Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Capstone event for BHL NDSR program

On January 4, 2018, in the midst of a memorable storm in the Northeastern US, approximately 30 intrepid travelers met to celebrate the successful completion of the BHL National Digital Stewardship Residencies developed for the IMLS, Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant submission: Foundations to Actions: Extending Innovations in Digital Libraries in Partnership with NDSR Learners.  The program plan included hiring five geographically-distributed residents, all graduates of LIS or related master's programs, to work on collaborative projects to improve tools, curation, and content stewardship for BHL. This work supported BHL development plans for the next generation portal for the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature.
The Capstone event was beautifully hosted by the Smithsonian Libraries at the Natural History Museum in the room where the first DC planning meeting for BHL occurred. Martin Kalfatovic (BHL Program Director and Associate Director, Digital Program and Initiatives for the Smithsonian Libraries) and Dr. Nancy Gwinn (Director of the Smithsonian Libraries) welcomed the group.  Robin Dale (Deputy Director for Library Services at IMLS) described the NDSR program within the context of the IMLS goals for a national digital platform, mentoring digital library leaders and developing communities of practice.  Dr. Scott Miller (Deputy Undersecretary for Collections and Interdisciplinary Support at the Smithsonian Institution) congratulated BHL on its accomplishments in making biodiversity literature accessible but also suggested further work on linking content, mobile access and establishing standards.

Constance Rinaldo (Librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University and Chair of the BHL Members' Council) gave an overview of the grant and process emphasizing the importance of ensuring the development of a strong cohort with leadership capacity among the geographically dispersed residents. Leora Siegel (Senior Director, Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden and a BHL NDSR Mentor) reflected on the past year and how rewarding it was to be a mentor to a recent graduate, wrestle with how to push the project forward, and connect with colleagues mentoring related projects with residents across the United States.  Mentors wished for more time, more opportunities to meet face to face with all participants and more professional meeting opportunities.

Katie Mika (BHL NDSR Resident at the Ernst Mayr Library) reflected on being a resident, struggling with the contrary thrusts of independence yet adherence to a partially defined project in a tight time frame.  Residents wished for more time, more structure and an in-depth technical introduction to BHL, yet all were successful in their work and learned more than they expected.

Trevor Owens (Head of Digital Content Management in Library Services at the Library of Congress) wrapped up the event with a keynote that focused on the push towards a National Digital Platform for digital data and his thoughts on digital preservation.

Although the final grant report looms large for the mentors, the Capstone event was an engaging send-off for the residents and we all look forward to following their future accomplishments.
Scott Miller presenting the
opening keynote
Katie Mika presenting the
BHL NDSR Resident Reflection
Trevor Owens presenting the
closing keynote

For specific information about the work of the residents, see their blog
and related BHL blog posts.

BHL NDSR Residents and Mentors
Alicia Esquivel, Resident at Chicago Botanic Garden, focused on Content Analysis.
Leora Siegel, Senior Director, Lenhardt Library

Marissa Kings, Resident at Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County, focused on Digital Library Best Practices.
Richard Hulser, Chief Librarian

Pamela McClanahan, Resident at Smithsonian Libraries, focused on User Needs and Usability.
Carolyn Sheffield, BHL Program Manager

Katie Mika, Resident at Ernst Mayr Library, Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, focused on Crowdsourced Data Corrections and Enhancements.
Constance Rinaldo, Librarian, Ernst Mayr Library
and Program Director, BHL-NDSR Program
Joseph DeVeer, Project Manager and Museum Liaison, Ernst Mayr Library

Ariadne Rehbein, Resident at Missouri Botanical Garden, focused on Enhancing Image Discovery.
Doug Holland, Library Director, Peter H. Raven Library
Trish Rose-Sandler, Project Manager, Center for Biodiversity Informatics

Thank you to the speakers, external and internal to the grant project, for providing us with encouragement, support and reflections that we can take forward in our day to day work.  I want to especially thank Carolyn Sheffield (BHL Program Manager and Mentor to the Smithsonian Libraries resident) for managing the logistics of the Capstone event and ensuring its excellence.

By Constance Rinaldo
Librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
Chair, BHL Members' Council

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Examining the History of Paleoanthropology Using BHL

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the scientific community was engrossed in discussions about evolution and the origin of species. The publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859 fueled extensive scientific debate and prompted further questions regarding human evolution. A key figure in these debates was Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist and comparative anatomist.

Frontispiece. Huxley, Thomas Henry. Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature. 1863. Digitized by Cambridge University Library as part of Charles Darwin's Library.

A close friend of Charles Darwin and a staunch public supporter of the theory of natural selection, Huxley used his expertise in embryology, paleontology and comparative anatomy to demonstrate an evolutionary relationship between humans and apes. In a series of public lectures between 1860-62, he presented research on anatomical similarities between humans and apes and discussed hominin fossil discoveries, including a skullcap from the first recognized Neanderthal Man which was unearthed in Germany in 1856.

These oral discourses were collected into a single volume and published in 1863 as Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature.

Huxley, Thomas Henry. Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature. 1863. Digitized by Cambridge University Library as part of Charles Darwin's Library. Page 139.

Paige Madison, a PhD candidate studying the history of paleoanthropology at Arizona State University, identifies this publication as a vital reference for her doctoral research.

Paige Madison, PhD candidate at Arizona State University. Photo Credit: Alex Reynes.

"This was one of the pioneering works in the history of paleoanthropology," explains Madison. "Huxley’s argumentative strategy is wonderful. At a time when it was hard to get away from preconceived notions about human evolution, Huxley asks his readers to take a step back and imagine they were visitors from Saturn, 'happily free from all personal interest.' He lays out the facts concerning humans' similarities to other apes and then asks the impartial scientific Saturnians, 'Is Man so different from any of these Apes?'"

For her dissertation, Madison is examining a series of case studies on the history of paleoanthropology spanning well over a century. This research requires examination of numerous historic publications, such as Huxley's Man's Place in Nature. Thanks to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, she has easy access to the necessary references.

"BHL has been central to my research," asserts Madison. "It allows me to quickly access a wealth of material online, so I can spend my time researching rather than running back and forth to the University library."

After first being introduced to BHL by fellow graduate students five years ago, Madison now uses the library almost weekly to access the research of key scientists in her field. By downloading entire PDFs of relevant publications or selecting specific pages using BHL's custom PDF generator, she is able to guarantee easy offline access to important references. She also uses the library to gather images, which she finds useful both for her research and when creating presentations.

"The images I can download from BHL are high quality," says Madison. "I know exactly where they came from and how they were used to illuminate a particular aspect of a scientist’s overall argument."

While she finds BHL's collections invaluable, Madison notes that the consolidation of duplicate author names would greatly improve the user experience. As a request voiced by many users, name authority control is indeed high on BHL's list of development priorities.

For Madison, exploring the history of hominin fossils and our understanding of their place in the evolution of Homo sapiens is a passion that is greatly facilitated by the Biodiversity Heritage Library. We are proud to know that BHL's open access collection is helping to illuminate the history of science to accelerate research today and empower future discoveries.

You can follow Paige Madison's research on Twitter at @FossilHistory.

By Grace Costantino 
Outreach and Communication Manager 
Biodiversity Heritage Library 


Hauserman, Samantha. 2013. "Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)." The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, November 26. Accessed December 5, 2017.


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

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Digitized Field Notes Yield Rapid Reference Response!

The Harvard Botany Libraries have been fortunate to benefit from several field notes digitization projects in recent years. Materials have been selected based on condition, demand, and/or the theme of the funded project. The current CLIR-funded BHL Field Notes Project has enabled us to nearly complete the capture of field notes and plant lists associated with the herbaria collections. The most interesting and immediate benefit of the project is our ability to point users to the files that are available both in the Biodiversity Heritage Library and HOLLIS, Harvard’s online catalog.

Recent reference questions that have arrived in my inbox that would have once required searching finding aids or files, and having researchers come to review materials, can now be answered by sending links. A former curatorial staff member wrote in the fall to say that he was on his way to Bermuda to collect specimens. He asked if I could send him copies of the field notes compiled by Harvard mycologist William G. Farlow during his trips there in 1881 and 1900. The notes were already available in the BHL Field Notes collection so I dashed off an email with those links and received a big “thank you” only minutes later!
Bermuda plants, approximately 1881-1900. v.2 (1881) Digitized by Harvard University Botany Libraries.

Another recent request came from a botanist stationed at the Horticulture Center, South China Botanical Garden, in Guangzhou, China. He was interested in anything in the archives related to Chun WoonYoung [Chen Huanyong] who collaborated with Arnold Arboretum botanists in the 1920s. While most of those materials reside in the archives at the Arnold Arboretum, I was fairly sure that we had his collecting records. Digital Projects Librarian Diane Rielinger supplied the BHL link so I forwarded it to the botanist in Guangzhou.

The most recent and surprising use of the field notes came as a referral from a colleague at the Botanical Research Institute in Fort Worth Texas. He is working with curators at the Amon Carter Art Museum of American Art on an exhibit planned for 2020. The museum has commissioned an artist to retrace the routes of 19th century naturalists throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth area and reimagine their experiences. They are particularly interested in Charles Wright so we sent links to his correspondence and field notes and the curators visited the Botany Libraries in December to see the material and to view collecting tools and artifacts in the archives. They plan to return with the artist next year to continue their research. Visits from artists are not unusual, but applying field notes to an art project is a first for us. The Wright field notes, digitized as part of a previous project, will also be deposited in BHL in the near future.

Keiko Nishimoto, the Botany Libraries’ former Collection Services Archivist, prepared a small exhibit on the CLIR field notes project to promote the project to herbaria staff and visitors. The first case explained the importance of field notes, showed examples of the records in the archives, and explained why they were being digitized. The second case featured the works of women botanists Mary Strong Clemens (1873-1968), who collected in New Guinea, northern Borneo, and Sulawesi, and Rae Baldwin Kennedy (1879-1952) who worked in Bermuda.

Earlier grants allowed us to target particular collectors and expeditions, but the CLIR funds gave us the opportunity to open the document boxes and scan the bulk of the collection. Cataloging and access have been enhanced as has our knowledge of the entire collection. We look forward to sharing these resources virtually and to hosting users with both traditional and reimagined ways of using them.

Written by: 
Judy Warnement 
Librarian of Harvard University Botany Libraries

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