Inspiring Discovery at the 2016 BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival in Washington, D.C.

BHL participated in BioBlitz 2016 in Washington, D.C. on 20-21 May. A BioBlitz focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. In this special edition of the BioBlitz, held in conjunction with the National Park Service’s centenary, the D.C. BioBlitz was accompanied by a two-day Biodiversity Festival on the National Mall at Constitution Gardens. The event was co-hosted by the National Park Service and National Geographic.

BHL and Smithsonian Libraries’ staff hosted a booth at the Festival that featured hands-on activities including coloring projects, online exhibitions, and a plant ID challenge that demonstrated how BHL can help visitors identify nature around them. Booth volunteers interacted with over 320 people during the course of the 2-day event and had a unique opportunity to expose young people (K-12) to the rich variety of free resources that BHL has to offer.

BHL staff at the booth included Martin R. Kalfatovic (BHL Program Director) and Grace Costantino (BHL Outreach and Communication Manager). Smithsonian Libraries staff at the booth included Sara Cardello (Education Specialist), Polly Lasker (Librarian), Gil Taylor (Supervisory Librarian), Bonnie White (Library Technician), Krista Aniel (Management Support Specialist), Barbara Ferry (Department Head, Natural and Physical Sciences Library), Hollis Gentry (Geology Specialist), and Michael O’Connor (Cataloger).

Each booth was instructed to have a hands-on activity that participants could complete as part of the Festival’s Biodiversity University. By completing five activities at the Festival, visitors received their Biodiversity University Bachelor’s degree. Ten activities earned them a Master’s and twenty activities a doctorate. BHL’s activity was a plant ID challenge in which visitors used a book in BHL (A Guide to the Trees by Alice Lounsberry) to identify leaves from five trees native to the D.C. region. Over 200 students completed the activity, earning a sticker towards their Biodiversity University diploma!

Additional BHL booth activities included coloring pages from BHL’s Color Our Collections coloring book and a chance to explore BHL’s online exhibitions (particularly Early Women in Science) and citizen science opportunities (including Flickr image tagging, field note transcription, Science Gossip, and online games).

The BioBlitz in D.C. was the cornerstone event of over 250 BioBlitzes happening around the country this year. So far this year, over 61,000 observations of over 6,800 species in 126 parks around the U.S. have been made. The largest percentage of observations were made of plants, followed by birds, insects, fungi, reptiles, mammals, mollusks, arachnids, and amphibians. Learn more about the observations made to date.

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in the BioBlitz and show visitors how BHL’s free resources can be a valuable tool to help them identify and learn more about biodiversity. We’d also like to extend a special thanks to all of the Smithsonian Libraries staff that volunteered at the booth. The BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival were an excellent opportunity for us to inspire discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge.

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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.