Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Report from the MBLWHOI Library: BHL Supports the Research of Recent Catherine N. Norton Fellows

The MBLWHOI Library is a founding BHL institution. This post is a brief look at how two of the Library's most recent Catherine N. Norton Fellows have used books from BHL's collection to support their research.

Beatrice Steinert

In 2016, Beatrice Steinert, a recent BA in Biology (2016) from Brown University, was an inaugural Catherine Norton Fellow. Steinert’s project, in conjunction with the History of the Marine Biological Laboratory Project, studied Edwin Grant Conklin's (1863-1952) work in embryology and cell biology.

Conklin documented the stages of embryo development in the marine slipper snail Crepidula fornicata using a camera lucida device. The camera lucida projects the image of a specimen being viewed through a microscope onto paper, which can then be drawn. Steinert duplicated Conklin’s work also using a pencil and a camera lucida. This painstaking process involves successively focusing on portions of an image, thereby gathering 3 dimensional visual data.

Beatrice Steinert speaking at the MBLWHOI Library about drawing cells of marine slipper shells (photo: Matthew Person).

Steinert used both physical texts and BHL content to inform the above mentioned duplication of experimental work performed almost 120 years ago. Conklin’s handwritten Johns Hopkins University digitized doctoral dissertation, The embryology of Crepidula (1891), can be contrasted with the later published full version of the same title (Journal of Morphology v.13 (1897)), by which time Conklin held a professorship in comparative embryology at Johns Hopkins University. Plate IV below is an interesting example of the finished drawings produced using Conklin’s camera lucida sketches.

Stages of embryo development of the marine slipper snail Crepidula fornicata. Conklin, Edwin Grant. Journal of morphology. v. 13 (1897). Digitized by Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library.

To get a sense of how Conklin worked with a microscope and what he thought about the role of drawing in observational practice, Steinert points to the "Notes and Drawings" section within Conklin’s Laboratory Directions in General Biology:

“Even though this was written [after the publication of his thesis] (there is no date on it, but I think it was written somewhere around 1905-1915) and for pedagogical purposes, it briefly describes in Conklin's own words his approach to seeing/observing through the microscope. Since my project was all his visualization of development in Crepidula, this work was helpful in understanding his process.” 

Regarding Conklin's scientific illustration, Steinert writes:

“While drawing by hand is no longer necessary to generate images of developing embryos, its role as an aid to observation, either from photographs or specimens themselves, still makes it a valuable and relevant skill. Especially for those wanting to learn or develop observation skills, drawing greatly enriches the experience of interacting with an embryo. It actively engages the hand in the act of seeing, heightens spatial awareness, and draws the eye to subtle details that may otherwise be overlooked.” 

Beatrice Steinert’s sketches from Conklin’s Crepidula fornicata slides (Photo by: Beatrice Steinert).

To learn more about Conklin's process and Steinert's work, see this fascinating video produced by the news website STAT:

This video and an accompanying article (by Hyacinth Empinado at STAT News) were published in STAT and Scientific American on February 22nd, 2017.

Sean Cohmer 

Sean Cohmer is the 2017 Catherine Norton Fellowship recipient. He is a PhD candidate and historian at the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University. Cohmer studies how the act of making choices about what to bring into the laboratory was rooted in a dramatically shifting context in the late 19th and early 20th century.

As an illustrative example, Cohmer looked closely at the marine organisms that Thomas Hunt Morgan was manipulating and putting under the microscope in the late 19th century before he turned to studying fruit flies. Morgan received the Nobel Prize in 1933 for his work in genetics.

Sean Cohmer speaking at the MBLWHOI Library about Thomas Hunt Morgan (photo: Matt Person).

Cohmer writes:

“I continually look to the Biodiversity Heritage Library for early work published by Thomas Hunt Morgan in the 1880s and 90s. For example, Morgan’s dissertation work was on the embryology and phylogeny (evolutionary relationships) of three genera of sea spiders commonly found in and around Woods Hole, Massachusetts. These were Pallene empusa, Phoxichilidium maxillare, and Tanystylum orbiculare
During this era of scientific publication, scientists commonly included lithographic plates as 'fold outs', which typically were diagrams or illustrations. What is so impressive and useful about the books digitized by MBLWHOI Library for the Biodiversity Heritage Library is that they have digitized full-page scans of these wonderful lithographic plates from the original publications. Many other libraries have chosen not to digitize these fold outs and so have missed an opportunity to fully represent the original publication in its entirety. For this reason, I look to the BHL first when doing research in the history of science.”

Morgan’s doctoral dissertation: "Contribution to the embryology and phylogeny of the Pycnogonids." From Studies from the Biological Laboratory v.5:1 (lithograph) Plate 4 (1891). Digitized by the MBLWHOI Library.

As Cohmer points out above, the care that BHL has taken to scan all of the “cover to cover content” in books and journals is noticed by researchers who expect digitized copies to reflect the full content of a physical book.

About the Catherine Norton Fellowship

Cathy Norton. Founding Vice-Chair of the Biodiversity Heritage Library and former Director of the MBLWHOI Library.

The late Cathy Norton was the founding vice-chair of the BHL and the Director of the MBLWHOI Library (of the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution). Funding for the Norton Fellowship was endowed by Cathy’s colleagues, friends, and family soon after her passing. The Fellowship celebrates Cathy’s commitment to sharing knowledge and information, her ability to inspire, her “just do it” attitude (an attitude veteran BHL staff members still fondly recall), and her love of a challenge.

The digital History of the Marine Biological Laboratory Project is a collaboration between the MBLWHOI Library and the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University. The Project, which celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2017, reflects a decades-long collaboration between Cathy Norton and Professor Jane Maienschein (Director of the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University). This relationship promoted history of science research from the physical library stacks to the digital realm in very much the same way the BHL has done for the global corpus of legacy biodiversity literature.

By: Matthew Person
Technical Services Coordinator
Marine Biological Laboratory 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cats & Women: Why the Connection?

This blog post incorporates research conducted for an upcoming digital exhibition called "Wild Mouser to Household Pet: A History of Cats in Science and Society, 1858 to 1922." Click here to check out the exhibition and book collection

Cats and women have long been connected in the public imagination. From ancient Egypt, to the Middle Ages, to the turn of the twentieth century, to the present – there has been an association between felines and femininity.

Gos., De Voogt. Our Domestic Animals: Their Habits, Intelligence, and Usefulness (1907). Painting by Henriette Ronner-Knip. Digitized by the Library of Congress.


One of the most glaring examples of this connection is the choice of pronouns used to describe cats. These examples from nineteenth and early twentieth century books illustrate the tendency to use feminine pronouns for cats:

"If a cat is seen to wash her face with vigor, it is going to be stormy, and if she sits with her back to the fire, it predicts cold weather." [1]  
"The cat has been called the 'perfect pet,' and not without justice. Pussy has always had her friends and her foes; her ardent admirers and her extreme detestors. Faults she has, no doubt, but the lack of an affectionate regard for the person who befriends her is not, as has been alleged, one of them. Though less demonstrative than the dog, the quiet rubbing of her fur against one’s person is no less indicative of supreme regard." [2] 

Conversely, dogs were usually referred to with masculine pronouns.

“Crazy Cat Lady” Trope 

Another example of the link between cats and women is in the ‘crazy cat lady’ trope. In Our Domestic Animals, Their Habits, Intelligence, and Usefulness (1907), the phenomenon is described:

“Yet in certain cities of every country we find persons who push their passion for cats to excess; generally, it must be said, they are elderly dames [women], who establish asylums where neglected, lost, or sick cats may find a refuge. Sometimes these asylums are organized in a practical and sufficient manner, in which case the motive that provided them is laudable; but often they are mere nests of disease and objects of scandal to the neighborhood.” [3] 

This ‘crazy cat lady’ troupe is linked to earlier beliefs in the connection between femininity, witchcraft, and cats. The tradition has also continued on into the twenty-first century: it is common for people to joke about single women who live with cats as crazy or scandalous.

James, Robert Kent. The Angora Cat; How to Breed, Train and Keep It. (1898). Digitized by the Library of Congress.

Cat Shows 

Evening public ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 12 Dec. 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

On the other side of the spectrum, women have also been associated with cat shows. The first United States National Cat Show took place in 1871. Women’s societies organized cat shows to raise money for charities, often animal welfare organizations. Newspaper articles from the time announce the upcoming shows and list the names of the exhibitors and organizers, who were mainly women. These shows also incorporated new scientific theories about heredity and breeding, as cat enthusiasts sought to selectively breed cats to develop particular traits, especially coat length and color.

Edna B. Doughty and Louise Grogan with Persian cats. 1920s. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Mrs. A.McAllister and "Smoke Persian" cat. Ca. 1910-1915. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Another interesting visual representation of the connection between women and cats comes in the photography of Arnold Genthe (1869-1942). In the early twentieth-century, Genthe photographed many celebrities in his studio, posing them with his cat Buzzer. Click here to check out more photographs of Buzzer.

Miss Anna Holch with Buzzer the cat, portrait photograph. Ca 1913. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

But why was there a connection between women and cats? 

In his book, The Cat: An Introduction to the Study of Backboned Animals, Especially Mammals (1881), St. George Jackson Mivart shares one theory:

"The cat also is favoured by that half of the human race which is the more concerned with domestic cares; for it is a home-loving animal and one exceptionally clean and orderly in its habits, and thus naturally commends itself to the good will of the thrifty housewife." [4]

He highlights aspects of cat’s behavior that are seen as feminine in his day: domestic tendencies and cleanliness.

Another possible interpretation involves the intelligence and disposition of cats. In her text, Everybody’s Cat Book (1909), Dorothy Bevill Champion hints at a relationship between women and cats. She writes:

"Cats are very sensitive in disposition, and can easily be frightened by harsh treatment…" [5] 

This description would have been in line with stereotypical descriptions of women. On that same page she writes:

"After the many cases I have seen of cat intelligence, I can only say, if a cat is stupid it is want of education." [6] 

Reading these two quotes together, we see that Champion is making a claim about both cats and women. A central debate of the women’s movement during this time was whether women were as intelligent as men. Many argued that women’s shortcomings were due to less access to education, and not because they were less intelligent. Champion’s claim can therefore be read as a defense of both women and cats.

James, Robert Kent. The Angora Cat; How to Breed, Train and Keep It. (1898). Digitized by the Library of Congress.

Also, cats and women tended to be linked and compared with dogs and men.

“I class the Cat and the Dog to be as distinct in their individuality and with as much difference as you see existing between man and woman." [7] 

For more information about comparisons between cats and dogs, see this blog post.

In the end, these examples show that by the start of the twentieth century, the connection between women and cats was prevalent.

Here are some books about cats written by women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They are digitized on the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

*For more information about domestic cats in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see the digital exhibition "Wild Mouser to Household Pet: A History of Cats in Science and Society, 1858 to 1922." 

[1] Jacob Biggle. Biggle Pet Book: A Collection of Information for Old and Young Whose Natural Instincts Teach Them to be Kind to All Living Creatures. 1900. Page 56.
[2] Thomas Earl. Pets of the Household; Their Care in Health and Disease. 1895. Page 155.
[3] Gos. De. Voogt. Our Domestic Animals, Their Habits, Intelligence and Usefulness. 1907. Page 83.
[4] St. George Jackson Mivart. The cat: an introduction to the study of backboned animals, especially mammals. 1881. Page 1.
[5] Dorothy Bevill Champion. Everybody’s Cat Book. 1909. Page 15.
[6] Dorothy Bevill Champion. Everybody’s Cat Book. 1909. Page 15.
[7] Marvin Clark. Pussy and her language. 1895. Page 51.

By: Madison Arnold-Scerbo 
Junior Fellow Intern - Science, Technology, & Business Division 
Library of Congress, Washington DC

Monday, July 24, 2017

Cats & Dogs: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Perspectives

This blog post incorporates research conducted for the digital exhibition, "Wild Mouser to Household Pet: A History of Cats in Science and Society, 1858 to 1922." Click here to check out the exhibition and book collection!

Dielman, Frederick. “Uncle Tobey and the widow.” Library of Congress Prints & Photographs.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States and Europe, cats were just beginning to be seen as household pets. Previously, they were viewed as biological specimens for medical study, muses for literature, and mousers that roamed around killing rodents. The way that people saw cats often involved a comparison with dogs. But how different are these two species? How did people perceive of those differences and similarities in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?


Gos., De Voogt. Our Domestic Animals: Their Habits, Intelligence, and Usefulness (1907). Digitized by the Library of Congress.

Authors compared cats and dogs in order to claim their favorite as superior. For example, in Domesticated Animals, Their Relation to Man and His Advancement in Civilization (1895), Nathaniel Southgate Shaler wrote:

Cats deserve some mention for the reason, that, while they are the least essential, and on the whole the least interesting, of domesticated animals, they have had a certain place in civilization. They afford, moreover, a capital foil by which to set off the virtues of the dog [1]. 

Clearly, Shaler is fond of dogs. He highlights one of the starkest differences between cats and dogs: their usefulness. While dogs were domesticated by humans to perform a variety of tasks such as hunting, cats never had much of a purpose beyond “mousing” (catching rodents, especially on farms with grain storages). This limited purpose led to less variation in cat breeding. However, cat enthusiasts still did breed and exhibit purebred cats.

Huidekoper, Rush Shippen. The Cat: A Guide to the Classification and Varieties of Cats and a Short Treatise Upon Their Care, Diseases, and Treatment (1895). Digitized by the Library of Congress.

Mrs. A. McAllister and Smoke Persian Cat, Bain news Service Publisher, ca.1910-1915.


Another point of dissention between cat and dog fans was which was more intelligent. Most believed that dogs were smarter. Author Dorothy Champion sums up the common beliefs and her take:

How often one hears the remark, ‘How stupid cats are!’ or, ‘Cats cannot compare with dogs for cleverness.’ This is a point on which many people make a great mistake… I have come to the conclusion that an uneducated cat has far more brains than an uneducated dog. Doubtless the dog is easier to teach, as he can be made to do things, whereas the cat is of an independent disposition [2].  

Those trying to counter the belief that dogs were smarter had to fiercely defend the intellect of the cat and provide examples to bolster their claim. A common way to do so was to cite their ability to remember how to get from one location to another, even across long distances. However this ability was also turned into a fault, with some authors claiming that cats are more attached to locations than they are to people.

Biggle, Jacob. Biggle Pet Book: A Collection of Information for Old and Young Whose Natural Instincts Teach Them to be Kind to All Living Creatures (1900). Digitized by the Library of Congress.


Another element of comparison between cats and dogs was the extent of their domestication. There are a few ways to approach this topic. One way is to go back and study their original shift from wild to domesticate. New scientific studies using ancient DNA are uncovering clues about the origins of this shift [3]. While the exact details are debated, everyone agrees that cats were domesticated more recently than dogs. In fact, twentieth century authors questioned whether or not cats really have been domesticated at all:

He never was but half-domesticated at best, and while he is a universal favorite with children because of his furry coat and look of seeming intelligence, he is yet essentially a wild animal, almost incapable of true domestication. He has lost little of his innate savagery, and as a relentless foe of birds he has really become an enemy to our civilization[4]. 

While this account is definitely one of the more severe critiques of cats, the sentiment that cats remained wild and were posing a threat to wildlife was gaining popularity in the beginning of the 1900s.

Another way to approach the topic of domestication has to do with nineteenth century conceptions of domesticity. Cats were believed to have a particular affinity for the home, and became associated with the household, and by extension, women. Conversely, dogs were known to travel outside with their owners, tagging along for masculine activities like hunting.

For more information on the link between cats and women in this time period, see this blog post.

Gos., De Voogt. Our Domestic Animals: Their Habits, Intelligence, and Usefulness (1907). Digitized by the Library of Congress. (Look carefully to see the small kitten curled up beside the large dog).

By comparing their usefulness, intelligence, and domestication, nineteenth and early twentieth century authors debated the merits of cats and dogs in very similar ways that we do today.

Click the links below to access fully digitized volumes of the books mentioned in this post:

Frees, Harry Whittier. “A joy-ride” (1914). Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

*For more information about domestic cats in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see the digital exhibition “Wild Mouser to Household Pet: A History of Cats in Science and Society, 1858 to 1922.”

[1] Nathaniel Southgate Shaler. Domesticated Animals, Their Relation to Man and His Advancement in Civilization (1895). Page 50. Emphasis added.
[2] Champion, Dorothy Bevill. Everybody’s Cat Book (1909). Page 13. Emphasis added.
[3] See for example, Ottoni, C. et al. The palaeogenetics of cat dispersal in the ancient world. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 1, 0139 (2017).
[4] Davenport, Eugene. Domesticated Animals and Plants: A Brief Treatise (1910). Page 235. Emphasis added.

By: Madison Arnold-Scerbo 
Junior Fellow Intern - Science, Technology, & Business Division 
Library of Congress, Washington DC

Friday, July 21, 2017

BHL activities at the 2017 American Libraries Association Annual Conference

BHL Program Director, Martin R. Kalfatovic, attended the 2017 American Libraries Association Annual Conference in Chicago, IL during the week of 22-26 June 2017. In this post, he provides an update on BHL activities at the conference.

BHL activities at the 2017 American Libraries Association Annual Conference
By: Martin R. Kalfatovic

I met with staff at the Field Museum Library, Christine Giannoni and Diana Duncan. We had a chance to catch up on the latest activities of the Field on behalf of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (of which the Field is a founding member). I also had a chance to catch up with Rusty Russell, ‎Director, Gantz Family Collections Center. Rusty, previously Head of Collections, U.S. National Herbarium (Smithsonian Institution), has been a long-time supporter of the BHL and one of the main drivers behind the Smithsonian's Field Book Project. Rusty also gave a personal tour of the Field's spectacular new exhibition, "Specimens: Unlocking the Secrets of Life", which provides wonderful context to the importance of natural history collections.

Russel (left) & Kalfatovic (right)

Diana Duncan

Esquivel (left) & Rehbein (right)
A highlight of the Conference was visiting the ALA Poster Sessions and talking with the BHL National Digital Stewardship Residents who presented a poster on 25 June entitled "Improving Access to the Biodiversity Heritage Library: Halfway Remarks by National Digital Stewardship Residents". Ariadne Rehbein (based at the Missouri Botanical Garden) and Alicia Esquivel (Chicago Botanic Garden) presented the poster on behalf of their fellow NDSR residents (Marissa Kings, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County; Pamela McClanahan, Smithsonian Libraries; and Katie Mika, Ernst Mayr Library at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology). NDSR mentor, Leora Siegel (Senior Director, Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden) also dropped by the poster session. Read more about the Residents in Chicago in BHL NDSR at ALA.

OCLC 50th Anniversary Celebration
Attending the OCLC 50th Anniversary Celebration in the spectacular setting of the Adler Planetarium provided an excellent opportunity to speak with colleagues from around the country as well as senior OCLC staff.

Internet Archive at ALA
I also attended a session organized by the Internet Archive to hear the team discuss OpenLibraries -- a project that will enable every US library to become a more digital library. The goal is to work with library partners and organizations to bring 4 million books online, through purchase or digitization, starting with the century of books missing from our digital shelves. The plan includes at-scale circulation of these e-books, enabling libraries owning the physical works to lend digital copies to their patrons. This will enable thousands of libraries to unlock their analog collections for a new generation of learners, enabling free, long-term, public access to knowledge. I also had a chance after the session to catch up with long-time BHL supporter Brewster Kahle and Wendy Hanamura (Director of Partnerships at the Internet Archive and lead for the Internet Archives' partnership as a BHL Affiliate).

Hanamura (left) & Kahle (right)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

CBHL 2017: Expanding Access visits the Twin Cities

The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries met for its annual conference in Chaska, Minnesota this year.  The conference, which took place June 5th through June 9th, was attended by three Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature team members: Susan Fraser, Susan Lynch, and Mariah Lewis.  

Tuesday the team hosted a pre-conference workshop titled “Contributing to a National Digital Infrastructure, with Help Every Step of the Way.”  The workshop was attended by both members of CBHL and those outside CBHL who were interested in the Expanding Access project.  The training covered a variety of topics including collection development, the Digital Public Library of America, metadata, imaging standards, BHL related tools and defining articles within BHL. The three-hour session was well attended and some attendees are expected to contribute to BHL in the upcoming months while others have already added content through Expanding Access.  Check out the Lloyd Library and Museum’s contributions here!


Tuesday evening, after a day of committee meetings, the opening reception kicked off the annual CBHL meeting.  A wonderful evening of hors d'oeuvres allowed members to reconnect and meet the ten first time attendees.  

The next day was spent at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, a quick drive past Prince’s Paisley Park.  Kathy Allen, this year’s host and the Librarian at the Andersen Horticultural Library, welcomed CBHL members and introduced the Arboretum Director, Peter C. Moe, who gave a thorough, informative and interesting introduction to the Arboretum.  This was followed by a presentation about the Arboretum’s education programs by the Director of the Education Department, Tim Kenny.  

The next presentation of the day followed David Bedford’s experiences with apple breeding at the University of Minnesota.  A Senior Research Fellow at the Horticultural Research Center, Bedford took the audience through a history of apple migration and how exactly we get those delicious apple varieties we see in the grocery store.  Notably, the University of Minnesota has developed such apple varieties as Honeycrisp, Regent, and SweeTango.       
Wednesday afternoon was spent touring the garden and the Andersen Horticultural Library. Following this was a tram ride around 3-Mile Drive and a stop in at the newly constructed Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center, which has been open less than a year.  The Center was created to be both an educational and outreach project in association with the University of Minnesota’s world-renowned bee research.
Thursday the attendees ventured to the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities.  The morning kicked off in the Wangensteen Library of Biology & Medicine, where tours of the stacks and a rare book showing were given.  Later, members were able to tour the Weisman Art Museum and spend time in the Dear Darwin exhibit.  The crew then walked across the Mississippi on their way to the Elmer L. Andersen Library.  

The early afternoon was spent between two activities.  The first was a presentation on the University of Minnesota’s Children’s Literature Research Collection which included a viewing of original artwork by Anne Ophelia Dowden, Betsy Bowen, and Phyllis Root.  The second activity was a tour through the Minnesota Library Access Center- the cavernous storage facility that can hold up to 1.4 million volumes.  With shelves standing 17 feet tall, items are shelved by size and retrieved by forklift.  Later that afternoon there was a panel discussion of Collection Stewardship.
After the group’s time at the University of Minnesota, they traveled to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, taking advantage of the range of art and artifacts in the wonderfully-curated exhibits.  Also nearby was “Eat Street.”  Covering seventeen blocks, Eat Street incorporates a number of different culinary styles, flavors and atmospheres.


On Friday, the annual meeting returned to the Andersen Arboretum.  After a morning of business meetings, a joint CBHL/Friends of the Andersen Horticultural Library Luncheon was held.  CBHL members were able to enjoy the company of the Friends of the Library, who had graciously helped secure the luncheon speaker, and furniture designer legacy Mira Nakashima.  Reflecting on the life and career of her father, master furniture designer George Nakashima, and the current pieces the company is now working to create, Mira Nakashima’s presentation allowed the audience to travel with her into her memories.  After lunch Mira Nakashima led small group tours of the Andersen Library’s Nakashima furniture collection.  

That afternoon, there was an Arboretum Behind-the-Scene bus tour where participants were able to see more than just the main area.  This included seeing the apple orchards referenced in an earlier presentation and the home of the osprey family that stars in the University of Minnesota Osprey Cam.  

The conference concluded after the Annual Literature Award Ceremony and Banquet.  Each year, after the presentation of the awards and during the banquet, the members enjoy a final speaker and the book raffle.  

This year’s banquet speaker was Dr. David Zlesak.  An Associate Professor of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin, the presentation focused on the plant introduction pipeline.  This follows the life of new varieties from planning and breeding to marketing and selling.

Eight member presentations were given throughout the week.  A chance to share institutional projects with other members, the topics included plant information, children’s literature diversity, film crews in archives, Wikipedia edit-a-thons, bookplates, book reviews, lost gardens, and a new collection management system at the Morton Arboretum.  

To read more about the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Annual Conference, check out the September issue of the CBHL Newsletter.  

By Mariah Lewis
Metadata Specialist
Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature
The New York Botanical Garden

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

2016 BHL Annual Report

The 2016 BHL Annual Report is now available!

Find out how our collections grew and audiences engaged with our library in 2016, learn more about some exciting new projects, and explore impact stories from users across the globe. Read the report now!

You can also get the latest updates from BHL in our newsletters. Explore past newsletters here and subscribe to our mailing list here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

NDSR Residents Mid-Year Update

We officially passed the halfway point in our residencies in June and have begun to work on compiling our research into a final report. We are excited to bring you some project updates and report on our conference presentations. 

Bon Jovi GIF - WereHalfwayThere WereLivinOnAPrayer BonJovi GIFs

Pam’s individual user survey is now live and collecting responses to help BHL improve the user experience. Her last update describes the characteristics that make up the different BHL user groups:(1) Consortium Users; (2) System Users; and (3) Individual Users.

1. Consortium Users:  A contributor to BHL including Members, Affiliates, Partners, staff, and volunteers

2. System Users:  Organizations or individuals who interact with BHL for the purpose of enriching another system via APIs (Application Programming Interface) or manually

3. Individual Users:  Anyone visiting the BHL website to search for information to answer their research needs such as, scientists, collection managers, librarians, etc.
For her NDSR project at Smithsonian Libraries, Pam will be gathering feedback from the users of BHL to help inform the next version of the digital library. She’s had the opportunity to meet with several partners of BHL and sit in on BHL Member, Collection, and Tech Team meetings. Through these interactions, she has been able to learn more about the BHL users and will be developing surveys and interviews to gather feedback directly from the users. Moving forward, BHL looks to enhance current features and implement new features that will enrich the user experience, providing additional insight into the world’s knowledge of biodiversity. Investigating user needs with BHL may also prove useful in identifying user behaviors and preferences that would be applicable for other digital libraries as well.

CoderGirl Program Director, Crystal Martin, welcomes Summer 2017 students on the first night of the program! About 100 students total are participating on various tracks.

Last week, Ariadne joined the CoderGirl UX (User Experience) Summer 2017 Cohort. CoderGirl is a technology training program and community for women in St. Louis that is part of the LaunchCode Education initiative. Participation is free; mentors working in the field offer their time to teach on a volunteer basis. The UX track is a 6 month program designed to grow skills in UX research and design in a supportive, creative, and diverse environment. The track centers around the development of a project that will serve as a UX portfolio.

Beyond this, Ariadne is focusing on interviewing BHL Flickr taggers and Science Gossip members to understand the successes and challenges of these programs and the motivations and backgrounds of participants. Most importantly, Ariadne hopes to convey their  perspectives as she makes recommendations for improving access to natural history illustrations and BHL’s future crowdsourcing/citizen science initiatives.

Marissa has been working with several summer interns at NHMLAC to create and edit metadata for the museum’s publication Contributions in Science. This process has involved much fine-tuning, but establishing a clear workflow is important as the museum hopes to contribute more of its in-house publications to BHL in the future!

This project is also timely as the museum’s invertebrate paleontology department is in the process of digitizing some of their thousands of specimens and specimen records, and Marissa has been in contact with them to see how we can possibly connect the digitized specimen information with their occurrences in biodiversity literature.

Contributions in Science articles in their natural habitat
In May, Katie participated in WikiCite 2017, a conference, summit, and hackathon event organized for members of the Wikimedia community to discuss ideas and projects surrounding the concept of adding structured bibliographic metadata to Wikidata to improve the quality of references in the Wikimedia universe. Generating Linked Open Data citations has the potential to connect objects and concepts with information resources to create context for more accurate and interesting digital representations of knowledge and cultural heritage. And more complete and complex graphs are better at supporting deeper investigations, queries, and visualizations of these data across repositories, collections, and knowledge bases.

One way that GLAMs can begin to integrate their catalog records with Wikidata (and therefore across Wikimedia projects and other repositories across the web that are connected to Wikidata), is by using its power for reconciling messy data. One of the biggest problems with BHL bibliographic metadata is that it comes from lots of different libraries and museums and is often as old and outdated as the content it describes.

For example: BHL attaches Creator IDs to Author names, which is useful for identification and connecting titles and items to their Authors, but they are assigned automatically according to the character strings imported from specific fields in a library catalog’s MARC record. Despite (and perhaps because of) the use of authority files to control Author name strings in catalog records, different libraries have contributed items by the same author whose names are are spelled, punctuated, and identified differently. The process of finding all of the different spellings of author names and colocating them under a single unique identifier is called “reconciling”, and BHL does not do it, choosing instead to focus on improving access to items based on content rather than metadata. Fortunately, there are several different ways to go about reconciling data, and one of them is crowdsourcing.

BHL can use Wikidata to tell its users that “Packard, Alpheus S” (Creator ID: 82636), “Packard, A” (Creator ID: 59850), “Packard, A S” (Creator ID: 48286), “Packard, A. S. (Alpheus Spring), 1839-1905” (Creator ID: 1592), and “Packard, Alpheus Spring” (Creator ID: 56087) are all the same person without editing spellings or legacy metadata from the catalog record. While some of the reconciling can be done computationally using (still more) authority files like VIAF, it often misidentifies strings and isn’t very helpful when an author is not in that particular database. These errors are best caught by humans, who Wikidata invites to directly edit mistakes and add identifiers.

BHL can use Wikidata by adding a property for a BHL Creator ID in Wikidata (P4081) and adding a table in BHL for Wikidata IDs that can be associated with those same Creator IDs. By adding BHL IDs to Wikidata, it becomes a more robust knowledge base that will improve the discoverability of BHL’s content by enriching its metadata externally and solving some metadata problems internally.
Subscribe to the BHL NDSR blog for an upcoming post that will describe this process in more detail.

Alicia attended the Inaugural Digital Data in Biodiversity Research Conference sponsored by iDigBio, the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, the University of Michigan Herbarium, and the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology in June. The conference brought together biodiversity researchers, data providers, data aggregators, collection managers, and librarians to talk about creating digital biodiversity data, sharing this data, and using it in research.


The presentations, posters, and workshops highlighted research trends in biodiversity and projects that have open access missions similar to BHL’s. She was able to give a talk about using statistical analysis to calculate the size of biodiversity literature (using capture-mark-recapture) and present a poster about visually representing the collection at BHL.

And in June, we represented BHL and NDSR at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. The conference, hosted by the American Library Association, was held to discuss, learn, and exchange ideas about libraries on the theme “Transforming Our Libraries, Ourselves.” With 25,000 attendees, masses of sessions and talks, and a mountain of freebies, ALA can be an overwhelming experience — we managed to find our way and learned about different library projects and trends from around the country.

One of our main goals was to present our “Halfway Remarks” poster on behalf of all of the BHL NDSR Residents. Alicia Esquivel of the Chicago Botanic Garden and Ariadne Rehbein of the Missouri Botanical Garden attended and presented.


All of us Residents are thankful for the opportunities we have had to attend and present at conferences during the first half of our residencies. Our next professional meeting will be the BHL tech meeting in September where all of the Residents and Mentors will join the BHL Technical Team in St. Louis to discuss our findings of best practices and recommendations for BHL.