The Australian node of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is now live!
BHL is a project started by a consortium of American and English museums and herbaria that wanted to make historical biodiversity texts available online. These important books and journals are scanned, uploaded to the Internet Archive, and made available through the first BHL website. It's especially useful to scientists needing historical information about species, distributions and taxonomy, but it's also a fascinating site for anyone interested in natural history or rare books. Museum Victoria is managing the Australian part of the project in conjunction with the Atlas of Living Australia.
Since late last year, MV Online Developer Michael Mason has been creating a mirror site of the USA/UK original, ready to receive scans of Australian books later this year. At present, the Australian site provides everything the original site provides but with a different interface. "We started with the US model and changed the appearance and some parts of the functionality," says Michael.
Online developer Michael Mason.
Source: Museum Victoria
The first difference you'll notice is the local influence; the page is adorned with beautiful illustrations of Australian wildlife by Gould and Australian books are featured. Michael has also worked with designer Simon O'Shea to overhaul the way the book viewer looks and works to make it more user-friendly.
Biodiversity Heritage Library Australia website.
Source: Museum Victoria
At present, the 34,596,227 pages in the BHL-Australian node come from libraries in US institutions so there is plenty of Australian content yet to be added. First off the rank in this national project are some of the in-house journals that have already been scanned by other museums including those of the Queensland Museum and the Western Australian Museum. Museum Victoria, with new book-scanning equipment, will be leading the development of new scanning projects starting with the complete archive of Memoirs of Museum Victoria containing the first scientific descriptions of many Victorian animal species. This will be very handy for biologists worldwide who don't have ready access to hard copies of this journal. Later on, rare books from MV and the libraries of other Australian institutions will be scanned and uploaded.
The high-quality scans are not just useful, but often quite beautiful. You get the whole book – covers, library labels, marbled endpapers and marks of age – not just the text within. Michael's favourites are the 1600s books in Latin with fantastical illustrations. "You'd never get to see these in a library, they're too fragile and valuable," he says. BHL puts these wonderful books in the hands of anyone.
Biodiversity Heritage Library Australia
Biodiversity Heritage Library
MV News: BHL visitors