Happy Holidays!

The entire BHL-Europe team wishes you a very happy holiday season and a wonderful new year! 2012 looks to be very promising for BHL-Europe, as we enter the final stages of portal development.

But don't forget that a lot of content is already available through Europeana or through the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Definitely worth a browse over the holidays!

Sherborn Symposium (London, 28 October 2011)

On 28 October 2011, the aptly named Sherborn Symposium celebrated the life and legacy of English zoologist Charles Davies Sherborn (1861-1942). The symposium (organised by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, the Linnaen Society of London and the Society for the History of Natural History) focused on the future of zoological nomenclature, while simultaneously honouring its origins.

And those origins go back to Sherborn’s magnum opus Index Animalium – a catalogue of every living or extinct animal described between 1758 and 1850, along with the book or publication it was first named in. A massive achievement by any standard, Index Animalium covers about 9200 pages which appeared in eleven volumes between 1902 and 1933. Sherborn spent 43 years of his life working on it – and even today, many zoological disciplines continue relying on it as an important source for references.

ICZN secretary Ellinor Michel
Currently, the major part of the works indexed by Sherborn are easily accessible at BHL or are currently being digitised by partner institutions of the BHL or BHL-Europe consortium. This means researchers can easily verify the original sources directly, and see whether the information in Sherborn’s Index is still up to date.

The Index itself was digitised by Smithsonian Institution Libraries in 2004, and can be consulted online. Currently, SIL is working on new indexing facilities that will link the Index directly to Sherborn’s cited literature sources, which were given in cryptic abbreviations and acronyms. Accordingly, BHL could provide links from the digitised literature sources to the taxonomic names extracted from the early works by Sherborn’s Index and similar projects. This would definitely be useful for researchers who need to find the original descriptions of animal species and genera, making it a useful supplementary service to the “Taxon Finder”-tool.

In the wrap-up discussion of the Symposium, Richard Pyle  focused on the idea of a Global Names Architecture that interconnects all existing biodiversity related data initiatives, ranging from gathering specimens in the field to reviewing the published legacy and publication of new taxa.

The concept of a Global Names Architecture

Author: Francisco Welter-Schultes

Digital Preservation Summit 2011 (Hamburg, 19-20 October 2011)

It is estimated that in 2020, 80% of all research output will only be published in digital form. Which goes to show that the first ever summit on digital preservation, held in Hamburg, Germany, from 19 to 20 October, proved to be more relevant than ever.

120 international IT experts were in attendance to discuss a plethora of issues. The lack of consensus on reliable file formats to use for digital preservation, for instance. Or the budget restrictions plaguing major content holders. Or even the difficulties to establish national policies for digital preservation.

One of the common threads throughout the summit was the lack of public awareness for the importance of digital preservation. In the words of Steve Knight from the National Library of New Zealand: “Digital preservation is about as familiar to people as space walking”. How fitting that he chose to illustrate his point with the loss of NASA’s original records on the first moon landing, which – however tragic – was probably not considered a sufficiently serious disaster to raise awareness of the issue.

Then again, people in general often don’t know how important it is to preserve the cultural and scientific heritage. The destructions of various libraries in history, especially in the Western and Arabic world, are a testament to this public ignorance which hopefully will one day be overcome.

But much more will be needed than just goodwill to preserve our heritage. The lack of a standard software system means that technology is an issue as well. Instead of the many individual solutions that are in use today, the future will see a need for final productive solutions that can cope with much larger amounts of data!

And thus many issues remain to be debated…