An Entomologist writing a book on skipper butterflies needs to verify several citations and species names. The information he needs to do so is held within a natural history library not accessible to him. A team of malacologists is attempting to catalog the entire family of Pyramidellidae, but after fifty years has still barely scratched the surface as they are unable to identify and obtain the necessary literature. A botanist in an isolated African village has no access to the literature needed to complete his research project on local flora. Just ten years ago, without access to the necessary literature, the individuals in each of these scenarios would have been unable to complete their work. Today, the Biodiversity Heritage Library has changed that reality.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of 14 natural history and botanical libraries (including the Smithsonian Institution) that collaborate to digitize past and present biodiversity literature, all of which is made freely available to the public. On BHL, you can find over 37.8 million pages of digitized literature (representing over 53,000 titles and 102,000 volumes), going back as far as 1484 and continuing to present day. Not only can you browse millions of pages online, but you can download PDFs and high resolution images of that material. You can also search for literature about a specific species and navigate back to the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) for more information on the organism.
You can learn more about BHL, discover fun biodiversity facts, participate in daily quizzes, and explore thousands of free biodiversity images through BHL's social media outlets, including our Blog, Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to check out BHL's Flickr account, which includes more than 23,000 natural history and botanical illustrations from the past 400 years, many of which are extremely rare and incredibly valuable. This growing collection of images from BHL books (several of which are featured in this post) is freely available for download and reuse. Finally, you can download select BHL content directly to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch though the Biodiversity Heritage Library on iTunes U. Again, all content is completely free.
Today, earth's biodiversity faces many challenges, and it is vital that the critical knowledge held within legacy literature be made available to scientists, researchers, conservationists, and the public at large so that we can make intelligent decisions to save global biodiversity for generations to come. Projects like BHL, which provide free global access to digitized versions of this literature, repatriate information about the earth's species to all parts of the world, helping everyone obtain the information needed to protect and preserve life on Earth.
Start exploring today at www.biodiversitylibrary.org.
Grace Costantino, Program Manager, Biodiversity Heritage Library