On 23 March 2020, the U.K. went into its first national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing and teleworking became the norm, and the walls of our homes became, in many ways, the boundaries of our individual worlds.
Amateur mycologist Clare Blencowe was eager to find a positive distraction from the realities of life during a pandemic. The Biodiversity Heritage Library’s open access collections, which for Blencowe had become a welcome refuge from the continuous onslaught of negative news articles, now became the inspiration for a new, socially distanced way to connect with other fungi lovers—in the form of “The Mycological Book Club”, an online, Twitter-based book club with a particular focus on open access literature.
The pineapple, indigenous to South America and domesticated and harvested there for centuries, was a late comer to Europe. The fruit followed in its cultivation behind the tomato, corn, potato, and other New World imports. Delicious but challenging and expensive to nurture in chilly climes and irresistible to artists and travelers for its curious structure, the pineapple came to represent many things. For Europeans, it was first a symbol of exoticism, power, and wealth, but it was also an emblem of colonialism, weighted with connections to plantation slavery.
Originating from the region around the Paraná and Paraguay Rivers (present-day Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina), it was an important economic plant in the development of Indigenous civilizations in the Americas. The Tupi-Guarani and Carib peoples called the fruit, a staple crop, nanas (excellent fruit) and several varieties were grown. As well as food, the pineapple was a source of medicine, fermented to become alcohol, its fibers made into robes and bow strings and thread for cloth.
As I am writing this, Melbourne is at the end of its second wave of COVID-19 and I have been separated from the library collections that I work with at Museums Victoria for six months, 25 days, 21 hours, and around 12 minutes… but who’s counting?!
The pandemic has created a lot of challenges, not least working out how to be a librarian of an overwhelmingly print-based collection from a distance, but this time working from home has also afforded me opportunities to present a handful of webinars, the most recent being a guest lecture on rare book cataloguing for library and information management students.
I can say without a doubt that this would have been a near impossible task without the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
Imagine stepping into a world teeming with dazzling biodiversity. Everywhere you turn, colorful birds perch amidst exotic blooms, glimmering butterflies and energetic hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, shimmering serpents wind their way through a jungle of foliage, and an array of mushrooms add color and dimension to the forest floor.
This world, seemingly alive with biodiversity, is composed not of flesh and blood, but of ink and paper. It is a world brought to life from the imagination of Berlin-based American artist Clare Börsch using illustrations and photographs sourced mainly from open access collections like the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) and painstakingly cut and arranged into a marvelous, three-dimensional ecosystem. Within this Biodiversity installation of collaged nature art, a wondrous world awaits.
José and Virginia Correia are one of history’s most prolific bird collecting teams. For over three decades, they participated in many scientific exploring expeditions for the American Museum of Natural History, including the Whitney South Sea Expedition from 1922 to 1926.
Although the published literature is scant regarding their scientific contributions, their story is certainly worth telling. Described by The Standard-Times (New Bedford) as a “life reading like fiction”,³ — their work has emerged from obscurity with the recent digitization of José’s field notes from the Whitney South Sea Expedition (1920–1941). Now audiences far and wide can enjoy this quintessential American story of two immigrants propelled by fate, hard work, and a sincere desire to improve one’s lot in life.
As we come to the end of 2020, we reflect on the challenges that have profoundly impacted us as societies and individuals this year, requiring us to rethink how we do our jobs, interact with friends and colleagues, and access and share information. Facing these unprecedented challenges together, we continue to work with our partners to ensure that you have free access to the resources you need to empower your research—no matter where you are.
It is thanks to the generosity and support of our community that we were able to pivot quickly and meet the needs of our users in a rapidly-changing environment throughout 2020. Please consider making a gift in support of BHL this Giving Tuesday and help ensure that we can rise to meet whatever comes our way, together.
BHL’s existence depends on the financial support of its patrons. Help us keep this free resource alive!
The Biodiversity Heritage Library is an open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. BHL’s global consortium of natural history, botanical, and research libraries cooperate to digitize and make their collections accessible as a part of a global “biodiversity commons.”
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