BHL and Our Users: Aaron Sims

View Full Size Image This week, we feature a rare plant botanist for the California Native Plant Society whose first words after discovering BHL for the first time were “this is amazing!” We thrive on these incredible moments of serendipitous discovery we so often hear about from our users, and we’re proud to share one of them with you today in our feature on botanist Aaron Sims!

What is your title, institutional affiliation, and area of interest?

I am the Rare Plant Botanist for the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), and manage the Rare Plant Program and Online Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California (Inventory).In addition to rare plants and field botany, my areas of interest are photography, kayaking, hiking, and pretty much anything involving the outdoors.

How long have you been in your field of study?

My love for the plant sciences started in college after having some very influential and knowledgeable botany teachers that were always enthusiastic and charismatic about the subject, in addition to genuinely caring about their students. Then after taking David Keil’s field botany class at Cal Poly State University in 2005, it was clear to me that botany is where I belong, and I assisted with David’s class until 2010, over three years after I had already graduated. In 2007 I began working for California State Parks on the Central Coast where I performed rare plant and vegetation surveys, in addition to various other tasks pertaining to natural resources. Then after completing the Atlas of Sensitive Species of the Morro Bay Area in 2010 (available at:, I moved to Sacramento and started working for CNPS.

When did you first discover BHL?

I first discovered BHL sometime in 2010 while researching plants for the Inventory. When a plant needs to be evaluated for inclusion, deletion, or change in rarity status in the Inventory, we initially start contacting people that may have knowledge on the subject taxon and immediately begin an in-depth research through various web resources. BHL came up through one of my searches for the original description of a rare plant taxon, and was the only site that had the actual full original description available for immediate download in PDF format. Awesome! I am pretty sure I exclaimed “this is amazing!” out loud as soon I discovered BHL, and I immediately bookmarked it in my browser.

What is your opinion of BHL and how has it impacted your research?

BHL is an excellent resource that regularly helps the CNPS Rare Plant Program obtain original descriptions for plants during their review and assessment for inclusion/change/deletion in the Inventory. I feel so privileged to be working in a day in age when such resources are so readily available and easy to obtain. As a non-profit society, CNPS doesn’t have sufficient funds to subscribe to online journal databases, nor the time or resources to physically seek out every historical reference regarding rare plants in the Inventory.BHL helps fill this void by providing such resources free and readily available to the public.

How often do you use BHL?

The CNPS Rare Plant Program uses BHL weekly, if not nearly daily while drafting status reviews for changes in the Inventory.

How do you usually use BHL (read the titles online/download whole PDFs/Selecting Pages to Download for a custom PDF/etc.)

We typically use BHL to download whole PDFs that include the entire original description for plants that are being evaluated for the Inventory.

What are your favorite features/services on BHL?

The search functions are simple, accurate, and easy to use.Furthermore, I like the check boxes that accompany a scientific journal which allows one to easily click through subfolders of years, volumes, and issues while still showing the parent directory.

If you could change one thing about BHL, what would it be, or what developmental aspect would you like the BHL team to focus on next?

Perhaps an obvious and routine task, but adding more references is greatly desired.

If you had to choose one title/item in BHL that has most impacted your research, or one item that you prefer above any other in BHL, what would it be and why?

I cannot choose one title of higher impact over another. All scientific journals and references that include botanical information, contain original plant descriptions, or any other pertinent information on plants we review for the Inventory are invaluable to the CNPS Rare Plant Program.Thank you for providing such an important resource and keep up the good work!

Avatar for Grace Costantino
Written by

Grace Costantino served as the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library from 2014 to 2021. In this capacity, she developed and managed BHL's communication strategy, oversaw social media initiatives, and engaged with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL. Prior to her role as Outreach and Communication Manager, Grace served as the Digital Collections Librarian for Smithsonian Libraries and as the Program Manager for BHL.