The Vast Library of Life
15 Years of the BHL Portal
10 Years of Growth and Transformation
While BHL Program Director
New Article PDF Content Available
It seems like we are on an anniversary splurge. In April, I marked my 10th year as BHL Program Director. Today is a more important date in BHL history. May 9, 2007 marked the official launch of BHL content on the web. We celebrated that day with one of our first BHL blog posts (Biodiversity Heritage Library and Encyclopedia of Life Launch!). On that launch date, BHL had 306 titles, 3,236 volumes, and 1,271,664 pages of taxonomic literature. Today, BHL has grown to become a global consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries and hosts over 60 million pages and more than 281,000 volumes.
Growing out of the vision of Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson for an “encyclopedia of life” that would provide a page for every species, BHL joined forces with a nascent Encyclopedia of Life in 2006. Under the guidance of Cristián Samper (National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution) and leaders from four additional cornerstone institutions (the Field Museum, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory, and the Missouri Botanical Garden), BHL served as the literature cornerstone of EOL. BHL and EOL received vital funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the switch was flipped on an important new player in the biodiversity landscape at a celebration hosted by the National Academy of Sciences.
This month (April 2022) marks my tenth year as the BHL Program Director. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen a lot of change — and a lot of growth — with the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Taking over from our first Program Director, Tom Garnett, was a daunting challenge. Tom led the initial funding of BHL through the MacArthur Foundation grant with the Encyclopedia of Life and the establishment of BHL as a global consortium.
Among my first tasks as BHL Program Director was to build on that legacy with the transition of BHL from a grant funded organization to a member-driven one. Likewise, those first months of my tenure saw the close out of the BHL Europe project (which led to our continued strong European presence) and the planning meetings (and later launch) of BHL Africa.
The BHL Tech Team is pleased to announce a new form of content available in BHL: Article PDFs. While this may not sound like anything new, after all, we have had a tool to download PDF content for some time, this update changes both how the PDFs are created and maintained, and how BHL is viewed by content aggregators on the internet, most notably Unpaywall.
Blandowski’s Catalogue is one of the most precious items held by the Museums Victoria Archives. It documents natural history specimens collected by William Blandowski (1822-1878) and Gerard Krefft (1830-1881) for the National Museum of Victoria (predecessor of Museums Victoria) during an expedition along the Lower Murray and Darling River in 1857. The catalogue has become infamous to those studying the early history of the National Museum of Victoria due to Blandowski’s act of defiance against council members of the Philosophical Institute and Professor Frederick McCoy, the National Museum of Victoria’s first Director. Blandowski colourfully named and described members of the Philosophical Institute after Murray fishes, as well as refusing to handover many of the specimens collected on the expedition, and associated research notes and illustrations. Blandowski’s Catalogue has recently been digitised by BHL Australia and is now available to view online.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library is pleased to welcome JJ Dearborn to the newly created position of BHL Data Manager. The new Data Manager position is part of the BHL Secretariat, hosted by the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives. As Data Manager, Ms. Dearborn will be responsible for the oversight and management of the digital data collections (datasets) of BHL. She will be developing and implementing a comprehensive view of how BHL collections can be optimized to support the interoperability of BHL data in the larger biodiversity community.
In the first part of this blog series, I explained a portion of the analyses I performed during my time as an intern for the Biodiversity Heritage Library (July-August 2021). These analyses revolved around metadata patterns in BHL’s collection that highlight shortcomings in terms of diversification in the Library’s catalogue. In that post, by focusing on comparative metadata and the case of BHL México, I argued that an outreach plan that included the establishment of global partnerships between BHL and institutions in the Global South was a solid strategy to diversify the Library’s collections. This same argument is sustained by the second portion of the analyses I performed during my internship and that I present here, which deal primarily with patterns of associations and representation in the subject lists of BHL’s materials and the specific case of Central America and Panama.
The goal of the second part of my internship was thus to identify semantic patterns in subject lists that highlight the diversification—or lack thereof—in materials about Latin American biodiversity contained in BHL.
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The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. Headquartered at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives in Washington, D.C., BHL operates as a worldwide consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries working together to digitize the natural history literature held in their collections and make it freely available for open access as part of a global “biodiversity community.”
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