Ten major natural history museum libraries, botanical libraries, and research
institutions have joined to form the Biodiversity Heritage Library Project.
The group is developing a strategy and operational plan to digitize the published
literature of biodiversity held in their respective collections. This literature
will be available through a global “biodiversity commons.”
- American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY)
- The Field Museum (Chicago, IL)
- Harvard University Botany Libraries (Cambridge, MA)
- Harvard University, Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology
- Marine Biological Laboratory / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Woods
- Missouri Botanical Garden (St. Louis, MO)
- Natural History Museum (London, UK)
- The New York Botanical Garden (New York, NY)
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Richmond, UK)
- Smithsonian Institution Libraries (Washington, DC)
The participating libraries have over two million volumes of biodiversity literature
collected over 200 years to support the work of scientists, researchers, and
students in their home institutions and throughout the world. The 10 member
libraries of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) members now have over 1.124
million pages of key taxonomic literature available on the web.
The BHL will provide basic, important content for immediate research and for
multiple bioinformatics initiatives. For the first time in history, the core
of our natural history and herbaria library collections will be available to
a truly global audience. Web-based access to these collections will provide
a substantial benefit to people living and working in the developing world --
whether scientists or policymakers.
- The University Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
UIUC has agreed to participate in the BHL as a contributing member by
digitizing important biodiversity journals originating in the state of Illinois.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library Project will actively seek to incorporate
data and content from other digitization projects.
Legacy Taxonomic Literature
The partner libraries collectively hold a substantial part of the world’s
published knowledge on biological diversity. Yet, this wealth of knowledge is
available only to those few who can gain direct access to these collections.
This body of biodiversity knowledge, in its current form, is unavailable to
a broad range of applications including: research, education, taxonomic study,
biodiversity conservation, protected area management, disease control, and maintenance
of diverse ecosystems services.
Much of this published literature is rare or has limited global distribution.
From a scholarly perspective, these collections are of exceptional value because
the domain of systematic biology depends -- more than any other science -- upon
historic literature. The “cited half-life” of natural history literature
is longer than that of any other scientific domain. The so-called “decay-rate”
of this literature is much slower than in other fields such as biotechnology.
Mass digitization projects at large research libraries lack the discipline-specific
focus of the Biodiversity Heritage Library Project. These other projects will
fail to capture significant elements of legacy taxonomic literature.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library Project strives to establish a major corpus
of digitized publications on the Web drawn from the historical biodiversity
literature. This material will be available for open access and responsible
use as a part of a global Biodiversity Commons. We will work with the global
taxonomic community, rights holders, and other interested parties to ensure
that this legacy literature is available to all.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library Project must be a multi-institutional project
because no single natural history museum or botanical garden library holds the
complete corpus of legacy literature, even within the individual sub-domains
of taxonomy. However, taken together, the proposed consortium of collections
represents a uniquely comprehensive assemblage of literature.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library Project will immediately provide content
for multiple bioinformatics initiatives and research. For the first time in
history, the core of our natural history museum libraries and botanical garden
library collections will be available to a truly global audience. Web-based
access to these collections will provide a substantial benefit to all researchers,
including those living and working in the developing world.