Thursday, February 16, 2017

Expanding Access at ALA Midwinter


Last month, two Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature (EABL) team members attended ALA Midwinter as exhibitors. The conference was held in downtown Atlanta, Georgia from January 20th until the 23rd, minutes away from where the Atlanta Falcons won entry into Super Bowl LI. Patrick Randall and Mariah Lewis were among other first-time exhibitors and spread the word about the IMLS National Leadership Grant Project. The weekend was full of fantastic conversations with librarians from a number of different institutions. Not only were new possible EABL contributors reached, it was also a great chance for those who were unfamiliar with BHL to check it out.


During the weekend, Mariah attended a discussion group for Digital Special Collections. The session focused on a number of projects being done by multiple different institutions, including projects on early American cookbooks, using Omeka for student exhibits at the University of Florida, interactive touch tables in archives, finding ways to get professors to interact more closely with collections of primary source material, and a project that didn’t intend on being digital.  The presentation led to a discussion of the tools used in digital projects and how to be knowledgeable about their operation while keeping up with the constant updates and changes.

On Tuesday, January 24th, Expanding Access hosted a training session at the Cherokee Garden Library, one of the institutions participating in Expanding Access.  


The Cherokee Garden Library is located at the Atlanta History Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1975 by Anne Coppedge Carr, the library was born out of the the Cherokee Garden Club. The collection now holds 32,000 objects—from books and manuscripts to landscape drawings and photographs. Covering topics from garden history to horticulture and plant ecology, the collection emphasizes the southeastern United States and provides a window into the journey of botany and horticulture throughout history.  In 2005, the Cherokee Garden merged with the Kenan Research Center, also at the Atlanta History Center.  The Expanding Access team is honored to help continue Carr’s philosophy of allowing use and access of the treasures within the collection.   

BHL Program Director Martin Kalfatovic was gracious enough to give a thorough introduction to BHL that drew local wildlife also interested in BHL to the conference room windowthough the inclusion of our avian friend on the project is still under review.  Under the supervision of the curious cardinal, the training session focused on content selection and curation and allowed staff at the library to get hands-on experience with BHL’s curation tool.       

Left to right: Staci Catron, Library Director; Mariah Lewis; Jennie Oldfield, Cataloger & Archivist

While the Atlanta History Center may seem like an unlikely place for biodiversity content to be held, EABL is very excited to include the wide variety of biodiversity-related materials held within this inspirational institution.  Stay tuned for more information on the wonderful contributions from the Cherokee Garden Library, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center!


"About the Cherokee Garden Library." Atlanta History Center. Accessed February 10, 2017.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

'What’s in a Name?' Launched at Harvard Museum of Natural History

Why are names important in science? What is the difference between scientific names (also known as Latin names or taxonomic names) and common names? Why do some species have multiple names? The grant project team for What’s in a Name, supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), set out to find answers and develop exhibits and other ways for anyone to explore this phenomenon. With millions of different species to identify and understand, the process of naming organisms helps scientists organize and understand the tree of life. The physical and virtual results of this exploration creatively demonstrate how scientists identify and name species, how names relate to scientific research and the progression of knowledge, and how museum specimen collections play a crucial role in the process of naming.

Why would something be called “Fried Egg jelly fish”, and also be known as Phacellophora camtschatica?

Image of the Fried Egg Jelly courtesy of gpapadop79 - Own work, CC BY-SA4.0,

Scientific names take the form of “Genus species”. Scientific names serve to distinctively identify an organism and also to show evolutionary relationships. The genus links the organism to its evolutionary relatives while the species name demonstrates its uniqueness (not unlike the family and first name convention of many people in North America). Organisms also have common names. Common names can be confusing—for instance a “Robin” in the United States is a completely different bird than a “Robin” in Europe, but if the scientific name is used, confusion can be reduced via the name unique to the organism.

The system of binomial nomenclature is used to assign species with their two-part Latin names. Carl von Linné (1707 – 1778) established a system of tiered taxonomic classification, which assigned species formal names, in the 18th century. His classification is outlined in his book, Systema Naturae. His purpose was to reduce confusion from the proliferation of common names by supplying a unique name to each organism that also displayed potential relationships with other organisms. The names were formulated from Latin words. Linné even Latinized his own name and is now best known by that name: Carolus Linnaeus.

From the What's In a Name PDF, page 32: "Carl Linnaeus gave the European Honeybee its name, Apis mellifera, which is Latin for “honey-bearing bee.” By some accounts, Linnaeus later became dissatisfied with the name he bestowed and argued to change it from Apis mellifera, to Apis mellifica, or “honey-making bee.” His mistake, he argued, was that bees make honey within the hive; they do not bear it from the flower. His argument was presumably unsuccessful as the bee still bears the erroneous name." Image: A European Honeybee, Apis mellifera, visiting a flower that is dusting it with pollen. (JJ Harrison, CC BY-SA 3.0).

Species may be discovered by scientists poring over specimens in a museum or someone exploring an area rich in biodiversity. It is not necessary to be a scientist to name a new species but scientific names must conform to rules laid out by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature and the International Code for Nomenclature for algae, fungi and plants. Names can reflect a characteristic of a species (Peromyscus leucopus-white-footed mouse) or can be named after a person or location (Mandelia microcornata-a nudibranch named for Nelson Mandela). Sometimes, scientists display a sense of humor when naming: Agra phobia and Agra vation are the scientific names of South American beetles. A hungry entomologist (Neal Evenhuis) named a series of flies (genus) Pieza and most notably, a species Pieza pi.

The results from the work of What’s in a Name? include four interactive exhibit stations at the Harvard Museum of Natural History on Honeybees, the extinct Dimetrodon, Jellies and Poison Ivy. There are also free online resources, including a website and a 60-page free e-book. The online resources include eight more species stories that feature images and references from the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) and include familiar organisms like the dodo and sugar maple, as well as our favorite, the snail Vargapupa biheli named after BHL!

Vargapupa biheli. Image courtesy Dr. Barna Páll-Gergely.

Featured in the exhibit display on Dimetrodon, Stephanie Pierce, Assistant Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology, Harvard University, describes research being done right now on specimens of the fossil species Dimetrodon milleri, in the Museum of Comparative Zoology collection:

The What's in a Name? project is a partnership between Harvard Museums of Science and Culture (HMSC), the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), and the BHL, as represented by the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. This project was made possible by IMLS.

For more information about scientific names and naming, check out the following sources

Post By: 
Jane Pickering, Executive Director, Harvard Museums of Science and Culture 
Connie Rinaldo, Librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

Monday, February 13, 2017

UPDATE 13 Feb 2017: BHL Website Back Online

UPDATE: The BHL website is back online as of 16:25 GMT. Thank you for your patience!


The BHL website is currently unavailable due to technical difficulties. We're working to resolve the problem as soon as possible. We apologize for the inconvenience.

While the BHL website is down, you can access our collection via Internet Archive:

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Coloring Our Collections: The Art of Lithography

This year for Color Our Collections, we've produced a coloring book with illustrations from books that represent the evolution of the art of printing. This week on our blog, we'll explore the books featured in the coloring book and the printing techniques used for the illustrations.

You can download our 2017 Color Our Collections coloring book here.

Learn more about Color Our Collections here.

The Art of Lithography

The process of lithography was first discovered by a German actor and playwright, Alois Senefelder, in 1796. It was used to varying degrees in the early 19th century, but became increasingly popular from the mid-19th century onward. By the 1880s, it was used widely for printing magazines and advertising.

In the lithographic process, the image is drawn onto a stone with a grease-based ink or crayon. The stone is then processed using a gum Arabic and nitric acid solution. The solution chemically separates the image and non-image areas, making the non-image areas water-receptive and the image areas water repellent. Once the stone has been processed, it is kept damp and an oil-based ink is applied. The ink is repelled by the damp non-image areas and sticks to the fixed image areas. The ink can then be transferred to a sheet of paper using a printing press.

This video from the Minneapolis Institute of Art demonstrates the lithographic process:

Gould's Australian Bird Lithographs

John Gould was an English ornithologist and bird artist who is famous for producing several magnificently-illustrated monographs on birds. One such work is The Birds of Australia, which was originally issued in 36 parts between 1840-48. Taken together, the title consists of 7 folio-sized volumes plus a supplement. It described all of the 681 Australian bird species then known, many of which were scientifically described for the first time. This title was digitized in BHL by Smithsonian Libraries.

Illustration by John Gould and H.C. Richter. Gould, John. The Birds of Australia. v. 2 (1848). Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Gould's original interest in Australian birds was sparked when his two brothers-in-law, Charles and Stephen Coxen, who had emigrated to Australia, sent him some specimens. Many of these he described in the 1837-38 work A synopsis of the birds of Australia, and the adjacent islands (Digitized in BHL by Museums Victoria).

In 1838, Gould, his wife Elizabeth, their eldest son, their nephew, Gould's assistant John Gilbert, and two servants set sail for Australia so that Gould could undertake a more extensive work on Australian birds. During the 27 months that they were in Australia, Gould and his assistant collected some 800 bird and 70 quadruped specimens. Some 300 of these at the time were deemed new-to-science, although some of these are now recognized as subspecies.

Illustration by John Gould and Elizabeth Gould. Gould, John. The Birds of Australia. v. 3 (1848). Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

After returning to England, work began on the publication. The title's crowning achievement is the beautiful lithographic illustrations. These were based on rough sketches by Gould that were worked up into paintings that were then reproduced through the process of lithography. The plates were printed in a single color by the firm of Hullmandel and Walton and then hand colored by a Mr. Bayfield.

Illustration by John Gould and H.C. Richter. Gould, John. The Birds of Australia. v. 5 (1848). Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

John's wife Elizabeth, who produced most of the lithographs for John's earlier works, executed 84 of the plates in this title. Sadly, she died of puerperal fever a year after returning to England. John enlisted Henry Constantine Richter to produce most of the remaining illustrations, although Edward Lear and Waterhouse Hawkins also contributed an illustration each. The first seven volumes were completed in 1848, but additional parts were later produced to form a supplementary volume to describe additional new species.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Color Our Collections: The Art of Intaglio Printing

This year for Color Our Collections, we've produced a coloring book with illustrations from books that represent the evolution of the art of printing. This week on our blog, we'll explore the books featured in the coloring book and the printing techniques used for the illustrations.

You can download our 2017 Color Our Collections coloring book here.

Learn more about Color Our Collections here.

The Art of Intaglio Printing

In the Intaglio family of printmaking, an image is incised into a surface, usually a metal plate. Intaglio includes such familiar processes as etching and engraving. In engraving, the image is physically carved into a plate using special tools like burins. In etching, an image is drawn onto the surface of a plate that is covered in wax. The stylus, used to draw the lines in the wax, exposes the metal of the image lines. The plate is then dipped in an acid bath. The acid etches the exposed image lines but does not affect the portions of the plate covered in wax.

Intaglio techniques were used for book illustration by the latter half of the 15th century and became the standard for illustrating books by the late 16th century. Intaglio was used predominantly until around the mid-19th century, when lithography started gaining ground.

This video from the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design demonstrates the copper plate engraving process:

Catesby's Copper Plate Etchings

In the early eighteenth century, English naturalist Mark Catesby set foot in a New World. After spending the better part of ten years, spread across two separate trips, exploring and documenting North America's rich biodiversity, he would eventually publish his research and original artworks as the first fully illustrated book on the flora and fauna of North America.

Eastern flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). Catesby, Mark. The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. v. 1, ed. 1. pl. 27. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Published over eighteen years between 1729-1747, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands contains 220 plates based mostly upon Catesby's own watercolors, which he worked up based on sketches he made in the field. The final publication was illustrated with copper plate etchings produced by Catesby himself. Catesby also hand-colored (maybe not all) the prints as well.

Canada lily (Lilium canadense), dung beetle (Canthon pilularis), and rainbow scarab beetle (Phanaeus vindex). Catesby, Mark.The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. v. 2, ed. 1. pl. 11. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Catesby's work was also extremely influential to the work of Carl Linnaeus, whose binomial system for naming plants and animals is still in use today. Linnaeus cited Catesby extensively in his Species Plantarum (1753) and Systema Naturae (1758). For many of Linnaeus' species names, Catesby is his only reference, and thus Catesby's illustrations in Natural History serve as the type for many of Linnaeus' species.

Lily thorn (Catesbaea spinosa). Pictured with zebra swallowtail (Protographium marcellus). Catesby is the only source that Linnaeus cited when naming Catesbaea spinosa in Species Plantarum (1753). This engraving serves as the type for this name. Catesby, Mark. The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. v. 2, ed. 1. pl. 100. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

The first edition of Catesby's Natural History in BHL, which was used to produce the coloring pages in this year's coloring book, was digitized from the collections of Smithsonian Libraries. This copy is one of only a few known perfect copies of this first edition and the only one known to contain all three pieces of ephemera relating to the production of the work.

Note: This post was edited on 8 February 2017.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Color Our Collections: The Art of Woodcuts

This year for Color Our Collections, we've produced a coloring book with illustrations from books that represent the evolution of the art of printing. This week on our blog, we'll explore the books featured in the coloring book and the printing techniques used for the illustrations.

You can download our 2017 Color Our Collections coloring book here.

Learn more about Color Our Collections here.

The Art of Woodcuts

In the woodcut printing technique, the image (and sometimes text) is carved into the surface of a wood block. A knife and/or chisel is used to remove the wood surrounding the image, so that only the image lines remain raised or flush with the wood block surface. The block is then inked and pressed against paper to transfer the image. The resulting image is a reverse of that on the wood block.

The earliest known complete and dated printed book, the Diamond Sūtra dated 868 AD, was produced using wood block printing. The work, a Chinese translation of a Buddhist text, can be viewed online thanks to the British Library.

This video from the Victoria and Albert Museum demonstrates the woodcut printing process:

The Woodcuts of Pierre Belon

Earliest known published illustration of a great white shark. Illustrated by woodcut. Belon, Pierre. De aquatilibus. 1553. Digitized by Harvard University, Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Pierre Belon was a French naturalist who started practice as an apothecary, studied medicine, and later undertook many travels that fueled his interest in natural history. In 1553, he published De aquatilibus, describing over 100 fish, sharks, and rays, as well as many marine mammals. The work is illustrated with woodcuts, and some copies are also hand colored.

Belon details the outward characteristics of the species he depicts and classifies his divisions of aquatic animals by size, skeletal structure, mode of propagation, number of limbs, form of the body, and habitat. As such, De aquatilibus is considered by many to be the beginning of modern ichthyology. The work also includes detailed descriptions of dolphins and their embryos and reproductive anatomy, and thus it is also considered the start of modern embryology.

Belon portrayed many dolphins, their embryos, and reproductive anatomy within De aquatilibus, marking the beginning of modern embryology. Illustrated by woodcut. Belon, Pierre. De aquatilibus. 1553. Digitized by Harvard University, Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Belon stressed the importance of observation in scientific study and communication, chastising those who simply relied on and proliferated historic accounts stemming from the titans of antiquity. However, despite this charge, Belon does include some fantastical creatures within his book, including the “sea monk” and “web-footed horse of Neptune.”

Mythical "sea-monk," possibly based on a stranded squid. Illustrated by woodcut. Belon, Pierre. De aquatilibus. 1553. Digitized by Harvard University, Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Sadly, Belon’s life was cut tragically short. He was murdered by unknown assailants in the Bois de Boulogne in 1564 at the age of 47.

De aquatilibus was digitized in BHL by Harvard University, Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology.


Steins, John. Woodblock Printing.
Stiassny, Melanie. Natural Histories: Opulent Oceans. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2014. Print.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Interconnected Naturalist : Edmund Heller and the Field Notes Project

By Adriana Marroquin
Project Manager, BHL Field Notes Project 

One of the great aspects of the BHL Field Notes Project is how the field notes we are digitizing – and the naturalists who created them – have connections to multiple project partners. Edmund Heller is one of these interconnected naturalists.

Heller was a naturalist active in the early twentieth century who participated in several expeditions sponsored by different institutions across the nation, including a number of BHL Field Notes Project partners. He traveled with Theodore Roosevelt for the Smithsonian African Expedition, traveled to Asia with Roy Chapman Andrews of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), served as a collector for the Field Museum, joined Hiram Bingham on Yale University and National Geographic Society's Expedition in the Andes of Peru, and collected in Alaska with noted collector Annie Alexander, who proposed and helped establish the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley.
A map Heller drew while on Roy Chapman Andrews’ expedition to the Chinese province of Yunnan, Tibet, and Burma. Handwritten China journal of Edmund Heller (1 of 5). (1916).
Field notes from Heller’s time as part of Yale University and National Geographic Society’s Expedition in the Andes of Peru. List of birds collected by Heller in Peru. (1915).

Since Heller moved around from institution to institution, participating in what he referred to as an “unequaled record of expeditions,” he is a classic example of a naturalist with field notebooks all over the map. Through the Field Notes Project, we have the opportunity to bring together parts of his collection. Nine of Heller’s notebooks are currently available in the BHL, contributed by Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA). More of his notebooks will be digitized by SIA and AMNH by project end.

In the meantime, why not explore Heller’s work in the BHL?

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

Further Reading:
Where are Heller’s Field Books? – Field Book Project Blog

Expedition Connection: National Geographic Society Yale University Peruvian Expedition, 1915 – Biodiversity Heritage Library Blog