10 Years of BHL Growth and Transformation While Program Director

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.

A man leans against a railing, posing in front of a life-sized museum display of an elephant

Martin Kalfatovic at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin for the 2012 BHL Europe meeting. Photo credit: Grace Costantino

An early transition for me as Program Director was the departure of BHL’s technical guidestar, Chris Freeland (Missouri Botanical Garden) and the transition of Global Coordinator, William Ulate to that role. Later, technical coordination of BHL moved to Joel Richard (Smithsonian Libraries and Archives). Even during these leadership transitions, BHL’s many technical innovations were implemented and led by BHL developer, Mike Lichtenberg.

The past 10 years have been years of growth. BHL saw the addition of 20 partners as well as the creation of the reciprocal partner affiliation. Content also grew by over 21.3 million pages. Other important markers in the past 10 years include BHL being an inaugural partner of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), deepening the relationship of BHL with important biodiversity initiatives such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), the Catalogue of Life, and the Global Names Architecture.

During this time, BHL also initiated or closed out important grant funded initiatives done in collaboration with many different BHL partners, these included Art of Life (2012-2015); Purposeful Gaming (2013-2015); Mining Biodiversity: Enriching the Biodiversity Heritage Library with Text Mining and Social Media (2014-2016); Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature (2015-2017); Foundations to Actions: Extending Innovations in Digital Libraries in Partnership with NDSR Learners (2016-2018); and the Field Notes Project (2016-2018).

I’ve also had the pleasure of accepting the following awards for BHL on behalf of all those who have worked on BHL: Laureate. IDG’s Computerworld Honors Program (2013); Charles Robert Long Award of Extraordinary Merit. Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (2015); Internet Archive Hero Award. Global Leaders in Sharing Knowledge (2015); and Digital Library Federation (DLF) 2016 Community/Capacity Award (2016).

A man accepts an award at a podium while four colleagues look on

Internet Archive Hero Award (2015). Chris Freeland (Washington University at the time), Carolyn Sheffield (BHL), Keri Thompson (Smithsonian), Martin Kalfatovic (BHL), Wendy Hanamura (Internet Archive). Photo Credit: Brad Shirakawa.

In my role as BHL Program Director, I’ve had the support of BHL Secretariat staff past and present. Past BHL Program Managers Grace Costantino and Carolyn Sheffield did invaluable work during their tenure, work carried on by current Program Manager Colleen Funkhouser. Grace Costantino later provided a blueprint for BHL’s outreach and communication program; and our newest addition, JJ Dearborn, will take BHL into important new areas as BHL Data Manager. Bianca Crowley, BHL Collections Manager, has provided me with valuable assistance in working with BHL staff and collections around the world.

The work of the BHL Secretariat, and my work as Program Director, would not be possible without the guidance and support of the BHL Executive Committee (EC). It has been an honor to work with two EC Chairs, Nancy E. Gwinn (Smithsonian), and Constance Rinaldo (MCZ/Harvard). The other Member representatives who served as Vice-Chair and Secretary have provided crucial input.

The opportunities to work with and learn from BHL partner representatives, partner staff, and others (often in windowless conference rooms in the great museums and botanical gardens of the world!) has given me a wealth of knowledge in biodiversity, technology, and librarianship. Brewster Kahle and the amazing staff (past and present) of the Internet Archive have provided me, and BHL, with many new ideas that have advanced our work.

Two men in suit jackets and glasses smile and pose for a picture in front of a prop time machine

Brewster Kahle (Internet Archive) and Martin Kalfatovic (BHL) in 2017 with the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

Having served as Secretary, Vice-Chair, and currently Chair, Connie Rinaldo has been the single constant in my time with BHL, both as Program Director and in previous capacities. Without her leadership, and most importantly her burning passion for BHL’s capacity to create meaningful change, my work would be harder and BHL less successful.

A woman in red shirt and sunglasses stands next to a man in a light blue shirt and glasses atop a hill overlooking a village

Constance Rinaldo and Martin Kalfatovic in Madagascar for the 2015 GBIF Governing Board Meeting.

The past two years of a global pandemic have been challenging for us all, as individuals and for our institutions. I’ve been proud to provide guidance to all my BHL colleagues as they have helped BHL navigate this time. I’m looking forward to our 2022 BHL Annual Meeting in Edinburgh where I will have the chance to talk about directions for BHL into the future!

Avatar for Martin R. Kalfatovic

Martin R. Kalfatovic is BHL Program Director and Associate Director, Digital Programs and Initiatives Division, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives. As the BHL Program Director, Mr. Kalfatovic functions as the executive director and manager of the international consortium of over 80 natural history, botanical garden, government, and university libraries engaged in the mass digitization of taxonomic literature. The position also serves as a key contact for government, NGO, and academic leaders at both the national and international level. Within his role at Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, Mr. Kalfatovic is responsible for the Libraries’ active Digital Library program. This program includes the creation of digital editions of library materials, online exhibitions, and new digital publications.