Taxonomic research on Southeast Asian land snails

As part of our regular BHL and Our Users series, we’re pleased to introduce Barna Páll-Gergely, a PhD student in the Department of Biology at Shinshu University in Japan.  Barna has had a lifelong interest in shells and land snails and has graciously agreed to answer some questions about how BHL has impacted his research.

BHL and Our Users: Barna Páll-Gergely

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What is your title, institutional affiliation, and area of interest?
I graduated from University of Pécs, a Hungarian university, and am now a PhD student in Japan, at Matsumoto, Shinshu University.  I am interested in the taxonomy and evolution of some land snail groups, mainly from South-east Asia.

How long have you been in your field of study?
I started collecting shells at the age of five, as many of us do.  I then worked on land snails for about 10 years, starting in the secondary school.

When did you first discover BHL?
A museum curator friend of mine showed it to me about two years ago.

What is your opinion of BHL and how has it impacted your research?
It provides wonderful possibilities for taxonomists who need to regularly use the very old literature.  BHL provides access to the kind of literature which can often be found only in large, old museum libraries. I also have access to recent papers because I am studying in a Japanese University, but without BHL I would be in big trouble with accessing the old sources.

How often do you use BHL?
I have to check some things almost every day, and during the literature search period (when I start working on a new taxonomic group), I use it practically all day.

How do you usually use BHL (read the titles online/download whole PDFs/Select Pages to Download for a custom PDF/etc.)
I usually download whole publications for my “literature collection”, and at the same time I produce smaller pdf files with the information I need for a specific subject. It is easier to handle smaller files when I just need to check something such as the exact page number of a citation.

What are your favorite features/services on BHL?
I can search for scientific names, and people’s names. This is a very big help.

When I started to deal with the land snail family Plectopylidae, I just typed “plectopylis” into the search field and I could read and download many old literature. Without this possibility (scientific or authors name as a search option) finding all relevant literature would have taken maybe two times longer, and more importantly, there would have been a risk of overlooking some sources.  This was very helpful while I was working with my colleagues on the the description of new species and subspecies shown in the image below.

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?
In many cases the plates of figures and the blank pages in-between appear marked as “text” on the left-hand navigation menu.  It would be great to enumerate them. The other thing is that selecting pages of a single publication and finding the plates at the end of each volume takes a long time. Sometimes it would be more user-friendly to provide a way to automatically group these together for download.

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?
There are many relevant sources I like, for example I am really fascinated by monographs like Kobelt’s Cyclophoridae or the Mollusca of India  by Godwin-Austen. On the other hand, discovering something unusual, or let’s say, “funny” is always a good moment.  My actual favourite is a part in Godwin-Austen’s “Zoological results of the Abor Expedition” (1917), after the description of Rhaphaulus miriensis: “After getting as far as writing the above description I left my work room for lunch, leaving the shell on a slide resting on plasticine. On taking up work again I found it crushed. Thus one of the most interesting shells found recently on the Eastern Frontier has to be rediscovered.”

Literature mentioned:
Kobelt W. 1902 Das Tierreich. Mollusca: Cyclophoridae R. Friedländer und Sohn, Berlin 662pp.

Godwin-Austen, H.H. 1882–1920 Land and Freshwater Mollusca of India, including South Arabia, Baluchistan, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Nepal, Burma, Pegu, Tenasserim, Malaya Peninsula, Ceylon and other islands of the Indian Ocean; Supplementary to Masers Theobald and Hanley’s Conchologica Indica Taylor and Francis, London, 257pp, 442pp.

Godwin-Austen, H.H. 1917 Zoological results of the Abor Expedition, 1911–12. XLVII Mollusca, VII. Cyclophoridae (in part) Records of the Indian Museum 8: 493—580.

Páll-Gergely, B. & Hunyadi, A. (2013): The family Plectopylidae Möllendorff 1898 in China (Gastropoda, Pulmonata). — Archiv für Molluskenkunde 142 (1): 1–66.


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Carolyn Sheffield served as the BHL Program Manager from July 2013 - February 2019. She is currently the Associate Director of Library Technology and Digital Strategies at the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She holds a Masters of Library Science from the University of Maryland.