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Notes from William Brewster: Signs of Spring


Here in the Greater Boston area we’ve had a week or so of beautiful spring weather. Robins are out foraging over soft ground, Red-winged Blackbirds flash their wings in wetland areas, and Song Sparrows are singing again. While we’re still likely to have more cold snaps and snow, we’re definitely feeling the season shift.

For ornithologist William Brewster, a productive day’s work often looked like a long ramble outside with a notebook and a gun, or later on, a notebook and a pair of binoculars. His daily journal entries often run many pages long as he notes the places he visited and every natural detail that stood out to him.

On March 25, 1891, Brewster spent the day riding and walking from Lexington to Belmont with a friend, and noted many of the signs of spring that we’re seeing this week.

Song Sparrow, photographed in Sagamore, Mass. Photos courtesy of Evan Lipton. © Evan Lipton 2013.

Song Sparrow, photographed in Sagamore, Mass.

Red-winged Blackbird, photographed in Milton, Mass. Photos courtesy of Evan Lipton. © Evan Lipton 2015.

Red-winged Blackbird, singing and displaying, photographed in Milton, Mass. Photos courtesy of Evan Lipton. © Evan Lipton 2013 and 2015.

(This journal entry has been abridged and broken into shorter paragraphs for readability.)

March 25, 1891

Started at 8.20 this morning with F. Bolles and drove to the Bryant farm in Lexington. The past six days have been cloudy and dismal with snow, sleet, and rain falling much of the time, but this morning the sun rose clear and there was a light breeze from the N. W. which by 9 a.m. had increased to a typical March wind, roaring through the leafless woods, ruffling the most sheltered forest roads and beating the tall, withered meadow grass savagely to and fro.

The greater part of the day, however, was just warm enough to be delightful, especially in openings in the woods and on sheltered hillsides. The air was bracing but at no time raw and there was a smell of earth mould and wet leaves. In short Spring was in the air.

The roads were dry and hard in most places and the grass tinged with green on sunny exposures while about spring holes it was vivid green. There is little snow or ice left except under evergreens in the woods and on the north side of high banks. The ground is still very wet and sodden and there is hard frost under the leaves everywhere in the woods.

We heard a Bluebird or two before reaching Waverly and two Song Sparrows, one opposite the Adams place being an exceptionally fine singer. As the horse was walking slowly up the steep pitch past the lower mill pond there was a sudden whirring of wings behind us on the right and a bevy of twelve Quail hurtled over our heads like a shower of cannon balls. They crossed the ravine just below the house and disappeared over the knolls beyond flying very fast and nearly 100 feet above the earth when above the bed of Beaver Brook. What disturbed them I do not know; certainly not our carriage for they rose among the pines at least 100 yds. from the road.

The willows were wonderfully beautiful as we entered their eastern end, the sunlight bringing out their old gold tints and lying lovingly on the long, straight reach of road that led away across the great, half flooded meadow. There were hosts of Song Sparrows here. Indeed we must have heard nearly a dozen and others were continually flitting across the road or rustling through the dry grass on its borders. Two Rusty Blackbirds rose from the flooded meadow and alighted in the top of a maple uttering their tinkling medley.

In the woods at the western end six or eight Crows were sitting in pairs in the tops of the tall oaks. A Red-wing, the only one seen during the day, was singing in the top of a hickory under which we drove without disturbing him. We drove past the Bryant farm to the Theodore Parker place and then returned. Just before searching the Bryant farm we started a musk rat from the road where, on the edge of a pond of rain water, he was sitting in the sun. He floundered and skipped over and through the shallow water in haste and finally disappeared in a half submerged stone wall.

Our drive home was a fitting close to the long, restful, delightful day. As we entered the Willows the sun was setting and its level beams threw a strong light on the tops of the trees, the road itself being in shadow.

A great flock of Crows (Bolles counted forty five) straggled off in a long, swarming line northward apparently starting on a migrating flight but perhaps on the way to a roost.

A musk rat kept abreast of us for a little way clearing deep furrow in the smooth surface of the ditch on the right of the road and finally humping his back and diving so smoothly as to leave scarcely a ring on the spot where he disappeared. Near the Payson place more Crows, a small flock, starting on a flight but heading first west and then nearly south-west.

The wind blew cold and strong and the light was fading fast when we reached home at about six o’clock.

You can read the full journal entry here on the Biodiversity Heritage Library website.

If you’re not familiar with the New England spring singers noted in Brewster’s journal entry, check out the videos below.

-Elizabeth Meyer

Notes from William Brewster: Winter Irruption


For a few days in January of 1893, Cambridge was abuzz with an unfamiliar sight: a sudden ‘irruption’ of red and gold birds that drew lots of attention.

William Brewster recognized them as Pine Grosbeaks. They’re beautiful birds: the males a have a soft red head and breast that fades to light gray underneath, and dark wings with two white stripes or ‘wing bars’. In females and juveniles, the red head is replaced with a gold color. Large finches, they have stubby, thick, seed-cracking in beaks, similar in shape to a Northern Cardinal’s. In the winter, large foraging flocks of Pine Grosbeaks often strip entire trees of their fruits, crushing through pulp and seeds and moving on when the food source has been exhausted.



Male (above) and female Pine Grosbeaks, photographed in Newburyport, Mass. Photos courtesy of Evan Lipton. © Evan Lipton 2013.

(These journal entries have been abridged and broken into shorter paragraphs for readability.)

Cambridge, January 10, 1893.

There were a good many Pine Grosbeaks scattered along the line of ashtrees on the ridge to my left and as I approached Mt. Auburn Street their numbers increased until upon reaching Mr. Hayes’s place I found the trees literally alive with them.

Soon after I stopped to look at them they began flying from every direction into a large white ash which stands near the foot of the avenue. This tree was loaded with fruit and with snow clinging to the fruit clusters and to every twig. In a few minutes it supported also more than a hundred Grosbeaks which distributed themselves quite evenly over every part from drooping lower to the upright upper branches and began shelling out and swallowing the seeds. The rejected wings floated down in showers and soon began to give the surface of the snow beneath a light brownish tinge. The snow clinging to the twigs and branches was also quickly dislodged by the movements, of the active, heavy birds and for the first few minutes it was continually flashing out in puffs like steam from a dozen different points at once. The finer particles, sifting slowly down, filled the still air and enveloped the entire tree in a gauzy veil or mist tinted, where the sun-beams pierced it, with rose, salmon and orange, elsewhere of a soft, dead white and of incredible delicacy and beauty, truly a fitting drapery for this winter picture- the hardy Grosbeaks at their morning meal.

They worked in silence when undisturbed and so very busily that at the end of an hour they had actually eaten or shaken off nearly half the entire crop of seeds. Some men employed in a marble cutter’s shop near the tree were neglecting their tasks to watch and discuss them. One of these men told me that a few Grosbeaks were seen in the tree late yesterday afternoon.

Cambridge, January 11, 1893

This was the great Grosbeak day; the city was simply flooded with them. Whenever or wherever I stepped out of doors I saw flocks of varying sizes flying overhead and the sound of their piping was always in my ears. Just after breakfast I took a walk up Brattle Street and found an immense flock feeding in an ash heavily laden with fruit in Mr. Piper’s place on the corner of Fayerweather Street. I counted 149 birds in this tree and there were fully half as many more in another ash in front of Mr. Richardson’s house on the opposite side of Brattle Street to Miller’s hearing Grosbeaks continually & seeing several flocks of from 30 to 50 birds each. They were in Hubbard Park the whole day and I saw a few on my own place but more visited the old cedar tree.

I had sent word to Faxon of this condition of things and at half-past three he arrived and we went together to the Piper place where we found the birds even more numerous than had been in the morning. They had stripped both ash trees and were operating on the fallen fruit.

Over the space covered by the spread of the branches of the Piper ash they were crowded together so closely as almost to conceal the snow[.] We divided into halves and made a rough count Faxon getting 108 and I 115 birds. We missed some and there were others in the trees and on the roofs of the neighboring houses. 250 would be a low estimate for the total number assembled here at this time.

They attracted much attention from the passers by and people in sleighs & on foot were continually stopping to look at them. One man asked if they were “harbingers of spring”, a question which gave us some grim amusement insomuch as we were suffering from the bitter cold and unable to stand still for more than a minute or two at a time.

As we were returning, about sunset, Grosbeaks were continually passing overhead coming from the direction of the Botanic Gardens and flying towards the West. I afterwards learned from Mr. Fernald that over 300 Grosbeaks spent the entire day in the Gardens and from Mr. Hoffman that there were about 70 in the College yard during the afternoon. These figures indicate that there total number in the city to-day must have exceeded 1000[.]

I visited the Hayes place this morning and again with Faxon in the afternoon but saw only a few stray Grosbeaks there. The men at work in the marble yard told me that the birds finished the fruit of the big ash before sunset yesterday. They spent most of the afternoon eating the fallen buds.

Cambridge, January 12 1893

Although Grosbeaks have continued very numerous through the day in the vicinity of my place their numbers have decreased very considerably as compared with yesterday – quite one half I should say. They have evidently exhausted the food supply hereabouts and are departing in search of fresh fields.

Brewster’s notes were the basis for an article published by the American Ornitholigsts’ Union in the ornithological journal ‘The Auk’. You can read Brewster’s article, ‘A Remarkable Flight of Pine Grosbeaks (Pinicola enucleator)’ at the Biodiversity Heritage Library website.

-Elizabeth Meyer

Notes from William Brewster: A Day on a Boston Harbor Garbage Scow


On a bitter January morning in 1893, amateur ornithologist William Brewster took an excursion out past the Boston Harbor Islands, intending to take notes on marine birds and to collect a few if any caught his interest.

What better way to find Gulls and other seabirds than to hop onto a maritime garbage truck? The day’s bird notes are detailed and definitely an intriguing read for birders, but it’s his description of the city’s garbage disposal that make this entry particularly memorable.

(The passage is abridged and broken into shorter paragraphs for readability.)

January 19, 1893. Boston Harbor.

Met E. A. [Edward A. Bangs] & Outram Bangs by appointment at Fort Hill Wharf, Boston, at 10.30 A.M. Half an hour later we started down the Harbor (Dr. Sidney Holditch accompanying us) in a large scow loaded with city garbage consisting chief of decayed fruit, vegetables[,] scraps of meat etc. from the market and such from private houses, besides a great quantity of coal ashes and a miscellaneous assortment of waste paper, paper boxes battered tin cans etc. -in all some four hundred cart loads gathered during the preceeding twenty-four hours by the city scavengers.

This scow alternates with another of similar build in making daily trips, in tow of a tug, to the dumping grounds well outside the outer islands.

Despite the ice which, in cakes of varying size and thickness, covered the water for the first half of the way, we made such good progress that by 1 P.M. we reached the Graves and got rid of our redolent cargo.

This was accomplished quickly & easily by two men for the scow is so constructed that by the aid of a simple piece of mechanism the hull can be split in two longitudinally allowing a broad stream of water to flow directly through the hold from stem to stern and sweep everything out. The halves are hinged together of course & are prevented from sinking by capacious air chambers.

The tug steams steadily ahead during the operation so that the contents of the scow are not deposited in one spot but trail out behind forming a broad belt on the water for a distance of several hundred yards the ashes sinking quickly of course but much of the vegetable matter and all the paper floating, at least for a short time.

The great quantity of garbage thus spread out over the water usually attracts immense numbers of Gulls. Indeed we had been assured by several passengers who had made the trip that most of the birds in the harbor followed the scow to the dumping ground where others joined them from the open ocean until the assembled birds numbered thousands. The scow men confirmed this and added that the birds, having never been molested, ordinarily behave in the most fearless manner flapping past within a yard or two of the boat and were attempting to snatch choice morsels from her deck load.

It was to see all this and perhaps shoot a few specimens if anything rare was found among the birds that we undertook this expedition but we were utterly disappointed for the Gulls showed scarce any interest in the movements of the scow to-day.”  

Disappointingly, he did not see many birds he’d been hoping to encounter: no Guillemots, Auks, Puffins, Loons or Grebes, which he’d seen on a similar Boston Harbor trip in 1879.

He did note a large mixed flock of Herring Gulls and Black-backed Gulls (Great or Lesser), as well as a Kittiwake, large groups of Goldeneye Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers, a ‘Gooseander’ (Common Merganser), a Black Duck, a ‘Velvet Scoter’ (today, the common name of a Eurasian species; it may have been one of our three New England species, a White-winged, Black, or Surf Scoter), and at least 25 seals, which he thought might be Harbor Seals

You can peruse his full journal entry here on the Biodiversity Heritage Library website.

-Elizabeth Meyer

Notes from William Brewster: American Robin


“It is sunset and as I sit in my study in the Museum a Robin is singing in an elm in the garden. What a hopeful, earnest strain! It always cheers and encourages me. Our Robin must have a brave heart and a pure conscience.”

– William Brewster, in correspondence to his friend, ornithologist Frank Michler Chapman. March 26, 1893. Cambridge, Mass.

William Brewster (1851-1919) grew up in a Cambridge of farm fields filled with singing Eastern Blue Birds and large flocks of Snow Buntings where we now have introduced House Sparrows. As a teen, he collected birds and practiced taxidermy, and carefully noted the dates when his family ate the year’s first lettuce and strawberries. If you’ve browsed the galleries at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History, then you’ve passed by some of his life’s work; after working as an animal specimen curator at the museum for many years, he bequeathed his collection of birds and other animals to the museum.

Brewster’s fascination for birds and his observant note-taking laid the groundwork for his career as a prominent North American amateur ornithologist. He was the first president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society and a president of the American Ornithologists’ Union.

An ongoing project at the the Ernst Mayr Library has been the digitization and transcription of Brewster’s diaries, field journals, and correspondences. Some of these journals and diaries are available to read on the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and we are working toward making all his notes accessible for study.

I joined the library a year ago as an assistant for this project, and I’ve spent this time immersed in Brewster’s world. As a Boston-area native, I’ve found some of it surprisingly familiar. Brewster watched the landscape and ecology change dramatically over the course of his life, yet some of his favorite local haunts still draw bird-watchers and dog-walkers today: Fresh Pond and Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, Walden Pond in Concord, and Ponkapoag Pond in the Blue Hills, to name just a few. His notes are an enormously valuable resource for scientists interested in studying ecological and climatological change, but they’re also sprinkled with amusing observations, beautiful scenes, intriguing facts and bizarre stories that I’d like to share with you in a series of short blog posts.

Roger Tory Peterson’s original field guide called the American Robin “the one bird that everyone knows.” The Robin that Brewster heard on that March evening seems a perfect place to begin this series. Not only does the passage express a beautiful sentiment, but the familiarity of Robins and their sounds can make it feel quite comfortable for us to sit at an unfamiliar desk in Brewster’s museum office, watching the sun set in 1893. His comment on the “brave heart and a pure conscience” of the bird certainly isn’t objective science, but it connects us to a moment that I think we’ve all experienced before: an animal encounter that punctures our daily routine to remind us, briefly, of how wide the world is.  

Play the video below to hear a Robin’s “hopeful, earnest strain” similar to the one that uplifted Brewster’s spirits in March of 1893. Those of us who are feeling winter-weary sure could do with the brave winter Robin’s encouragement.

American Robins are so ubiquitous that you might never have thought to learn about them. Check out the Peterson Field Guide video below to see how much you know. 

See you again soon!

– Elizabeth Meyer

A Bridge to the Past: The Writings of William Brewster


William Brewster was a self-educated ornithologist who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From the mid-1800s until his death in 1919, he amassed a tremendous specimen collection and became one of the foremost experts on birds in the northeastern United States. In 1906, the Nuttall Ornithological Club published The Birds of the Cambridge Region of Massachusetts, Brewster’s exhaustive work on the avian fauna of his own backyard. While the book is a valuable historical resource, it is Brewster’s journals and diaries—spanning over 50 years of his life—that contain the goldmine of his recorded observations. Last year, the Ernst Mayr Library made these journals and diaries available on BHL.

Photo of William Brewster in The Auk, Volume 37, 1920

Photo of William Brewster in The Auk, Volume 37, 1920

Increasingly, researchers and conservationists rely on collections of data points to understand species’ habits, population decline, and migration patterns. One such collection is eBird, a website created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. eBird harnesses the contributions of bird-watchers around the world to create interactive maps that display individual observations as data points. These data points are integrated into systems such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), where they paint a rich picture of global environmental health that transcends individual, component snapshots of information.

Since eBird launched in 2002, it has captured millions of bird observations. Prior to the World Wide Web, however—and especially prior to the advent of bird-watching as a common recreational activity around 1900—the record is more spotty. This makes the existing historical data, such as William Brewster’s carefully recorded observations, all the more valuable.

A bird list from Brewster’s 1890 journal

A bird list from Brewster’s 1890 journal

Brewster saw the effects of urbanization and development on the Cambridge of his boyhood; more than the changed landscape, he lamented the loss of birds. In Birds of the Cambridge Region, he wrote of the Mt. Auburn area:

Knolls and ridges have been levelled, swamps and meadows drained or filled, and woods, groves, thickets and orchards swept away, to make place for settlements of houses…Most of the native birds have disappeared…So complete has been the transformation, that it is only by appealing to the imagination…that one can hope to reconstruct even the more prominent features of the landscape as it was twenty or thirty years ago.

In addition to the effects of development, Brewster witnessed the explosion of non-native House (English) Sparrows, the effects of 0ver-hunting, and the cost of human attitudes and ignorance. Brewster listed the Great Horned Owl as an “occasional or accidental” visitor to Cambridge and the Cooper’s Hawk as “expunged or doubtful”; at the time, people believed that these birds were a serious threat to domestic fowl, and they killed them at every opportunity. Wild Turkeys were totally extirpated from the region during Brewster’s lifetime.

Map of Fresh Pond, c.1866, from The Birds of the Cambridge Region of Massachusetts; image provided by Charles Sullivan, Cambridge Historical Commission

Map of Fresh Pond, c.1866, from The Birds of the Cambridge Region of Massachusetts; image provided by Charles Sullivan, Cambridge Historical Commission

Fresh Pond, one of Brewster’s favorite birding spots, is a case study in the harmful effects of human engineering. Before Fresh Pond was made a public park in 1884, hunters decimated the migratory duck populations that had once been abundant. The establishment of the park allowed the ducks to return, but at the cost of marsh birds: the vegetation at the water’s edge was cut down for a perimeter path, and some of the pond’s coves were filled in. With their habitat gone, several Rail species that Brewster commonly encountered around the pond disappeared. According to eBird, they’ve rarely been seen since. Even as the duck population rebounded, the city charged policemen with shooting their guns to scare them off, afraid that they would pollute the municipal water supply.

House Sparrows may be here to stay, but not all the damage has been permanent. Cambridge is working to restore Fresh Pond as a sanctuary for local wildlife. Cooper’s Hawks are now spotted regularly in the city. And Great Horned Owls and Wild Turkeys reside in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, where Brewster is buried. As we continue to make progress, the historical information provided by Brewster and others serves as a guide to conservation, filling in critical gaps in the stories of hundreds of bird species.

eBird Cooper’s Hawk sightings in the Cambridge region for 2014

eBird Cooper’s Hawk sightings in the Cambridge region for 2014

Making Brewster’s writings available on BHL is an important step, but the work doesn’t end there. In order for his journals and diaries to be truly useful, they need to be converted to searchable text files. Ordinarily, a computer would do this using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), but because the technology has trouble reading cursive handwriting, transcriptions must be typed out one page at a time. Thanks to a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), volunteers and project partners at the Ernst Mayr Library are doing just that. Read about BHL’s involvement in the Purposeful Gaming grant, and if you want to help, try your hand at transcribing Brewster’s diaries and journals. By making these writings accessible, we can reach into the past to find information that will help us plot a course for the future.

Transcribing the Field Notes of William Brewster


William Brewster (1851-1919) was a renowned American amateur ornithologist, first president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and a president of the American Ornithologists’ Union. He was an avid collector of birds and their nests and eggs, and collected over forty thousand specimens from 1861 until his death in 1919. His collection, bequeathed to the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, is considered one of the finest private collections of North American birds ever assembled. Though Brewster collected throughout North America, his collection is especially comprehensive in its coverage of the birds of New England. Brewster thoroughly documented his collecting trips. His journals and diaries are a gold mine of scientific observations and a delightful account of years spent exploring the woods, fields, lakes, and rivers of New England.

The Ernst Mary Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology is in the process of digitizing its collection of Brewster’s field notes and observations, and making these available worldwide via the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). As part of a project led by the Missouri Botanical Garden, and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we have begun efforts to transcribe Brewster’s voluminous field notes with the ultimate goal of making the full text of his observations searchable and available for any number of uses. As an initial trial project, we have placed ten digitized volumes of field notes on two crowdsourcing websites, and we invite anyone interested to help us accomplish our goal of transcribing at least 2000 pages of Brewster’s journals. The crowdsourcing websites chosen for this project are the Biodiversity Volunteer Portal (BVP), a collaboration between the Australian Museum and the Atlas of Living Australia; and a BHL installation of FromThePage, a transcription tool developed by Ben Brumfield.

Please feel free to visit one or both of these transcription sites, create an account, and enjoy Brewster’s idyllic writing style while helping to unlock his valuable observations for the benefit of all. We also invite you to browse Brewster’s diaries and journals on the BHL portal.

Ivory-billed woodpecker from 1890 journal

Ivory-billed woodpecker from 1890 journal

Librarian Travels: global Biodiversity Heritage Library meeting in Australia, part 2


Global BHL colleagues outside of the Melbourne Museum:  Abel Packer, Connie Rinaldo, John, Jiri Frank, Ely Wallis, Simon Sherrin, Fenghong Liu, Jinzhong Cui

On 1 February 2014 (day 2) of the global BHL meeting, we headed off to Lorne, Australia to convene at the Mantra Resort.  The next two days were working days where we discussed the nitty gritty details of strategic planning, connections with EOL, & other organizations such as GBIF, the next phase of BHL services, planning the next global meeting, & planning for our presentation at VALA, Australia’s bienniel Libraries, Technology and the Future conference.

During lunch breaks and at the end of the day, we could explore the beach.

The last dinner in Lorne.



Librarian Travels: Global Biodiversity Heritage Library Meeting in Australia, part 1.


I recently returned from a trip to the global Biodiversity Heritage Library Meeting in Australia.  The kick-off was “BHL Day” on 31 January 2014  in the Melbourne Museum, Melbourne, Australia.

Ely Wallis, Chair of gBHL organized the meeting and we had a spectacular time.   BHL Day  began with a traditional welcome from the indigenous people of Australia by Caroline Martin, Bunjilaka Manager of the museum.

As we stood in a circle, Caroline Martin (with our host Ely Wallis on left) led a traditional welcome.

Presentations from members of the gBHL nodes attending followed the welcome.  Reports were provided by BHL Classic Chair, Nancy Gwinn, BHL Australia’s Ely Wallis, BHL China’s JinzhongCui and Fenghong Liu, BHL Europe’s Jiri Frank, BHLSciELO’s Abel Packer and Fabiana Montanari Lapido and BHL Africa’s Anne-Lise Fourie.

BHLAfrica report, Anne-Lise Fourie


Staff from BHL Egypt were unable to attend.  It was illuminating to hear what the global BHL nodes are doing.  The afternoon session posed several provocative questions related to recent literature, reprint collections and archival collections leading to a fruitful discussion of new directions as well as boundaries for BHL.  Joining BHL representatives were staff and volunteers from the Melbourne Museum, Australia’s national science agency (CSIRO) and the Atlas of Living Australia. The Museum arranged a tour of the “First Peoples” exhibit, the library rare book room,and a special visit to see live insects on display for visitors.


Librarian travels: Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG)


I was privileged to attend and present as part of a symposium at the Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) meeting October 28-November 1, 2013. The theme for 2013 was “Virtual Communities for Biodiversity Science”, an apt theme for the global virtual Biodiversity Heritage Library.  The venue was beautiful Florence, Italy and the weather was warm.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

Six members of the Global BHL community participated in the symposium, “Crafting the Future of a Global Biodiversity Heritage Library for Diverse Communities’ Needs“.  My contribution to the symposium was a review of feedback the BHL has received through surveys, interviews and messages, looking for common threads and what has been resolved.The most common thread throughout the years and echoed by the 50 or so audience members is:  “Scan more!!”.

Left to right: Martin Kalfatovic, Connie Rinaldo, Trish Rose-Sandler,Lucy Waruingi, William Ulate, Jiri Frank

TDWG is a long and information-packed meeting that incorporates many topics of interest to the Biodiversity Heritage Library and librarians.  Metadata, vocabularies for taxonomy, interoperability and linked open data are common themes at TDWG  to which librarians, particularly those engaged in biological information,  can relate.  I particularly enjoyed the poster sessions.  There were 31 posters and I will highlight a few in this post.

BHL partners such as ViBRANT (, OpenUp (, BioStor (, and Zookeys ( and others were represented at TDWG ensuring lively discussions.  The poster “Bibliography of Life: Comprehensive services for biodiversity bibliographic references” ( addressed de-duplicating and parsing the components of references from a variety of sources to improve and expand literature searching.  Other posters highlighted object digitization and the TDWG Audubon Core ( standard.  The Naturalis Biodiversity Center reviewed their work digitizing collection objects, including videos, ( using the Audubon Core standard for metadata.  Another poster from Belgian institutions, Agora 3D Evaluating the Digitisation of Scientific Collections, reviewed scanning technology and techniques for biological specimens to develop a set of standards and protocols for museums (  Other posters highlighted taxonomic information such as “From Dendroeca blackburniae to Dendrceca blackburniae:  what’s in a name” citing the need for clean, correct scientific names to support names-based architecture and ” ComTax: Community-driven Curation for Taxonomic Databases”, a project designed to support manual correction and verification of name data ( The TDWG meeting has much to offer archivists and librarians looking for the biological perspective on metadata and curation.  For the curious, you can find the uploaded presentations at the TDWG site.

~Connie Rinaldo


BHL and EOL at the Ecological Society of America


In early August, I had the privilege of representing the Encyclopedia of Life and the Biodiversity Heritage Library at an exhibitor’s booth at the Ecological Society of America annual meeting in Portland, Oregon. The theme for the 2012 annual meeting was: Life on Earth: Preserving, Utilizing and Sustaining our Ecosystems. This theme certainly fits the broader goals of EOL and BHL.
BHL/EOL booth at ESA

It was challenging to be the only representative at the booth because there were many visitors since ESA provided a great match of people for BHL and EOL. Faculty members, contractors, postdoctoral associates, undergraduate and graduate students working in the fields of biology, conservation and ecology stopped by to hear about the work done by EOL and BHL. Many were interested in how they could contribute. It was very rewarding to show this crowd what literature is available on the BHL portal, how it links in with EOL, how they could make requests and follow our progress using social media. It was exciting to get into deep discussions with the many interested parties about how they might be able to contribute to EOL as curators/users/teachers. And best of all, I frequently was asked the question “How much do you charge to access BHL/EOL?” The amazed looks on everyone’s face when I said access is free–I wish I had taken some pictures. I was sure to note that there are “Donate” buttons available but that these are optional.

I handed out BHL buttons, BHL pens, EOL magnifying glasses, EOL bags and BHL cards. Pens, bags and magnifying glasses went very quickly. Many more people who stopped by were more familiar with EOL than with BHL, but many who recognized EOL did not know much about it. One person with some in-depth knowledge of EOL was 2012 Rubenstein fellow Kelly O’Donnell. She noted that until the fellow training she wasn’t aware of BHL and was thrilled that she was able to test-drive it and now incorporates it into her work.

Another positive experience was that the BHL/EOL booth was sited in between booths for ARKive and the Center for Conservation Biology Conservation Canines. ARKive is an organization that is “creating the ultimate multimedia guide to the world’s endangered animals, plants and fungi” which fits nicely with the goals of EOL and BHL. Conservation Canines is an organization that trains dogs to locate wildlife scat (including from marine mammals) so the scat can be used to provide genetic and physiological information as well as identify local species and estimate population abundance. It was fun to visit with their dogs–and they brought a lot of traffic to our exhibit area!
conservation canines

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