So, what is BHL really? You’re all here, I’m sure people talk about BHL all the time. Every one of those words up there has something to do with BHL, that’s for certain. But…
I don’t think that word cloud answers any questions.
And those questions are good ones! With thanks to BHL Technical Director Chris Freeland, who gave a great talk on this issue about a year ago, It helps to think of BHL as a suite of projects under the headings of Technology, Sciences, and LIbraries
BHL utilizes some great technology, like the Scribe bookscanner from IA, and the Wonderfetch template IA developed to get all out metadata for scanned items. BHL contributes some great technological components as well, and makes everything available through BHL Bits, providing open source code.
Obviously, BHL is an endeavor to serve scientists. One great example being the TaxonFinder project powered by uBio, which makes it possible for users to search for literature in BHL using taxonomic names.
And of course, probably nearest to our daily experience, BHL is a library project, providing access to texts, providing eReaderdownloadng through the relationship with Internet Archive, and providing bibliographic metadata to anyone who wants it.I make this point because some of the frustration I hear from fellow librarians with BHL is that it doesn’t work like they expect it to. They can’t search the way they want, items are indexed in unexpected ways, where’s the MARC record, things like that. I think it’s important to remember that BHL is working to break ground in several different areas, and, as Chris puts it very well, BHL is a technology project supporting Librarians and Scientists, not merely a “digital library”
Just as important, we have USERS all over the world And those users are again, a mix of people using different aspects of the resource to different ends. For example, the open data structure of BHL allows harvesting of scientific name data. Those users may not see BHL as a library project at all from their perspective.
But to us, of course, BHL is a library. So let’s talk about using it to make our jobs, and those of our patrons., easier.When you visit biodiversityheritagelibrary.org, this is the screen you see. You may note, there is a new user interface.
New, enhanced ability to search. Easier use, more indexed fields = better results
I browse all the time. This isn’t fuzzy logic searching, so you better spell well and type accurately. Since I find myself turning to BHL for literature in every field and subfield, I browse A LOT.
I’m going to hop over to the BHL portal and demonstrate how to download a compete item, a single page, and a selection of pages or an article.
Sometimes, you may not want to download an item. Maybe you’re on a clunky, old, slow computer, maybe you’re using a handheld device on a slow data network, maybe you’re paying by the minute and just need to glance at one page.I’m going to go over some information about working in the BHL portal, and using ereaders.You can see here that you can zoom in on texts and check details. You can also change the pageview to a side-by-side flip book.
You can also change the pageview to a side-by-side flip book.
You can opt to go to the Internet Archive site from the BHL Portal. Note that the Internet Archive is the scanning partner for BHL institutions, scanning an serving the content, and while accessing texts via the BHL Portal you’ve got more bibliographic and scientific information, hopping over to the Internet Archive gives you a few interesting reading options.
If you enjoy working with in-browser eReaders, the Internet Archive book reader
So, in addition to reading in the BHL portal, downloadingPDFs and other files, and taking advantage of the desktop ereading capabilities offered by the Internet Archive, users have the ability to download texts in a variety of formats for ereading on mobile devices.These are screenshots from my iPhone, right here. From the shot on the left, you see I’ve navigated to IA using the phone’s browser and started a download as you would on your desktop or laptop computer. I’ve downloaded texts as EPUB files, which work for a variety of reading devices and apps, including free ones like Adobe Digital Editions, Kobo, iBooks, and others. I’ve also downloaded MOBI files, for the Kindle. I don’t actually have a Kindle, but I do have the free Kindle app on my phone, which works just fine for organizing and working with MOBI files.While all devices are a little different, on the iPhone, the iPod touch, and I’m going to guess the iPad, when the file is done loading, you get a screen like the ones you see above, asking you what you’d like to open the file in.
Here you see some BHL texts that I downloaded as EPUBs or MOBI files and can now read, search, and bookmark using various Apps on my phone. Again, these are screenshots from my phone. If anyone wants to discuss using mobile devices for eReading, I’m happy to revisit that later, as this is something I’m finding pretty exciting, and is a topic I’m looking forward to taking up with the Research community at the Cal Academy.
Speaking of various download options, I always like to remind audiences that you can download BHL items as a zip file of JPEG2000s, which is an option some people might prefer over PDFs for various reasons, particularly if what they’re after is the graphic nature of the work. I like to point out just how high-quality the BHL images are, as I know some users have approached me with suspicion when I suggest using BHL, as they assume the quality of images – plates and pages- will be more like photocopies or microfilm.
So, if someone asks me the question, “why should I use the Biodiversity Heritage Library? I’ve got access to the texts here in my library, why bother?” I have some examples of how BHL works for me in my everyday life in the Academy Library.First and foremost, I am a very big believer in the fact the books are important, and the physical library spaces and real-live in-person librarians are incredibly important. There is, without a doubt, an experiential quality that a digitized text cannot replicate, and one of my favorite parts of my job is working directly, collaboratively, and in-person with researchers on physical materials. It’s rewarding and intellectually stimulating, and nothing about the use of BHL devalues that, in my mind. But no matter how much we love working with physical objects, that work has some drawbacks, especially when you’re not the one handing your materials 100% of the time. Without a doubt, my number-one daily use of BHL is aimed at avoiding that photocopier. Being able to provide access to texts through BHL doesn’t just spare the books
It spoils the user (in a good way). I’ve had plenty of patrons ask to work with my copies of items in BHL even after seeing the version that’s already digitized, and I am 100% a-okay with that. But I have never had a patron express anything besides delight that they can save time photocopying or scanning items because someone else has done the hard work for them.
On that note, the amount of time saved, by library staff and by researchers, in using BHL is substantial. Everyone in the library & archives at the Academy are, as you might expect, heavy users of the scientific publications of our home institution. We access our publications in BHL just about every day, and the ability to use tools like TaxonFinder are incredibly helpful. Being able to stay at our desks, available to patrons, rather than going into the stacks in also a factor. And again, the ability to quickly create a PDF of exactly the article we need without making photocopies or scans saves a lot of time, effort, and paper.
Quick communication with colleagues and users is another feature of BHL that I value. Persistent URLs make for easy email correspondence with outside researchers, scientists away from the Academy, and other reference clients. It is not unusual for the Library and Archives staff at Cal Academy to receive emails from outside researchers, requesting appointments to view materials they think are only held locally by Cal Academy. It saves a lot of researcher time and money when we can provide them with persistent links to what they need in BHL.Once again, this is not about turning away the physical user, but freeing up the time of everyone involved to move on other, more pressing research matters. I gave a talk about BHL for curators and graduate students at the Academy a little over a year ago, and when I had finished demonstrating how BHL streamlines access to legacy literature, one of our long-time curators actually burst out, “I feel like I’ve wasted my youth tracking all this stuff down! Imagine how much more I could have accomplished!”
I’ve mentioned several times already that the ability to get information into the hands (or email inboxes) of researchers off-site is a big part of my professional BHL use. I’d like to talk about that issue a bit more, since I think it is one of great pertinence to anyone in our line of work.This is a map of recent and current field research efforts undertaken by the California Academy of Sciences. You can see a lot of work on coasts and on islands, in a lot of places that you can reasonably assume do not have ready access to a wide range of taxonomic literature in print. And where you see a marker, you know it’s not just Academy employees and students visiting these sites from time-to-time– there are colleagues and field associates and partners at work in these locations every day. With BHL, there is access to the collections of the premiere systematic biology libraries in the world, wherever you are. In fact, this is one of the aspects of the ereading technology for portable devices that I’m very excited about. I can see a day when researchers go into the field and bring associates and colleagues the research library they need on a mobile device…internet not even required.
Another case where access to remote resources is an issue is quite a bit closer to home. This is Frank Almeda, who some of you may know, and one of his then-graduate students (now an Academy researcher), named Marcela. I met Marcela on, I believe, my third day of work as a librarian at the Academy. She came to the library looking for the Humboldt & Bonpland botanical volume on Rhexia. We don’t have it. I tell her, place an interlibrary loan request, maybe we can get someone to make a copy of the pages and plates you need. Unfortunately, she needed to see a good deal of the item, and we knew no one would loan it to us. Whenever I visited other libraries, I hopped on WorldCat and made some calls to see if I could get in to have a look at the book, maybe help Marcela figure out what she needed. With the launch of BHL, I began to suspect that someone might get around to digitizing this work. I told Marcela I’d keep an eye out.Finally, DATE I noticed the work in the sidebar as a new addition to the BHL collections. I literally ran downstairs to find Frank and Marcela, pulled them over to a computer and showed them. They downloaded the entire text, a work that they considered a true missing piece of the puzzle for their project.I point this out not just because it’s a nice story, but because “borders” are not always international ones. It is not unreasonable to find yourself across the continent from the only copy of a book you need.
Finally, a large number of my neediest patrons are not actually on site with me very often.Grad students aren’t here. Their campus and my institution are about 4.5 miles apart. It’s a 40 minutue-1 hour trip one way on public transit. Adding to that, their main library is under renovation, so their collections and staff are housed off-site another mile and a half awayThe persons least familiar with the literature, most in need of help are not physically located on site at the Academy most of the time. They take advisors at the Academy so they can do collections-based research, and time they spend making copies of articles and original descriptions is time they don’t have to spend with their advisors and study their taxa.
Another great use I’ve found for BHL is that we are all working in ever-increasingly interdisciplinary research environments, and we all have finite copies of any one publication. I have had out-of-print texts that I check out to a user become hot property around the Academy, with several people all sharing custody and negotiating use of a single book for different projects.
BHL is proving a fruitful source to expose citizen scientists to taxonomic literature and rare books. Visiting researchers and museum staff often have reference inquiries about various local taxa, particularly extinct or declining ones, which gives me a chance to show them earlier illustrations and orginal descriptions, enhancing their experience and often enriching the story they’re trying to tell. For example, the California Quail was first described and depicted in 1797 with publication of the accounts of La Perousse’s voyage. He stopped in California, noted the abundant birds, and remarked on their succulence. It’s been a valuable game bird over the years, but its numbers have dwindled in San Francisco. Concerted efforts are underway to help restore habitat and bring the quail back to the city. A simple reference question often turns into an opportunity to widen the scope and enhance the story, and I can’t do that if I need someone to wait while I page a giant atlas from rare books.
On that same note, I can’t thrust a rare book into the hands of every person who walks in the door of the museum. I consider BHL my “gateway drug” to interesting and beautiful items. I can lecture to a docent group, or a class of our high school interns, and use images like these to grab their interest.Also, I frequently get requests from people looking for publications or beautiful illustrations, but they don’t know quite what they’re looking for or where to start. I can make suggestions and send links to BHL publications that allow them to have a close experience with various titles, narrowing their scope or range of choices at their convenience.
This is an actual photograph of my desk, taken less than one week ago. I work in a very small space, and most of my collections are in closed stacks. Rather than saying I’m too lazy to page things, I will say that I often need to consult multiple pieces of literature over a period of time for any single project, and I very much enjoy being able to access a wide swath of legacy literature without leaving my desk or overburdening our Interlibrary Loan dept.Now that I’ve thoroughly embarassed myself by showing you all a picture of my desk, I’d like to move on and discuss some of the newer, interesting endeavors BHL is working on.
BHL staff members work together in our feedback system, a Countersoft product known as Gemini that is hosted by Missouri Botanical GardenThe main point of contact for BHL Feedback is based here at SI, Grace Costantino. Also, I’d like to acknowledge Erin Thomas and Bianca Crowley, the trio who really keeps the wheels turning, making sure that users are well cared for.
Not even close. Part of what makes BHL a great tool for Librarians to work with is that we engage in the practice of rapid prototyping.Or as Buffy the Vampire Slayer would say, We’re cookie dough, and we’re not finished becoming who ever the hell we’re going to turn out to be .
So, the sandbox– I don’t mean “sandbox” in the web-or-software development senseIt’s a completely different world from library products and services that most of us are used to working with. The BHL model encourages collaboration, experimentation, back-and-forth. It’s an active learning environmentThere’s a term I’m going to heist from one of my BHL colleagues, and that’s “perpetual beta”
Perpetual Beta can be seen as a negative thing…as a never-ending struggle that lacks a solutionORAs an ong0ing process that allows for change and adaptation
While I will admit to having frustrations using BHL over other years, I’m going to come down firmly on the “glass half full” side of the Perpetual Beta issue. The ability for BHL to change, adapt, and expand makes a much more robust project. In addition, through submitting user feedback and scan requests, and by encouraging users to fill out you literally make BHL better by using it.
Finally, if you’re not already tracking BHL around Web 2.0-land, I encourage you to do so. You’ll be kept up-to-date on new developments and changes, as well as work going on all around the globe.
I’d like to especially thank these individuals, who were most generous in bringing me out here and helping me form this presentation.
The Inside Track: Getting the most out of BHL in your library
The Inside TrackGetting the most out of BHL in your library <br />Rebecca Morin<br />User Services Librarian<br />California Academy of Sciences<br />Smithsonian Institution<br />National Museum of Natural History <br />March 7, 2011<br />