Field Note-Worthy: Thousands of Field Notes Now Available in BHL Thanks to the Field Notes Project!

In February 2016, the Biodiversity Heritage Library set out to digitize over 450,000 pages of field notes. While the BHL had already added some archival material to its collection before this project, the Field Notes Project is BHL’s largest undertaking of digitizing field notes to date.


Taylor, Thomas. Drawings of Fungi. Contributed by Harvard University Botany Libraries.

Funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Digitizing Hidden Special Collections initiative, this was a collaborative project with eleven partners:

  • American Museum of Natural History
  • The Field Museum of Natural History Library
  • Harvard University Botany Libraries
  • Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library
  • Internet Archive
  • The New York Botanical Garden, LuEsther T. Mertz Library
  • Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter H. Raven Library
  • Smithsonian Institution Archives
  • Smithsonian Libraries
  • University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
  • Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Schuchert, Charles. Field Notebook: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Ontario 1916, 1917, 1920. Contributed by Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History Archives.

The importance of field notes is well known to curators, researchers and historians. Diaries, correspondence, journals and photographs serve as records of the flora and fauna of a particular time and place, providing reference points when observing how a habitat has changed. They also offer insight on expeditions, the origins of a museum collections, and contextualize the work through the eyes of the scientists and narratives about how they interacted with the people, land and cultures they studied.


Blacow, Chester E. Bee keeping activities and field catalog of birds collected in Hawaii, v4273. Contributed by University of California, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

If you have ever used historic field notes for your own research, you may understand why this wouldn’t be a cut-and-dry project. Field notes can pose a number of challenges, and our partners certainly had to manage many of them. Conservation concerns are always at the top of the list, ensuring that field notes are in the proper condition for digitization. Through digitization, we can also reduce the need to refer to the physical object and further protect these unique items. Other concerns stemmed from how researchers took notes, including writing right into the gutter of a notebook or frugal researchers who would start a new notebook by simply flipping a used one and writing in the other direction. Together, the project team was able to overcome these challenges to provide open access to their field notes collections.


Plowman, Timothy. Timothy Plowman botanical collecting notebook : 1900-2286 : 1968-1969. Contributed by The Field Museum of Natural History Library.

We finished work on the project May 31, 2018 and are pleased to report that the project team digitized over 517,000 pages of field notes! 

Those who follow the blog closely will have read posts from the BHL Field Notes Project series where project partners highlighted their collections and digitization process. With several expeditions, disciplines and institutions represented, we are excited to see what our users discover, and see how they use field notes in their own work. Take a look and delve into field notes digitized for this project in BHL and Internet Archive.


Correia, José G. Whitney South Sea Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. Letters and journal of José G. Correia. Volume 2. Contributed by American Museum of Natural History.

The project team and BHL would like to thank the Council on Library and Information Resources for generously funding the BHL Field Notes Project.

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Adriana Marroquin is the project manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library Field Notes Project and the Smithsonian Field Book Project. She previously served as a library technician at Smithsonian Libraries and as a contractor for two projects: the American Art and Portrait Gallery library’s Art & Artist Corporate Files Database and BHL’s Latino Natural History exhibition.