The Vast Library of Life
15 Years of the BHL Portal
10 Years of Growth and Transformation
While BHL Program Director
New Article PDF Content Available
I work as a web developer for the agency Cogapp, which is based in Brighton, UK. We create websites and other digital services for museums, art galleries, archives and the like, but every couple of months we hold a “hack day”. A hack day involves spending a day working on projects which generally revolve around a particular theme and which ideally we can do in one day. This allows us to get the creative juices flowing and to further our agenda of innovation.
The theme this past hack day at Cogapp was ‘Museum APIs’, but the looser interpretation was that we were to use open data provided by museums in our projects. I was inspired by the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s Flickr which is a massive collection of free-to-use scientific images. I immediately knew I wanted to utilise this resource as I love scientific illustrations of nature.
I’ve also had an interest in Machine Learning for a while and I recently discovered Derrick Schultz and his YouTube channel Artificial Images. Here he publishes videos of his Machine Learning courses which he runs for people who want to use ML for creative purposes.
I watched Derrick’s tutorials on training a StyleGAN Neural Network and the things he was saying made a degree of sense to me, plus he had published a handy Google Colab notebook with step-by-step code, so I decided it was something I might be able to have a go at.
In October 2020, BHL launched a new working group with a momentous goal: to make the content on BHL persistently discoverable, citable and trackable using DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers).
A DOI is like an electronic fingerprint in the form of a unique and permanent alphanumeric string that provides a persistent link to a piece of content online. Modern publications receive a DOI at the point of publication. A DOI is a key part of a publication’s bibliographic metadata and should be included in any mention or citation of that publication. Reference lists in modern publications are filled with DOIs, which allows readers to click from publication to publication in (in theory) a never-ending chain of knowledge.
Like many organizations around the world, the Biodiversity Heritage Library was compelled, for the second year in a row, to move the 2021 BHL Annual Meeting to a virtual environment. In consultation with our prospective 2021 host, the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in Paris, the BHL Executive Committee again made the difficult, yet necessary, decision to move to a virtual meeting, but one that would be much enhanced from 2020 with a goal of trying to recreate the interaction and programmatic content of our in-person meetings.
“On Martha’s Vineyard Island just across the Sound from the Marine Biological Laboratory is the home of the lone survivor of the Heath Hen. The death of this individual will also mean the death of its race, and then another bird will have taken its place among the endless array of extinct forms. The numbers of Heath Hen have been closely followed by ornithologists and since 1908 a detailed census has been taken of the birds each year. For the first time in the history of ornithology a species has been studied and photographed in its normal environment down to the very last individual.”
-Professor Alfred O Gross, Bowdoin College, as written in The Collecting Net: Volume 5, Number 3, 12 July 1930.
We came across a unique article, “The Last Heath Hen,” in the Biodiversity Heritage Library recently. The article from The Collecting Net newspaper is a beautifully-crafted account from 1930 of the then-last stand and near extinction of the last animal of the ground-feeding Heath Hen species (Tympanuchus cupido cupido), a member of the grouse family and subspecies of the Prairie Chicken. This species once ranged from Maine to the Carolinas in American colonial times and before but was all but extinct on the US mainland by 1870, except for it holding its own in the scrub brush, open fields, and low pine forests of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Since its inaugural event on 22 April 1970, Earth Day has grown to an international annual celebration of the Earth and a movement to raise awareness about and support for environmental protection. This year’s theme, Restore Our Earth, emphasizes that, “As the world returns to normal, we can’t go back to business-as-usual.” As we face widespread climate change and unprecedented biodiversity declines—with more than a million species threatened with extinction—immediate, online access to essential literature is ever-more important, allowing scientists to conduct research more quickly and efficiently and improving our ability to respond to these crises. For fifteen years, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) has worked as a global consortium to provide this vital access, empower research, and make a real difference in our ability to improve the health of our planet for every species that calls it home.
This year, several of our global partners have selected a few titles and authors from the BHL collection to commemorate Earth Day. From exploring Asia’s vast and unique biodiversity to inspiring conservation through a popular publication on birds, providing practical methods for conducting surveys and using the data to support conservation practices, and marveling at the extraordinary biodiversity of past ages, these titles highlight the richness of our planet’s biodiversity and remind us of the importance of protecting the wonderful, wild, and beautiful life on Earth.
A garden is a place to rest, relax, rejuvenate. It also provides an opportunity to learn about nature. Staff at Smithsonian Libraries and Archives are also learning and developing new skills. Some of these new skills are related to digitization and accessibility of biodiversity literature.
During these months of telework, I am assisting the Digital Library and Digitization Department to enhance page-level and image-level access to previously digitized books for the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). This involves improving page-level metadata for items in BHL, uploading full-page illustrations to the BHL Flickr, and tagging the images in Flickr with species’ common and scientific names. These digitized books include a variety of content: plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, and so much more. In the course of this work, I have the opportunity to view lovely illustrations. Recently a horticultural catalog caught my attention. The item is titled Vick’s Flower and Vegetable Garden (1878) by James Vick.
BHL’s existence depends on the financial support of its patrons. Help us keep this free resource alive!
The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. Headquartered at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives in Washington, D.C., BHL operates as a worldwide consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries working together to digitize the natural history literature held in their collections and make it freely available for open access as part of a global “biodiversity community.”
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