Biodiversity Heritage Library Australia. Presentation at VALA2012, Melbourne Australia


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Presentation given at VALA2012 conference February 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. Ely Wallis and Dave Matthews were coauthors in a paper entitled Collaborating Locally, Contributing Globally. The Biodiversity Heritage Library in Australia.

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  • Most museums and herbaria have libraries that are there to support the curatorial research of the institution. Most have relatively small holdings, particularly when compared to university or State libraries They usually only lend to staff and interlibrary loans They were often set up at the start of the organisation’s history and have significant rare and historic works.
  • For example, at Museum Victoria our library is home to significant natural history works such as McCoy’s Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria (Green lipped Abalone, Haliotis laevigata) (Vine moth, Comocrus behri) and, Albertus Seba’s Thesaurus (Red Ibis, Eudocimus ruber)
  • The research libraries of museums and herbaria are there to support the research of these organisations – taxonomy – the science of naming new species. Having access to good libraries is also particularly pertinent in Australia. For species described a long time ago the original specimens were taken back to Europe to be described there so the literature is the most accessible description of the specimens. Similarly if you’re out in the field – taking literature files with you is much more practical than taking specimens.
  • So when new species are described, that description becomes the authoritative account of that animal, plant, bacteria or fungus. And this is reflected in how a taxonomic name is cited – with an author and date at the end of the scientific name. But taxonomy isn’t a science with a definite answer and names change over time. Taxonomy is an art as well as a science, whose aim is to construct in names the evolutionary relationships between them. So a species concept may have more than one name attached to it. So when you’re investigating a species you need to find all the literature – traditionally done as ‘archaeological bibliography’ that involves a lot of inter library loan requests!
  • The other more sobering point to note about the literature and taxonomy is best illustrated by this image. This image illustrates and describes the Western Black Rhinoceros, a subspecies of which ( Diceros bicornis longipes ) last year was declared extinct by the IUCN. The fact that the ‘hunter-naturalists’ of last century have hunted this animal extinction means that there won’t be any new literature published with recent data in any scientific. All the information we have about this species is now held in the published literature, and in the specimens that might still be kept in museums. And that makes this information scares and precious and worth keeping.
  • On a lighter note, the literature is also used to assist in the description of new species. It does often surprise people to know that new species of plants and animals are still being discovered and described. Although this critter may not be a new species, it’s super cool. It’s an amphipod that’s the length of a ruler – whereas usually these animals are less than the length of your little finger. The analogy given by the discoverers was to think of a cockroach the size of a dinner plate. It’s only just been reported after being pulled up from a deepsea trench north of New Zealand. It will be compared with the other known supergiants, and may or may not prove to be a new species. My point is that there are still lots of things we don’t know about in the world.
  • If it does turn out to be a new species, then there are c odes that govern how new species are described. Publishing of names is also a controversial matter and changes are slowly afoot – IBC now allows publishing of names electronically. Previously a new name was only valid if it was published on paper. Can also now write your description in English, instead of Latin only. So the new publishing model should allow scientists to access new literature but as with any discipline that requires access to historic literature, the logical thing to do is to start digitising and make the literature available that way. The Age Bridie Smith, July 27 2011 Botanists turn over a new leaf to name plants in English
  • So I’ll now move into the second part of the talk which is all about the digital literature – the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
  • So back in 2005 the idea for a scholarly digital research library was formed. The principles of this project were to be that:
  • The original collaborators were a number of libraries in museums and herbaria in North America and the UK. Started in 2005 with discussions connected to an associated project, the Encyclopedia of Life.
  • EoL was the brainchild of the famous biologist EO Wilson, with a catchphrase ‘a webpage for every species’. The BHL was originally conceived as the literature service of the EoL.
  • And BHL is still there are the on each species page, providing literature references for that species.
  • And with these principles agreed, the original consortium members started scanning from their collective libraries. Some of the scanning operations have become very big. And with the advent of a partnership with the Internet Archive, both scanning functions and storage were solved.
  • And 1.5 million users
  • Original consortium in North America. European project operating under Europeana. No new scanning funded but linking to digitised literature. Focus on European languages. China focus on scanning Mandarin language literature. Egypt are scanning Arabic texts and also have many old and rare European texts. Brazil working through a SciElo to concentrate on South American literature. And I will describe the Australian operations in much more detail in a minute.
  • So I’ll now move into the last part of the talk which is all about BHL project in Australia
  • In Australia, just as BHL US is the literature service for EOL, BHL Australia is the literature service for a larger project called the ALA. The only thing I’ll say today about the Atlas is that it’s mission is (slide), that it is federally funded until June this year And that if you’re interested, you can see the Atlas website at
  • Partners in the Atlas include all the State and Territory museums and herbaria, and some State government departments and universities.
  • So the goals for the project are: (slide)
  • One of the first things we’ve done is to take the BHL US website and added our own look and feel to it. Our designer and developers have also worked on improving the code base and getting it running really smoothly. The entire body of content that’s available in the US node of BHL is now also available here. It’s being synchronised weekly with the store in the US, so what they have, we have too.
  • The next part of the project is for the community to develop a list of publications they’d like to see digitised. We know that there will be limited funds, so we want to know what’s most important for the scientific community to see in there. What’s important for real taxonomists and how can we service that.
  • Museum Victoria has purchased the first of the scanning rigs planned for Australia. For anyone interested, it’s an ATIZ book pro, with some custom modifications, such as the addition of a glass plattern rather than the perspex one it was supplied with. Our digitisation project manager has been busy getting the rig set up and just on Tuesday ran the first training course for our scanning operators – a team of 5 volunteers keen to help us out.
  • It’s taken us a while to set up the scanning process, partly because we were mucking around with the rig itself but mostly because we’ve been spending a lot of time getting the post production workflow right. The Smithsonian Library has shared their post production workflow software called Macaw that we have been changing to suit our local needs.
  • So I’ll now move into the last part of the talk which is all about BHL project in Australia
  • BHL links to species pages in the Atlas of Living Australia. Ultimately we’d like for all the references to each species to be dynamically linked.
  • One of the biggest issues for all these digitisation projects is the disconnect between what libraries catalogue and what researchers use. Particularly so for serials – the article versus the run. Projects like BioStor take citation lists and throw them at the journals to try to “articlise” the journals to make them useful to researchers.
  • Linking through to Trove – who show when a book is available online.
  • And I will just end with a couple of the other ways that BHL content is being disseminated. In the meantime, BHL runs an active Flickr site where images from BHL are posted. This is proving to be really useful and of interest to artists, historians, amateur naturalists and all sorts of people other than who we thought we were building BHL for.
  • Get preformatted PDFs of some of the BHL content
  • Natural history libraries are full of wonder, just like the world we live in. Thank you.
  • Biodiversity Heritage Library Australia. Presentation at VALA2012, Melbourne Australia

    1. 1. Collaborating locally, contributing globally The Biodiversity Heritage Library in Australia Elycia Wallis & Dave Matthews @elyw
    2. 2. Introduction <ul><li>Why literature is important to taxonomy </li></ul><ul><li>Biodiversity Heritage Library global consortium </li></ul><ul><li>BHL-Australia and the Atlas of Living Australia </li></ul><ul><li>Future plans </li></ul>
    3. 3. Context: museum libraries
    4. 5. Hidden away
    5. 6. Platypus see Ornithorhynchus John Gould (1863) The Mammals of Australia The Naturalist's Miscellany: Or, Coloured Figures Of Natural Objects; Drawn and Described Immediately From Nature (1789-1813)
    6. 7. Literature and taxonomy Theodore Roosevelt, 1910, African Game Trails: an account of the African wanderings of an American hunter-naturalist.
    7. 8. Taxonomy is a dynamic science Supergiant amphipod caught in the Kermadec Trench off New Zealand. Photo copyright of Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen, UK.
    8. 9. Electronic publishing
    9. 10. Biodiversity Heritage Library
    10. 11. BHL: extensive, open, global <ul><li>Goals </li></ul><ul><li>To digitise biological literature </li></ul><ul><li>To create a global partnership </li></ul><ul><li>To engage the research community </li></ul><ul><li>Principles </li></ul><ul><li>Open access = free </li></ul><ul><li>Open content = public domain or with permission of copyright holders </li></ul><ul><li>Collaborative = local collaborations as well as global </li></ul><ul><li>Shared development = learning from others </li></ul>
    11. 12. Origins of BHL <ul><li>Academy of Natural Sciences (Philadelphia) </li></ul><ul><li>American Museum of Natural History </li></ul><ul><li>Field Museum </li></ul><ul><li>Marine Biological Laboratory (WHOI) (Woods Hole) </li></ul><ul><li>Museum of Comparative Zoology (Harvard) </li></ul><ul><li>Smithsonian Institution Libraries </li></ul><ul><li>Natural History Museum (London) </li></ul><ul><li>Harvard Botany Libraries </li></ul><ul><li>Missouri Botanical Garden </li></ul><ul><li>New York Botanical Garden </li></ul><ul><li>Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew) </li></ul>
    12. 13. Encyclopedia of Life
    13. 14. Encyclopedia of Life
    14. 15. And so they started scanning...
    15. 16. The numbers tell the story <ul><li>November 2011 </li></ul>
    16. 17. Global BHL <ul><li>Nodes in Europe, China, Brazil, Egypt and Australia </li></ul>
    17. 18. Social <ul><li>“ Global data sharing requires a social infrastructure” </li></ul><ul><li>Martin Kalfatovic </li></ul>
    18. 19. Best facilitated face to face
    19. 20. Biodiversity Heritage Library in Australia
    20. 21. BHL-Australia <ul><li>Background </li></ul><ul><li>BHL-Au is the literature service for the Atlas of Living Australia </li></ul><ul><li>Mission </li></ul><ul><ul><li>To develop an authoritative, freely accessible, distributed and federated biodiversity data management system </li></ul></ul>
    21. 22. The Council of Heads of Australian Faunal Collections (CHAFC) The Council of Heads of Australian Entomological Collections (CHAEC) The Council of Heads of Australasian Collections of Microorganisms (CHACM) The Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD)
    22. 23. BHL-Australia <ul><li>Goals </li></ul><ul><li>To provide a digital literature service for the ALA </li></ul><ul><li>To participate in the global BHL partnership </li></ul><ul><li>To manage a BHL-Au website, including development of new functionality </li></ul><ul><li>To develop a bid list for new digitisation </li></ul><ul><li>To undertake new scanning projects </li></ul>
    23. 24.
    24. 25. Bid list
    25. 26. New scanning
    26. 27. Macaw Photographer: Beatrice Murch Source:
    27. 28. Future plans
    28. 29. Species page
    29. 30. Links to articles
    30. 31. New tools
    31. 32. The images are wonderful
    32. 33. Hot off the presses
    33. 34. Thank-you