Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Serendipitous Discovery of Susan Fereday: A Story about the Impact of Citizen Science

By Siobhan Leachman 
BHL Citizen Scientist (Learn more
Twitter: @SiobhanLeachman

Self Portrait, Susan Fereday. National Library of Australia. Source: WikiCommons.

I love volunteering for the Biodiversity Heritage Library. I taxo tag images in the BHL Flickr account. This assists the use of these images by BHL as well as other institutions that use BHL content. It is also my favorite way of exploring BHL. I get a real thrill out of the serendipitous discoveries I make while tagging.

My most recent BHL adventure resulted from tagging an album of images from the boringly named but absolutely fabulous Botany of the Antarctic voyage of H. M. discovery ships Erebus and Terror in the years 1839-1843. Amongst the many images in this album was one of a particular species of seaweed - Nemastoma feredayae.

Nemastoma feredayae. Art by William Henry Harvey. The botany of the Antarctic voyage of H.M. discovery ships Erebus and Terror in the Years 1839-1843. Digitized by the Missouri Botanical Garden.

I tagged the image with the species name given, and then I attempted to confirm the current name of the seaweed. In doing so, I stumbled across the fact that the seaweed was named in honor of Mrs. Susan Fereday. Who was this mystery woman?

Unable to resist going down that rabbit hole, I googled her. I discovered that Susan Fereday emigrated to Tasmania, Australia from England in 1846. She was a talented artist. So talented, her artwork is now in the collection of the National Library of Australia. She concentrated on painting beautiful images of fauna and flora in and around the area where she lived.

Hibbertia sericea by Susan Fereday. National Library of Australia. Source: WikiCommons.

She was also a keen collector of seaweed specimens. She corresponded with and sent specimens to one of the foremost experts in algae of the day, William Henry Harvey. Harvey in turn honored Fereday’s contribution to the study of algae by naming two species after her. It was the image of one of those species drawn by Harvey that I had tagged in the BHL Flickr feed.

Portrait of William Henry Harvey. Oliver, F. W. (Francis Wall). Makers of British botany. (1913). Digitized by MBLWHOI Library.

While researching Fereday, I was disappointed to see she did not have Wikipedia page. Being a keen Wikipedian, I decided to rectify this. While drafting her article, I realized that several sources had different dates as her birth date. I emailed the National Library of Australia via their “Ask a Librarian” service to ask them to help me confirm that their records were correct.

I received a fabulously researched reply from Damien Cole, one of their librarians. He discovered that the birth date confusion was due to Susan Fereday having a sister of the same name, who had died prior to our Susan being born. Fereday was actually born in 1815! As a result of this research, the National Library subsequently edited their records to give Susan Fereday her birth date, and I obtained a reputable citation supporting that information for Fereday’s Wikipedia article.

The National Library of Australia has also shared the changes they made to their database with the Australian National Herbarium as well as Design and Art Australia Online. The Library even went so far as to contact the Encyclopedia of Australian Science to inform them of the Wikipedia article in the hope that that organization might also consider including Fereday in their website.

All of this resulted because the MBLWHOI Library (the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Library) scanned the volumes on the Antarctic voyage of H. M. discovery ships Erebus and Terror and made them available to BHL. Because BHL added the images from those volumes to Flickr, I was able to tag them.

It just goes to show that when you mix citizen science with digitization and the ability to freely reuse content, everyone benefits.

I would love it if people joined me in taxotagging BHL Flickr images. Instructions can be found here.

Anyone can create or improve Wikipedia. For a beginner's guide, see this article.

And if you think you can add to and improve Susan Fereday’s article, go for it!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

DPLA Reharvest of BHL Data

On April 11, 2017 the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) reharvested all BHL data for ingest into its portal at

While BHL has served as a content hub for DPLA since its launch in 2013, our data has not been updated in their portal since that launch, primarily due to the absence of a workflow on DPLA’s end for automatically harvesting new data. Since 2013, the number of BHL records in our portal has increased significantly and changes and corrections to pre-2013 records were not reflected in the DPLA portal. This new harvest not only captures new data but also ingests updates to existing records.

View of BHL records from DPLA's first harvest--these lack the thumbnail

Before the harvest, BHL had 123,472 items in DPLA. After the reharvest, BHL now has over 187,000 items in DPLA. This not only represents a 52% increase in BHL records in DPLA, but more importantly, the quality of those records has improved and is now in sync with BHL.

From the perspective of DPLA visitors, the most noticeable change is the addition of thumbnail images, which were lacking in DPLA prior to the reharvest. Going forward, DPLA will automatically reharvest BHL data on a bi-monthly schedule.

View of BHL records from DPLA's recent harvest, which includes thumbnails
Why is it important for our data to be in DPLA? BHL wants its data represented in DPLA because it supports our mission to make biodiversity literature as openly available and accessible as possible. DPLA exposes BHL content to new audiences who otherwise may not be aware of our existence and emphasizes the richness of U.S. national collections, which helps underscore the value of libraries for both American and global citizens.

You can explore BHL’s collection in DPLA and many others here.

Trish Rose-Sandler & Bianca Crowley

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

An Update from NDSR Residents

April was a busy month for all of us residents! We attended and presented at two conferences in two different cities: first, at the 4th annual DPLAFest in Chicago and then the NDSR Symposium in Washington D.C. the following week. Our presentations at these two conferences challenged us to think in new ways and demonstrated the support that the cohort and mentor model is designed to provide. In between preparing for and presenting at conferences, we have also been progressing on our projects and at our host institutions.

L to R Ariadne, Pam, Marissa, Katie and Alicia

The NDSR Symposium was a great complement to DPLAFest, which was more of a large-scale snapshot of projects and practices in managing digital libraries. The Symposium, by contrast, felt very meta – this was past, present, and future residents, mentors, and hosts as well as IMLS staff and other individuals involved in creating and supporting the NDSR program looking inwards on what has been done and what we want the program to become in the near future. Despite the inward-focus, wider themes and issues were obviously discussed, especially by the keynote speakers, who stressed the importance of human-information interaction, community-building, and participatory leadership. We left the Symposium feeling empowered to advocate for not only the NDSR Program but also the IMLS and data preservation communities as a whole. Check out our DPLAfest and NDSR Symposium reflection blog post to learn more about our experiences and our presentations.

Ariadne’s project focuses on access to illustrations in BHL’s corpus of biodiversity literature. In her latest update, she shares lessons from conversations with Research Department staff at the Missouri Botanical Garden and with BHL stakeholders and a fundamental look into BHL’s current illustration crowdsourcing efforts on Flickr and Science Gossip. Crowdsourcing, user experience, and data curation will all play important roles in her next steps: speaking with BHL’s crowdsourcing volunteers, preparing the metadata for improved access, and hopefully, anticipating future possibilities for metadata creation.

Katie is also investigating crowdsourcing methods to transcribe manuscript items in BHL. Translating images of handwritten content into machine readable data that can be searched, sorted, and otherwise manipulated had not received much attention until crowdsourcing, citizen science, and other types of community collaboration models and platforms were constructed. Defining transcription activities is useful for understanding some of the competing elements when considering whether and how to transcribe digitized items.

Transcription helps bridge the gap between digitization and use by enhancing access through full text search, enriching metadata collection, and opening collections to digital textual analysis. Digitized natural history manuscript items are largely hidden due to the lack of item level description for most archival collections. While minimal processing is certainly the better option compared to maintaining an extensive backlog of unprocessed material, digitized handwritten documents are not discoverable based on their unique content without a machine readable facsimile. Indexing transcriptions facilitates discovery of historical records and improves catalog search results. By offering full text transcriptions, the digital collections are opened up to new types of searching, sorting, categorizing, and pattern finding. Research derived from these new data sets can illustrate changes over time across much larger magnitudes of collections and types of information resources.

Alicia got the chance to learn more about the management at a botanic garden by visiting the Living Plant Documentation department at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The CBG maintains records much like museums do, however, the collection items at CBG happen to be living (and thus can die, move, create new items, etc.). Each plant that enters the collection is given an accession number and deemed to be a member of the permanent collection or given “seasonal” status as a part of a temporary collection (like the orchids that were on view in the orchid show that closed at the end of March). This data is all managed through an internal database and used to populate the garden’s app, GardenGuide, and the web applications, What’s in Bloom and Plant Finder.

Marissa has been working on getting article metadata added to the journal Contributions in Science, a publication of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The entire run of the journal from 1957 to present has been digitized and added to BHL, but without metadata describing each individual article, the journal isn’t searchable. The process of making it searchable has involved using Python code, EndNote, and getting lots of help from BHL staff and volunteers, so stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about this work in progress!

Pam has been getting to know the BHL users and will be sharing a post on the NDSR at BHL blog soon about the different types of users working with BHL. There are three distinct groups of users - those affiliated with the BHL consortium, those who use BHL at the system level, and then individual researchers. Pam is developing surveys and will possibly use other methods as well to solicit feedback from each of these user groups. She will also be taking a close look at all user submitted feedback through the BHL website as well as Google Analytics for the BHL website. Be on the lookout for an upcoming blog post about this work!

Monday, May 15, 2017

New Designs to Help Save Biodiversity: Shop the New BHL Store Collection Today

We've launched a whole new collection of product designs in the BHL Store! Check out the new designs and start shopping today!

Products in this collection are original designs inspired by the BHL brand and created by BHL Marketing Intern Carolina Murcia.

Your purchase will have a lasting, positive impact on our planet, because 100% of the proceeds will be used to help us digitize more books for BHL. Researchers around the world rely on the information contained in books and archival materials to study and conserve biodiversity. Learn more about how BHL helps save biodiversity.

You'll find this badge in our store and on our marketing materials. It means that your purchase will help support research around the world. SHOP TODAY and help save biodiversity!

Visit the BHL New Designs collection today and do some shopping that's good for the planet.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Old Literature, New Discoveries: BHL Supports Cutting Edge Whale Research

By Grace Costantino
Outreach and Communication Manager
Biodiversity Heritage Library

In the early 20th century, the British Colonial Office and the Discovery Committee of the British Government undertook a series of major investigations into the biology of whales in the Southern Hemisphere. Using ship- and shore-based equipment (including whaling stations on South Georgia Island operated by the UK and other nations), these Discovery Investigations, as they were called, significantly advanced human knowledge of whale morphology and ecology.

The results of the Investigations were presented within the 37 volume series entitled the Discovery ReportsGroundbreaking for their time, these Reports are still important for cetacean research today.

"The data collected and published in the Reports were unique because they represented, in every case, a one-time, time-stamped opportunity to record the precise dimensions, weights, gut contents and many other details gathered as part of whaling activities," explains Dr. Nicholas Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).

Mackintosh NA, Wheeler JFG (1929) Southern blue and fin whales. Discovery Reports 1:257—510. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Pyenson has used the data in the Reports to inform several recent studies. For example, he and colleague Simon Sponberg used data on total length and adult body mass for Southern blue and fin whales, published in 1929 as part of the Discovery Reports, to help develop and test regression methods for reconstructing the body size of extinct whales. Their findings, published in 2011 in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution, provided major insight into studying the evolution of cetacean body size.

Fin whale fetus. Laws RM (1959) The foetal growth rates of whales with special reference to the fin whale Balaenoptera physalus Linn. Discovery Reports 29: 281–308. Digitized by MBLWHOI Library.

More recently, while researching the evolution of whale hearing, Maya Yamato and Pyenson used data on the fetal growth rates of whales, published in 1959 as part of the Discovery Reports, to gain insight into the maturation of the ear in baleen and toothed whales. Their research, published in 2015 in PLOS ONE, traces the development of an evolutionarily novel feature in cetaceans - the use of an acoustic funnel, rather than an ear canal, for hearing.

"The historic information in the Reports is so valuable for a variety of questions about the evolution, anatomy, and ecology of large whales," asserts Pyenson.

Dr. Nicholas Pyenson. Selfie from a seakayak in Sitka Sound, Alaska.

Pyenson has been studying marine mammals and other marine vertebrates for over 15 years. He's published pioneering research on the evolution and diversification of marine mammalian lineages and has used revolutionary techniques like 3D modeling to uncover new insights into the anatomy and transformation of this group. He's even shared some of his research during past BHL-related events, including live webcasts for the #FWTrueLove and #FossilStories campaigns.

Pyenson's scientific achievements, including the use of emerging digital tools to expand public access to fossils, earned him the coveted Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). He is the first NMNH scientist to receive this award, which is the "highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers."

While Pyenson has embraced many novel research techniques, the historic data found in publications like the Discovery Reports underpins much of his work. Thanks to the digital open access provided by the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), it's easier than ever to integrate these resources into modern research processes.

"As a free, mobile archive for natural history literature, BHL is ideal for 21st century research, which can happen on the field, in a museum, or at a coffee shop, as long as there’s internet connectivity," lauds Pyenson.

Pyenson began using BHL nearly ten years ago, and over the past decade, it has had a major impact on his - and his colleagues' - research.

"BHL supercharges the speed and efficiency of scholarly research, especially in the natural sciences where old literature sometimes contains the only information on a topic, taxon, geographic locality or collector," says Pyenson. "And because BHL is open-access, I know firsthand that many of my international colleagues have dramatically better access to the literature covered in its database than more recent journals locked behind pay-walls."

Pyenson uses BHL at least once a week, obtaining descriptions, measurements, and detailed views of morphology on fossil or modern specimens. The usability of the website, and the fidelity and quality of the scans, allow him to access and download information that is critical to his work.

"I think BHL's interface is really wonderful. The links are crisp and easy to find and share. I especially enjoy the selectivity of being able to download just a few pages or only a specific article from an issue."

Dr. Nicholas Pyenson at Cuverville Island, Antarctica. Photo credit: Martha Stewart.

Given the significant impact that BHL has had on Pyenson's work, he is anxious that more people be made aware of the vast abundance - and importance - of this free and open access collection.

"We need to get the word out. Old literature matters," asserts Pyenson.

And matter it does. As Dr. Pyenson's experience demonstrates, by providing a wealth of data on species morphology, phylogeny, and ecology, historic literature forms the foundation for the investigation of modern and ancient biodiversity. By making this content globally accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, BHL is helping to advance scientific research and inspire discovery of the natural world.

You can help support global research through a tax-deductible donation to BHL. With your help, we can continue to democratize access to information about biodiversity and empower scientific research on a global scale.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Ole Worm's Cabinet of Wonder: Natural Specimens and Wondrous Monsters

By Laurel Byrnes
BHL Outreach Volunteer

Portrait of Ole Worm (Credit: Wellcome Library, London; Creative Commons)

Ole Worm (1588-1654) was the first, and most well-known, collector in Scandinavia during the Renaissance.  In his homeland, Ole was attributed as the founder of the modern disciplines of archaeology, museology, philology, ethnology, and folklore.  Ole’s cabinet of wonder, documented in a catalog of its holdings, Museum Wormianum (which we highlight in this post), was the foundation for what would become Denmark’s National Museum.  

Ole was born in Arhus, Denmark, the son of a mayor, and went to grammar school in his hometown and then in Germany, after which he moved to Emmerich on the Rhine in 1603 to study at a Jesuit school.  He returned to Denmark but set out again in 1605 on a “grand tour” of Europe, visiting important cities, museums, and centers of learning; taking such a grand tour was popular at the time among the sons of nobleman and the newly rich.  While on his grand tour, Ole studied philosophy, anatomy, medicine and theology, acted as a private tutor, and received a doctorate in medicine in 1611 for writing a dissertation on almost all known diseases (at the time) and their cures.

It was while Ole was on his grand tour of European cities of learning and culture that he began collecting objects that would come to inhabit his cabinet of wonder--also interchangeably called cabinets of curiosity during the period, or as he referred to it in a letter, his cabinet of naturalia.  (For more on cabinets of wonder, see our blog post on Ferrante Imperato and his cabinet of wonder here).  Ole visited a well-known collector in Italy in 1609, went to Germany and saw a famous art collection, and in Enkhuizen, the famous collector Bernhard Paludanus gave Ole a coffee bean and an exotic reed--both objects obtained through foreign travels and international trade.  Cabinets of wonder during this period especially valued the exotic, objects that came from America or other faraway lands that were now accessible through foreign trade and colonialist empire-building. 

Lapis sceleton serpentis, also known as "snake-stone", found in the section on stones in Museum Wormianum here.
In the 1600s, some thought snake-stones from India could heal venomous snake bites, and snake-stones are attributed as the divine stones Homer mentioned in The Iliad that healed Philoctete's wound.
Ole continued to correspond with various European collectors who were famous for their pursuits of knowledge and virtue.  How does collecting objects make one virtuous?  The pursuit of knowledge was a virtue, and collecting physical objects aided in pursuing knowledge.  

According to the philosophy of the time, by collecting physical things that reflected God’s creative powers, one was highlighting God’s power.  And those things that were once considered monstrous in the medieval period--Siamese twins, deformed fetuses, strange creatures--now represented God’s omnipotent ability to intervene with creation and produce wondrous rarities worthy of gazing upon and studying in cabinets of wonder.  

Since Ole lived during a period after the Reformation (a break with the ways of the medieval church), scholars and wealthier individuals were able to establish themselves as creators of knowledge, collectors and curators of cabinets of wonder, studying by means of a proto-empiricism where knowledge was gained by physical experience with an object (rather than the later definition of empiricism as knowledge gained through experimentation).

Ole Worm's cabinet of wonder, from the frontispiece in Museum Wormianum.  The table in the center of the room, where the name of the book is inscribed, is where Ole would have taken down objects for himself, and visitors, to handle and observe.
(View the image here.)

After Ole returned from his grand tour, he took a position at the University of Copenhagen and was the chair of pedagogy, Greek and physics, consecutively, and in 1624 became a professor of medicine.  Around 1620 he began creating his museum, “Museum Wormianum”.  

In its nascent form, the museum contained the curiosities Ole collected on his grand tour, mostly geological and biological, along with cultural items.  The majority of his museums holdings, or “wonders”, were donated to Ole from other European collectors whom he met and with whom he corresponded and sometimes asked for items.  By the time Ole died in 1654, his museum was held in high regard and contemporaries wrote that the museum had wonderful, curious and odd rarities that were visited by famous and royal people from all over Europe.

What people in the 17th century, and prior, thought was a unicorn horn.
(View the image in Museum Wormianum here.)

During the period, people believed they could purchase "unicorn" horns to use for medicinal purposes. Having never seen a horn attached to a skull, Ole was skeptical.  When presented with this "unicorn skull" by another collector, Ole determined that it likely belonged to a narwhal, and he was correct.
(View the image in Museum Wormianum here.)

Illustration of a narwhal, whimsical but not completely accurate, in Museum Wormianum, which can be viewed here.

The reason for collecting objects from the natural world, as well as curiosities and antiquities, was to enrich visitors’ own knowledge.  In 1639, Ole wrote of his museum and its “curiosities” saying:

“I have collected various things on my journeys abroad, and from India and other very remote places I have been brought various things: samples of soil, rocks, metals, plants, fish, birds, and land-animals, that I conserve well with the goal of, along with a short presentation of the various things’ history, also being able to present my audience with the things themselves to touch with their own hands and to see with their own eyes, so that they may themselves judge how that which is said fits with the things, and can acquire a more intimate knowledge of them all.”

During this great period of collecting, a new form of literature was created: the catalog.  Collectors used catalogs of their items to promote their collections and display their own wisdom.  Ole published two catalogs (one in 1642 and one in 1645) with inventories of the wonders in his cabinet of curiosity.  However, it was the third catalog, which came to be the version of Museum Wormianum we explore today, published posthumously in 1655 that contained the most information, as well as engravings.  

The catalog is divided into four categories: minerals, plants, animals and artificialia (man-made objects); the books go in ascending order from “lowest” form of life, minerals, to “highest” form of life, animals, with the fourth category, artificialia, existing outside that context of the three kingdoms of nature.  

Man is cataloged with “animals” in Book III, along with divine monstrosities such as deformed fetuses, a giant tooth and giant skull believed to have come from an ancient race of giant humanoids.  Curiously, mummies, although they are human remains, are cataloged with “minerals” in Book I.  

Book II deals with plants, and includes a section on tree “monstrosities”, so-called because they were thought to resemble animals or other objects.

Horse mandible around which a tree has grown, found in Book III, on Animals (including man), in Museum Wormianum.
(View the image here.)

Book IV, De artificiosis, discusses man-made objects in the collection, including both contemporary-but-exotic items like bows, arrows and tobacco pipes from America, and antiquities like Roman and Danish jewelry and metal weapons from India and Norway.  

Two of the most amazing man-made creations were wooden automata created by contemporaries: mus rotis actus, a wooden mouse covered with a mouse hide that operated by means of internal clockworks; and statua librata pondere mobilis, a human automaton made of wood with flexible limbs that could imitate human movement by means of a wheel crank.  This figure was dressed in clothes believed to be worn by native peoples in America and given a spear to hold, and is clearly visible in the frontispiece to the book in the middle of the image of Ole’s cabinet of wonder (see image below).  

If one views the objects in the frontispiece to Museum Wormianum from right to left, the order of objects mirrors the order of the same objects as they are listed in the books that comprise this work.

Humanoid automata, visible in the frontispiece to Museum Wormianum here, could run around and pick things up.  It was dressed to represent what the creator thought native people in America looked like, and held a spear.

Ole Worm inspired future generations of collectors and multitudes of visitors to his cabinet of wonder by showing them curiosities they likely never would have seen otherwise.  For Ole and many of his contemporaries, these items were outward symbols of the divine creative powers of God and of the powerful knowledge and virtue possessed by the scholar who collected them.   

Interesting Facts:

Ole was considered a great academe and writer in Europe after publishing a compendium on Danish runestones in 1643, called Danicorum Monumentorum Libri Sex.  To create this work, he sent artists around the Danish kingdom to accurately sketch the monuments and their engraved runes.

In attempting to create a book of medieval Icelandic sagas, Ole worked with a prominent Icelandic historian, Arngrimur Jonsson; when both men had no luck finding the sagas, Arngriumur told Ole that he heard of an old woman who lived on a distant coast who knew about the medieval sagas and could perhaps retell them, and that they could send a poet to her to have them written down.  There is no record of any success in this venture.

During his grand tour of Europe, Ole had an autograph book which he filled with the signatures of famous cultural figures, including professors and dignitaries, whom he met during his travels. 

Shop Objects of Wonder in the BHL Store

Ole Worm's cabinet of curiosity is one of the many wonders you can find in our Objects of Wonder BHL Store collection

Shop today to bring some curiosities home with you.

100% of the proceeds from the sale of products in the store are used to digitize more books for BHL. Learn how these books help save biodiversity.


Barroso, M.D.S. (2013). Bezoar stones, magic, science and art. In Duffin, C.J., Moody, R.T.J., & Gardner-Thorpe, C. (Eds.), A history of geology and medicine (pp. 193-208). London: The Geological Society.

Grice, G. (2015). Cabinet of curiosities: Collecting and understanding the wonders of the natural world. New York, N.Y.: Workman Publishing.

Hafstein, V. (2003). Bodies of knowledge: Ole Worm & collecting in late Renaissance Scandinavia. Ethnologia Europaea 33(1), 5-20.

Hoskin, D. (2015). Born on this day: Ole Worm -- collector extraordinaire. Victoria and Albert Museum Blog. Retrieved from

Meier, A. (2013). Ole Worm returns: An iconic 17th century curiosity cabinet is obsessively recreated. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved from

Richards, S. (2012). The world in a cabinet, 1600s. The Scientist. Retrieved from

Monday, May 8, 2017

BHL Goes to Chicago for DPLAfest2017

For two days in April, a group of librarians, archivists, developers and other members of the digital library community came together in Chicago for DPLAfest, an annual conference organized by the Digital Public Library of America. Focuses of this year’s conference included collaboration across institutions, public engagement, social justice, metadata quality, and the use and reuse of open access content. The BHL has been a content hub for DPLA since its launch in 2013, and we were excited to participate in this year’s conference.

The conference was hosted by the Chicago Public Library, the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, Chicago Collections, and the Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS). The CPL’s beautiful Harold Washington Library Center served as the location of the conference.

Members of the DPLA community in the Harold Washington Library Center's winter garden

In addition to attending our colleagues’ presentations and workshops, members of the BHL community were part of the schedule. On day one, Adriana Marroquin, project manager of the BHL Field Notes Project, was part of a group of lightning rounds held in the library’s auditorium. The group covered a compelling array of topics, including collecting oral histories, digitizing scrapbooks, tracking the use of digital content, and the reuse of open access material for art installations and cultural events. (A full list of the topics is available on the DPLA schedule.)

The lightning round group on day one of DPLAfest included
a presentation on the BHL Field Notes Project

The BHL lightning talk centered on the Field Notes Project’s collaborative nature, its goals and progress, and the way project partners work together to overcome some of the particular challenges involved. With 11 partners across the Unites States, we have to handle several different time zones, workflows tailored to each institution’s needs, and unique field note collections. The project’s solutions to these challenges could be summarized in four key points: embracing digital communication tools to counteract geographic dispersal, being flexible to accommodate each partner’s needs, being consistent in our work, and tapping into the built-in group knowledge and experience that comes with a collaborative project. Many of these build off of BHL’s day-to-day solutions to the challenges of a global consortium, and can also be applied to collaborative projects of any size and topic.

Adriana Marroquin, project manager of the BHL Field Notes Project, presenting at DPLAfest 2017

On day two, mentors and residents from the "Foundations to Actions: Extending Innovations in Digital Libraries in Partnership with NDSR Learners" project gave an hour-long presentation to DPLAfest attendees. All five of the BHL NDSR residents – Alicia Esquivel of the Chicago Botanic Garden, Marissa Kings of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Pamela McClanahan of Smithsonian Libraries, Katie Mika of Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, and Ariadne Rehbein of Missouri Botanical Garden – were all in attendance.

L-R: Marissa Kings, Leora Siegel, Trish Rose-Sandler,
Pamela McClanahan, Alicia Esquivel, Katie Mika, Ariadne Rehbein

The BHL-NDSR presentation touched on the DPLAfest themes of digital libraries and open access content and collaboration across types of institutions. Mentors Trish Rose-Sandler (Missouri Botanical Garden) and Leora Siegel (Chicago Botanic Garden) introduced the BHL, NDSR, the purpose of the program and its timeline, and their roles as mentors. Next, each Resident had 7 minutes to explain their core goals, challenges, activities, and context for their work. The Residents managed to hone all the complexities and research they have conducted into pithy talks that were clear to folks totally new to BHL and their projects. Before the day of the presentation, they practiced together in a study room at the Harold Washington Library, sharing feedback and reducing nerves. On the day of, it was wonderful to interact with the audience (laughter, questions, and applause!) as well as speak with some attendees from the NDSR community! View the final presentation on the DPLA site.

The BHL NDSR residents answer questions from the audience

The BHL would like to thank DPLA and our hosts in Chicago for bringing this group of digital library professionals together to interact face-to-face. We appreciate the opportunity to learn from our fellow digital library colleagues, hear about other amazing projects, and to discuss how we accomplish our own projects through collaboration and team work. We can’t wait for next year!

Further reading:
DPLAfest recap on the NDSR at BHL blog
Biodiversity Heritage Library at DPLAfest 2015

The BHL Field Notes Project is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).

The "Foundations to Actions: Extending Innovations in Digital Libraries in Partnership with NDSR Learners" project is a National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) program led by BHL and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Thursday, May 4, 2017

George Engelmann’s Botanical Notes Can Now Be Seen!

By Randy Smith
Metadata librarian and Senior image technician, Peter H. Raven Library, Missouri Botanical Garden

The Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), a partner in the Biodiversity Heritage Library Field Notes Project, has spent the last year digitizing the notebooks of George Engelmann.

George Engelmann assisted Henry Shaw, MBG’s founder, in establishing the Garden’s research arm and corresponding library. He arrived in Belleville, Illinois, sometime in the 1830s but soon moved to St. Louis where he set up practice as a physician. In the 1840s, Engelmann began corresponding withand became a close friend and colleague ofAsa Gray at Harvard University, one of the best known botanists in the United States. This relationship, combined with his passion for plants of the newly opened American west, would lead to Engelmann becoming the principle coordinator for botanical collecting west of the Mississippi River.

Figure 1 from notebook 1, folder 1. George Engelmann : botanical notebook 1. Cistaceae, Violaceae. [Undated].

Setting up a trifecta of American botanical exploration with Gray at Harvard and John Torrey at the Smithsonian, Engelmann became an avid and knowledgeable botanist as he corresponded with Gray and Torrey to direct various westward explorers. He collected over 98,000 botanical specimens which were donated to MBG upon his death. Combined with 62,000 botanical specimens purchased in 1857 for Shaw from the Bernhardi Herbarium, originally in Germany, these two collections formed the foundation of the MBG herbarium. Engelmann also helped establish the St. Louis Academy of Sciences.

The BHL Field Notes Project is the third time George Engelmann’s collection has been accessed for scanning. In 2010, MBG received a grant to complete a project called Digitizing Engelmann’s Legacy, and another in 2013 to digitize Engelmann’s correspondence. With this latest project, MBG is able to provide access to much of Engelmann’s botanical notebooks.

Figure 2 from notebook 25, folder 9. George Engelmann : botanical notebook 25 : Cuscuta. Box 11: Folder 9: Cuscuta. (1860-1875).

The notebooks were dismantled sometime in the past and housed within folders placed in boxes. His 58 notebooks are spread out over 27 boxes and comprise over 14,000 individual items. Not wanting to waste paper, Engelmann often wrote his notes on the back of correspondences, prescription slips, official documents, etc. Among his copious note taking are many botanical drawings likely depicting the specimens as he saw them.

Please feel free to browse Engelmann’s notebooks as they continue to be digitized and uploaded to the Biodiversity Heritage Library and Botanicus.

The BHL Field Notes Project is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Spring Migration Notes...By a Murderer

By Gretchen Rings
Reference & Interlibrary Loan Librarian
The Field Museum

On November 5, 1950, The Field Museum [the Chicago Museum of Natural History at the time] Curator of Mammalogy Colin Sanborn received an extraordinary letter, which began as follows:

Dear Colin, 
I should like to make a rather unusual request of you. Some twenty-five years ago I gave the then Field Museum several specimens from my bird collection. Included among them was a habitat group of Kirtland's Warblers, consisting of the two adults and four nestlings in the nest, mounted by Ashley Hine...I know that the Museum used to have souvenir photograph postcards of many of its mounted groups on sale to the public. Could you find out for me whether such a photo was ever made of this Kirtland's Warbler group, and if so, let me know how I can get one?

It wasn't the request itself that was so unusual: individuals (or their descendants) frequently inquired about a specimen donated to the museum. It was the letter's author, in this case, that made it stand out: Nathan Leopold, Jr. Prior to becoming part of the infamous duo Leopold and Loeb, convicted for kidnapping and murdering Bobby Franks, a 14-year-old neighbor, Leopold had been a birder and ornithologist. Writing from prison in Joliet, Illinois, he hoped to receive a photograph of a group of specimens he'd donated as a very young man.

In addition to specimens from Loeb--The Field Museum also has a Cooper's hawk and a Praying Mantis--the Library owns one of only a couple of known extant copies of a booklet called Spring Migration Notes of the Chicago Area that Leopold helped compile. He was just 15-years-old at the time the booklet was published.

Watson, James D, George Porter Lewis, and Nathan Freudenthal Leopold. 1920. Spring migration notes of the Chicago area. [Chicago]: [G.W. Lewis Pub. Co.]. Digitized by the Field Museum of Natural History Library.

Joshua Engel, a research assistant in the Field Museum's Integrative Research Center writes, "This little booklet has so much history, it's hard to know even where to begin. Let's start with the fact that the first author, James D. Watson, is the father of one of the most famous scientists of the 20th century, also named James D. Watson, who along with Francis Crick is credited with the discovery of the structure of DNA. But that's the least of it. The third author is even more intriguing. A budding young ornithologist, Nathan Leopold would spend the bulk of his adult life in prison for the murder of Bobby Franks, one of the most famous crimes of the 20th century."

James D. Watson the younger describes how his father met Leopold, "It was in Jackson Park in 1919 that Dad had met the extraordinarily talented but socially awkward sixteen-year-old University of Chicago student Nathan Leopold, who was equally obsessive about spotting rare birds. In June 1923, Leopold's wealthy father financed a birding expedition so Nathan and my dad could go to the jack pine barrens above Flint, Michigan, in search of the Kirtland warbler. In their pursuit of this rarest of all warblers, they were accompanied by their fellow Chicago ornithologists George Porter Lewis and Sidney Stein, and in addition by Nathan's boyhood friend Richard Loeb, whose family helped form the growing Sears, Roebuck store empire."

The Field Museum's copy of Spring Migration Notes of The Chicago Area, published in 1920, is now stored in the Mary W. Runnells Rare Book Room. Because of its historical value, it was added to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, including the type-written, hand-signed letter on page four from young Nathan Leopold to Ruthven Deane, a leading ornithologist of his time and a resident of Chicago, who eventually donated part of his collection of specimens to The Field Museum (as Leopold did when he went to jail). The cover of this copy even says "Compliments of the authors," presumably written by Leopold.

Watson, James D, George Porter Lewis, and Nathan Freudenthal Leopold. 1920. Spring migration notes of the Chicago area. [Chicago]: [G.W. Lewis Pub. Co.]. Digitized by the Field Museum of Natural History Library.

Aside from the fascinating backstory, there's the actual information that the booklet contains, a priceless indication of what the birdlife of Chicago was like in the early part of the 20th century. At the time, many wetland birds that are now rare or altogether gone as breeding birds were still common, an indication of the destruction of wetlands in the Chicago area over the last century.  This includes birds like Black Tern (about which the authors say "Breeds commonly"), King Rail ("Common summer resident"), and Wilson's Phalarope ("Nests in the Calumet region").

On the other hand, grassland birds were already declining, with many formerly common birds becoming rare. For example, Greater Prairie-Chicken was "A formerly abundant permanent resident; now rather rare," Northern Bobwhite was "A formerly very common permanent resident, but now rather rare," and Loggerhead Shrike, which then was known as Migrant Shrike, was a "Fairly common summer resident." These days you have to go hundreds of miles from Chicago to find Loggerhead Shrike or a prairie-chicken.

Additionally, there are spring arrival dates for every species each year from 1913-1920.

Colin Sanborn's reply to Leopold must have been disappointing. He writes on 20 November 1950: "Your group of Kirtland's warblers were never photographed and in fact have never been on exhibition." Sanborn goes on to write about his own activities in a breezy, newsy tone, e.g., birding, giving talks to a local ornithological society, etc. In other words, no mention of the fact that the letter he's responding to is signed by infamous prisoner #9306-D.

Leopold spent 33 years in prison until his parole in 1958. Active in the Natural History Society of Puerto Rico, Leopold traveled throughout the island for birdwatching and in 1963 he published Checklist of Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. He died of natural causes in Puerto Rico in 1971 at the age of 66.

As for the Kirtland warblers--happily, they are making a comeback. According to Joshua Engel, "The species has made an incredible comeback, from a low of about 200 singing males in the early 1970s to over 2000 today. It's likely to be removed from the endangered species list in the next few years."

Kirtland Warbler specimen, Field Museum Zoology collection. Photo Courtesy of Joshua Engel.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

BHL Booth at the Earth Optimism Summit

​This Earth Day weekend, the Earth Optimism Summit in Washington, D.C. celebrated conservation successes and fueled discussions about how to expand conservation impact. Organized by the Smithsonian, the three-day event (21-23 April) brought together representatives from a wide array of fields for a series of presentations relaying over 100 conservation success stories. The Summit also included a public Innovation Commons event featuring exhibits showcasing the ways that a variety of organizations and projects support conservation and help protect biodiversity.

BHL booth at the Earth Optimism Summit in Washington, DC, 21-23 April 2017. Image credit: Grace Costantino.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library participated in the Innovation Commons with a booth highlighting the many ways that BHL helps save biodiversity by supporting research around the world. Over the three days of the Summit, staff from BHL, Smithsonian Libraries, and the Library of Congress (both BHL Member libraries) shared BHL resources and impact stories with over 250 visitors. As the Innovation Commons event was open to the public, booth staff interacted not only with Summit attendees, but also members of the public, including participants of the March for Science on 22 April.

Amy Zhang (left; BHL intern at Library of Congress) and Carolyn Sheffield (right; BHL Program Manager) at the BHL booth on 22 April 2017. Image Credit: Martin Kalfatovic.

Using posters showcasing BHL's impact on conservation and user stories from around the world, as well as through hands-on demos using the laptop and ipads at the booth, staff introduced many new people to BHL's collections, tools and services. Many visitors expressed awe and appreciation for the wealth of biodiversity resources available to them through BHL, with more than one person expressing disbelief that they had previously been unaware of BHL's existence.

Tomoko Steen (left; Senior Research Specialist, Science, Technology, and Business Division, Library of Congress) and Martin Kalfatovic (right; BHL Program Director) at the BHL booth on 22 April. Image credit: Martin Kalfatovic.

BHL also partnered with Scientific Collections International for booth content. SciColl is a global consortium devoted to promoting the use and impact of object-based scientific collections across disciplines. Last September, BHL participated in SciColl's Food Security Workshop at the National Agricultural Library, which brought together stakeholders to talk about the ways that scientific collections (including literature) can support food security. Booth staff distributed brochures summarizing the results of this workshop.

Bonnie White (left; Library Technician, Smithsonian Libraries), Carolyn Sheffield (center; BHL Program Manager) and Grace Costantino (right; BHL Outreach and Communication Manager) at the BHL booth on 21 April. Image credit: Barbara Ferry.

We would like to extend a special thanks to each volunteer who helped share BHL's free and open collections with Earth Optimism visitors. Smithsonian Libraries staff at the booth included Kristen Bullard (Librarian), Barbara Ferry (Head, Natural and Physical Sciences Department, SIL), Gil Taylor (Supervisory Librarian), Bonnie White (Library Technician), and Sue Zwicker (Librarian). Library of Congress staff at the booth included Tomoko Steen (Senior Research Specialist, Science, Technology and Business Division) and Amy Zhang (BHL intern at LoC). BHL staff at the booth included Grace Costantino (BHL Outreach and Communication Manager), Martin Kalfatovic (BHL Program Director and Associate Director, Digital Programs and Initiatives, SIL), and Carolyn Sheffield (BHL Program Manager).

Grace Costantino at the BHL booth on 23 April. Image credit: Sue Zwicker.

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in the Earth Optimism Summit and demonstrate the ways that BHL's free resources can help support conservation efforts around the world!

Martin Kalfatovic (left) and Carolyn Sheffield (right) at the BHL booth on 22 April. Photo credit: Martin Kalfatovic.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Worcester Country Horticultural Society

In the fall of 1840, in Worcester, Massachusetts, two dozen attendees of the Worcester Agricultural Society's Annual Cattle Show put on a display of local fruits and flowers. The attention it received led to the creation, in 1842, of the Worcester County Horticultural Society (WCHS), the third oldest active society of its kind in the United States.

The logo of the WCHS, from Transactions, 1912
(image in the public domain,
from Wikipedia)

Today, the WCHS is based at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, which it established in 1986. While many things have changed since the era of its founding 175 years ago, the WCHS continues to "inspire the use and creation of horticulture to improve lives, enrich communities and strengthen commitment to the natural world." The history of this effort is documented in the Transactions of the Worcester County Horticultural Society, which is available in BHL's collection through the work of the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project. Thank you to the WCHS for sharing this valuable publication with BHL and its users.

History of the WCHS

"It is truth, TRUTH—and the Universe was framed to corroborate it—that of all employments, none is better than the Culture of the Earth, none more independent, none more pleasant, none more worthy the dignity of Man!"

On September 19, 1840, several men gathered for the purpose of establishing a society that would do for horticulture what the Worcester Agricultural Society had done for agriculture: the "mutual improvement in [its] theoretical and practical branches." The Agricultural Society's Annual Cattle Show was chosen as the venue for an initial exhibition. Prior to the show itself, ads were placed in area newspapers soliciting contributions from the gardens and orchards of the public. The exhibit opened the day before the Cattle Show, to popular acclaim and the chagrin of the elder society, which was in danger of being upstaged. A host of new members was admitted (membership was $1), and the nascent horticultural society entered a period of steady growth. 

The "Surpasse," one of the peaches on display at
the Exhibition of 1846, from
The Peaches of New York (1917)
From the beginning, regular exhibitions were the main occupation of the WCHS. Strict rules governed the creation of these exhibits and the conduct of the committees appointed to organize them. Nevertheless, George Jaques lamented in the Transactions (1847):

It may pour balm into some wounds, in certain quarters—wounds which Time—that physician, so eminent for the thorough course that he pursues with his patients—may have failed of healing, to acknowledge the sinfulness of some of the Committees, in venturing upon an infringement of the above Rules, in so far, as to procure the concurrent testimony of the palate, as well as that of the eye, in regard to the character of the subjects of their examination.

What Mr. Jaques was admitting, however obliquely, is that committee members were tasting the wares meant for display—bad behavior that, according to the Report on Fruit for the Annual Exhibition of 1847, was not evident in the public:

Notwithstanding the hall was constantly thronged with visitors, and many hundreds of samples of beautiful and tempting fruit within reach of every one, yet all seemed to feel and act as if it was placed there to be examined with the eye only. No instance of pilfering, and but little unnecessary handling of the fruit, was known to occur.
The first Horticultural Hall, from
Transactions, 1891-1892
(image in the public domain,
from Wikipedia)

In 1851, the WCHS built Horticultural Hall, its first permanent residence, on Front Street in the heart of Worcester. Horticultural Hall served as the home of the society until 1928, when the society built a larger structure—with the same name—on Elm Street, just a few blocks away. The second hall served the society until 1983, when it purchased a 132-acre parcel of land in Boylston. Here, at Tower Hill Farm, it created Tower Hill Botanic Garden, its present home.

Exhibits were the primary activity of the WCHS in its first century. While many of the varieties of fruits and vegetables named in the Transactions are no longer familiar, a few have become staples in the U.S. The Report on Vegetables for the Annual Exhibition of 1847 notes the presence of a novel cultivar: 

A solitary specimen of the Cauliflower, as a peculiar species of the Cabbage, was introduced by Mr. D.W. Lincoln, probably to remind the spectators of that esculent, which is said by a recent author, to have "furnished epicures of all countries with some of their greatest luxuries." 

Similarly, the Committee was pleased to see common potatoes, which were not yet a mainstay of the American diet.

In addition to detailed accounts of each year's Exhibition, the Transactions records the effects of larger historical and climatological events on horticulture: the Annual Report of 1864 reports that owing to the outbreak of the American Civil War, there was no Annual Exhibition in 1861; the Transactions of 1942 documents the effects of rationing during World War II; and the Report of Judge of Plants and Flowers of 1963 records the effects of the severe drought that gripped Massachusetts for most of that decade. 

Photo of the Systematic Garden at Tower Hill
(image in the public domain, from Wikipedia)
The Transactions also documents the decline of estate gardens (and the exhibitions they supported) in the 1940s commensurate with the rise of industrial agriculture, large-scale co-ops, and decreasing barriers to foreign imports. Changing with the times, the WCHS eventually shifted its focus to the smaller gardens that most people cultivate today. Tower Hill Botanic Garden still hosts flower shows and grows vegetables and fruit, but it also offers year-round educational programming, including a variety of gardening classes.

In the preface to the Transactions of 1847, George Jaques wrote, "The Horticultural Association, it should be borne in mind, is still but a nursery plant, and these few leaves can give only a faint idea of what its foliage, flowers, and ripened fruits may be in the years to come." He could not have imagined that 170 years later, the work of the WCHS continues, and that the "nursery plant" has become a garden.

Patrick Randall
Community Manager
Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature


"Farming in the 1940s." Wessels Living History Farm. Accessed April 19, 2017.

"History and Mission." Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Accessed April 19, 2017.

"Life in the year 1842, when the Worcester County Horticultural Society began." Tower Hill Botanic Garden. (March 1, 2017).