovery” and included two different presentations on two BHL projects.  The first was the Expanding Access to Biodiversity (EABL) team members: Mariah Lewis and Patrick Randall.  This presentation, which is now available online, covered topics such as timeline, funding, scope, copyright, digitization, metadata, curation, and the benefits of participation. 

Following this was William Ulate who presented on Mining Biodiversity (MiBio).  While Expanding Access aims to bring more content into BHL, Mining Biodiversity is dedicated to transforming BHL into a next-generation social digital library resource that not only gives access to users, but also facilitates study and discussion of legacy scientific documents.  This international collaboration is a project rooted in helping users locate information within BHL easily and efficiently while fostering collaboration.  The presentation can be viewed here.  Members were also able to access and test the search interface and leave valuable feedback for the project. 
William Ulate, Patrick Randall, and Mariah Lewis present at CBHL
Photo Credit: Bill Musser

The two presentations were met with an extremely positive response from attendees and facilitated wonderful conversations about the Biodiversity Heritage Library, Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature, and Mining Biodiversity.  Expanding Access was able to talk with a number of future contributors about the project and are looking forward to working with them to add their content into BHL!

Special thanks to our spectacular hosts: The Cleveland Botanical Garden and The Holden Arboretum and CBHL for allowing us to present!

It’s the Canopy Walk at the Holden Arboretum! 
Photo credit: Mariah Lewis

Want more information on the Expanding Access project?  Interested in being one of our contributors?  Please email Patrick Randall at for more information!  An Expanding Access team member will be present at ALA’s Annual Conference.  If you would like to talk about the project in-person in Orlando next week please email Mariah Lewis at  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Diving into Marine Biodiversity & Coastal Ecosystem Research

On the eastern coast of Florida, about 120 miles north of Miami, there's a very special research center. It serves as a field station specializing in marine biodiversity and Florida ecosystems, especially that of the Indian River Lagoon - one of the most biologically-diverse estuaries in North America. The center serves as a destination for scientists around the world who are interested in studying the extraordinary biodiversity in the area as well as ocean and coastal processes at large.

Aerial view of the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit and the Smithsonian marine Station.

This center is the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, and its mission is to "support and conduct...scholarly research in the marine sciences, including collection, documentation and preservation of south Florida's marine biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as education, training, and public service."

The Smithsonian has had a presence in Fort Pierce since 1969. While the station and facilities have grown and evolved tremendously over the past four decades, a $10 million donation from Suzanne and Michael Tennenbaum in 2012 launched a project that further expands the Station's contributions to worldwide coastal marine biodiversity and ecosystem research.

Entitled the Tennenbaum Marine Observation Network (TMON), the project establishes "the first worldwide network of coastal ecological field sites" and "will provide an unprecedented understanding of how marine biodiversity is affected by local human activities and global change, such as ocean warming, acidification and rising sea levels." The Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce was named one of five field sites in the project, which aims to incorporate an additional ten new sites within the next decade.

Dean Janiak, Biologist, TMON/MarineGEO, Smithsonian Marine Station at Ft Pierce.

Dean Janiak has served as a biologist on TMON and the related Marine Global Earth Observatory (MarineGEO) program at the Fort Pierce Marine Station for the past year and a half. Before joining the station in Florida, he served as the Head Technician in the Benthic Ecology lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Maryland. With a B.Sc. in Biology from Humboldt State University and an M.Sc. in Marine Sciences from the University of Connecticut, Janiak has a passion for marine ecology, invasion biology, and life histories - a passion which attracted him to the position in Fort Pierce.

"I would consider myself a general marine ecologist with a particular interest in how marine invertebrate communities are both formed and maintained in space and time," explains Janiak. "When we travel out into the field and see communities of animals living in close proximity to each other, we could assume that they just randomly arrived there and have made a living. However, most species actually have gone through a harrowing adventure to get to where they are. Besides how they got there, the animals themselves are unbelievably diverse. I would argue that within ½ meter 2, in many parts of the ocean you could find more diversity than any zoo or aquarium could ever show you. Because of this, much of my interests are in not only why communities look the way they do but also what species or groups of species make up these communities. In particular, I do a lot of research in an unusual type of habitat - artificial habitats (e.g. docks, marinas, seawalls, etc.) - which are actually pretty common. While they tend to have a positive effect for those installing them (storm protection, recreational boating), we have little knowledge on how they function in terms of the animals on them and how they contribute to the overall system. For example, a large percentage of non-native species are found in these types of habitats, and one of the topics I am interested in is the consequences of these species spreading into more pristine, native habitat like seagrasses or reefs."

Such research is dependent upon information contained within published literature.

"In my opinion, there is no way to do science of any kind without having a solid background on what has been done in the past," affirms Janiak. "Unlike past history where we must learn from our mistakes in order to be successful, the sciences allow us to learn from our accomplishments. Each species is unique in its evolutionary journey and should be treated as such. Identifying a species and learning about how that species makes its living requires an extensive use of the library system."

Traditionally, access to historic literature can be difficult to obtain, even for researchers working at institutions with extensive library collections such as those that Janiak has access to through the Smithsonian Libraries. While Janiak is quick to point out that he benefits enormously from the e-journal subscriptions and robust ILL services offered by the Smithsonian, being stationed in Florida, away from the library base of his home institution, means that his opportunity to access the Library's physical collections are limited. Even the speediest ILL services inevitably introduce delays into the research process. The Biodiversity Heritage Library (of which Smithsonian Libraries is a founding Member), however, is revolutionizing scientific research, providing researchers across the globe with free and immediate access to the information and publications they require to study life on Earth.

"BHL is a great resource for trying to find things that have typically been forgotten by most," applauds Janiak. "[It provides access to] literature that would be otherwise impossible to find or know that it even existed.  From a research perspective, I use BHL as a starting to point to find taxonomic information on a particular species or group that I am working on. As we move closer and closer to new age molecular approaches to identifying species, we are losing people who can simply look at an animal and tell you what it is, why it is that, and the interesting way that it makes a living. I think that much of this knowledge would be lost if BHL was not trying to keep this information available."

Rockworm (Marphysa sanguinea). An example of one of the species found in the Indian River Lagoon. Image Credit: Dean Janiak.

In particular, BHL has proven to be a useful resource for the TMON project, providing information that supports research on global change.

"TMON has at its core to understand biodiversity and how it changes through time," explains Janiak. "I think that we are all aware that the climate is changing, and it is natural for change to occur. There are built-in positive and negative feedback loops that allow the climate to do so. I think the problem is that this change is happening at a rapid rate and we, in a single generation, can see this happening. It is therefore important to have access to a biodiversity library that has done so well to document the past, as this is vital to our understanding of the future."

Thanks to the free online access to biodiversity literature provided by BHL, combined with the extensive resources offered by the Smithsonian Libraries, Janiak has the information he needs to follow his research passions.

"I have always been career-minded and have also always wanted to be a part of something special with the caveat that it must come with a constant challenge. I think that the Smithsonian has not only offered me that but has also given me the opportunity to build a career with all the resources that I would need plus that relentless challenge that keeps me engaged and excited each day. It’s essentially like the popular kid at school asking you to play in their sandbox; you never want to leave."

This post may contain the personal opinions of BHL users or affiliated staff and does not necessarily represent the official Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) position on these matters.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Update: Smorball and Beanstalk Access Restored

UPDATE: Access to BHL's two online games, Smorball and Beanstalk, has now been restored. Thank you for your patience. Start playing today and improve access to BHL's books and journals by helping to correct our OCR (optical character recognition). Learn more.

Below Posted 2 June, 2016:

BHL's two online games, Smorball and Beanstalk, are temporarily unavailable while we transfer the domains to a new registrar. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience. We will provide notification via this blog, Twitter, and Facebook once access to the games is restored.

You can learn more about our games, and how they help improve the discoverability of BHL books, in this past blog post. To date, over 5,000 people have played the games and over 140,000 words have been typed. Thank you so much to all of our players and for your contributions to help improve access to biodiversity literature!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

BHL at 10 Notable Books Collection

2016 marks the 10th anniversary of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. We kicked off our year-long celebrations with our #BHLat10 campaign in April, highlighting our history, growth, and milestones. As part of that campaign, we also highlighted the Top 10 Viewed and Top 10 Downloaded books in BHL.

We're continuing the celebrations with the launch of our BHL at 10 Notable Books Collection. For this collection, our Members, Affiliates, and Partners each nominated a favorite or noteworthy title that they have contributed to BHL. These include rare, monumental, and groundbreaking publications that have helped shape the field of natural history and biodiversity research for centuries.

And there are indeed many remarkable titles in the collection. We invite you to dive into the collection by browsing through the books in the slideshow below. Click on the link on each image to explore the entire book, or browse the whole collection here.

We'll be highlighting all of the books in this collection via social media throughout the rest of 2016. Follow #BHLat10 all year to learn more about the noteworthy contributions from our Members, Affiliates, and Partners, as well as to join our celebration of BHL's 10th anniversary.

Happy Birthday, BHL!