By Anne-Lise Fourie

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) was formed in 2006 as a consortium of ten natural history, botanical garden, and university libraries with the purpose of digitizing key taxonomic literature in an open environment. The BHL members digitize public domain books and journals held within their collections. To acquire additional content and promote free access to information, the BHL has also obtained permission from publishers to digitize and make available significant biodiversity materials that are still under copyright. The BHL portal allows users to search the corpus by multiple access points, read the texts online, or download select pages or entire volumes as PDF files.

Researchers can bring together publications of over 150 million species names and find links to related content in the Encyclopaedia of Life. Because of its commitment to open access, BHL provides a range of services and application programming interfaces which allow users to harvest source data files and reuse content for research purposes.

Since 2009, the BHL has expanded globally to the current network of 40 participating institutions. BHL Africa, launched in April 2013, was the first global BHL partner that was formed directly under aegis of librarians and consists of an inclusive network of 13 African libraries and institutions in eastern, central and southern Africa. Our main objective is to develop the digitization skills of librarians, provide access to biodiversity literature, as well as repatriating African literature.

In Africa, literature about the biota existing in developing countries is often not available within their own borders. As the leading biodiversity institute in Africa, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Libraries drives the African group of affiliates to digitize biodiversity literature collections of exceptional value available only to those few who can gain direct access to these collections. BHL Africa members work with the taxonomic community, rights holders, and other interested parties to ensure that this biodiversity heritage is made available to a global audience through open access principles.

Researchers have long considered that access to the published literature is one of the chief impediments to the efficiency of research in the field. Having access to BHL has had an enormous impact on the work done by SANBI researchers and has pulled the biodiversity community together. The instant accessibility to a wider collection of literature, that would otherwise be impossible to find, has made their work more productive. Furthermore, BHL has unlocked previously unknown information that contributes to the verification and correctness of data that researchers have to provide to their end users. For historical taxonomic purposes, this is essential as it provides them with an invaluable resource of information.

In partnership with the Internet Archive and through local digitization efforts by SANBI Libraries, University of Pretoria and South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity, more than 250 000 pages have been digitized. SANBI Libraries are in the process of uploading the material to the BHL portal. Titles include (among others):

BHL launched full text search in April this year. With this new functionality, search results in the library will display hits for your term in both the bibliographic information (i.e. title, author, subject, publisher, related titles and series, etc.) as well as the full text of books in BHL. To learn more about this click here

Some interesting statistics for BHL (May 2018):

  • 226 000+ volumes and 137 000+ titles online
  • 183+ million taxonomic name instances indexed
  • 256 000+ articles indexed
  • 128 000+ DOIs assigned
  • over 770 titles are in copyright
  • 123 000+ images in Flickr

If you have further questions or suggestions, you can contact us at Anne-Lise Fourie

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