BHL NDSR Mentors, Residents, and Secretariat staff breaking the ice at the start of the “Bootcamp.”

About the “BHL Bootcamp”

Ariadne Rehbein

From February 1-3, the BHL NDSR Mentors and Residents converged on the Smithsonian Libraries for “BHL Bootcamp.” In addition to the technology, administration, and mission of BHL, Residents were introduced to the culture of BHL, NDSR, and leading research institutions first-hand. Immersion workshops are a time-honored tradition among NDSR programs, though their curriculum and timeframes vary. Our workshop had the most compact timeframe to date, but we took advantage of the ample opportunities to get to know one another and ground ourselves in the history, practices, mission, and aspirations of this collaborative digital library. The workshop comprised of lecture-style instruction by BHL Secretariat staff, tours, and a networking event. Continue reading for a gauntlet of notes and commentary from each of the Residents! Carolyn Sheffield took a leading role in organizing the workshop, and has also outlined its events for the BHL blog.



Ariadne Rehbein

Nancy E. Gwinn, the Director of the Smithsonian Libraries and BHL Members’ Council Chair welcomed us on our first day, conveying the adventurous spirit and surprises within the Libraries’ natural history collections, and inspiring us to explore and open BHL collections to users accordingly.


Mentors in the Smithsonian Libraries Training Rooms at the National Museum of Natural History

George Coulbourne, Chief of Internship and Fellowship Programs at the Library of Congress described NDSR from its beginnings, Resident success stories, and future directions. Coulbourne’s background in biomedical research informed the development of NDSR as an experiential training model that serves as a basis for learning throughout one’s career. He encouraged us to integrate ourselves within our communities, work with our mentors to identify needs, and enact solutions. Lastly, he shared goals for future NDSR programs and the NDSR community, informed by program assessments and needs throughout the professional landscape: Programs in smaller cultural heritage institutions and with collaborative initiatives such as AAPB and BHL, a formal network and increased collaboration across cohorts, and a repository for program applications and results. Discussing the future of NDSR will also be the focus of the upcoming NDSR Symposium.

Connie Rinaldo, Librarian at the Ernst Mayr Library Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and BHL Members’ Council Vice Chair laid out the goals of the BHL NDSR program: to increase the connections among the collections of museums, libraries, archives, and scientific data, to develop a community of leaders with a background in best practices, and to develop new functionality for BHL.

Martin Kalfatovic, Director of Digital Programs & Initiatives at the Smithsonian Libraries and BHL Program Director, told us about BHL’s governance and the larger context for its ambitions. BHL is comprised of over 60 worldwide partners, including 33 members and affiliates. It provides heritage literature, archival materials, journal articles, and special collections, and works with partners across the digital library and biodiversity informatics communities to share and interlink this content. In this way, BHL aims to be part of the “Biodiversity Commons,” a sustainable environment for the literature of taxonomy, bolstered by a close community. BHL also supports the goals of the worldwide biodiversity community, as stated in the Convention on Biodiversity and Darwin Declaration, providing information electronically, allowing for repatriation of information. Martin emphasized that users must guide how we grow and develop, recognizing changes in the research process.

BHL Structure and Communication

Katie Mika

Carolyn Sheffield, BHL Program Manager, spent some time on Day 1 discussing the communications strategies for a globally distributed staff. Unsurprisingly, maintaining open and direct lines of communication between 33 member and affiliate institutions takes a lot of work. Carolyn described a host of methods that BHL uses to keep its staff connected, including the use of listservs, reports and newsletters, the public and staff-only wikis, annual meetings, conference calls (there’s A LOT of conference calls!), and workshops (like this one!).

In addition to managing communication between individual staff members, there are several committees within BHL that hold more focused discussions. A bad internal communications strategy would probably include inundating people with information that’s irrelevant to their work. Does the Tech Advisory Group need weekly updates from the Cataloging Committee? Probably not; but maybe monthly.

There are also some internal tools that facilitate communications. BHL uses the issue tracker, Gemini, to assign tasks to those with relevant expertise and work roles.Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 11.45.32 AM.png If an issue can’t be resolved by the assigned staff member Gemini makes it easy to ask for help or “punt” the issue to another group. Each institution and staff member recognizes the importance of sharing the collaborative responsibility for the day to day operation, improvement, and promotion of BHL. By respecting this commitment, organizations and individuals operate with shared understandings and expectations. In this way the BHL communications strategies refer not only to the regular calls, emails, and reference materials, but also to the philosophy of idea interchanges and each person’s role in the larger institution.


Katie Mika

Grace Constantino, Outreach and Communications Manager, followed Carolyn with a discussion about BHL outreach strategies. BHL has cultivated a passionate and dedicated user base largely thanks to the work that Grace does for user engagement. Outreach refers to all of the ways in which BHL communicates with the public and its globally distributed staff. In addition to the social media, marketing, and promotional campaigns, Grace also manages BHL’s annual reports, press releases, newsletters, and presentations. Grace uses outreach programs to effectively address several points in BHL’s strategic plan. By focusing on the bigger picture and the overall strategic plan, outreach activities are developed with a clear focus and used to accomplish articulated goals. Due to these considerations, BHL has a clear message and achieves effective and meaningful engagement with its users.

The Residents learned about many interesting campaigns and ongoing initiatives that Grace manages. Some of the highlights included:

  • Twitter as a reference tool – Users can tweet @BioDivLibrary for questions about collections and how to find material. Since users are familiar with Twitter and feel comfortable using it casually a communication tool, it’s often a better and more natural choice than a formal email or an inquiry through the BHL portal. And it works!
  • screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-10-42-58-amAltmetric – Altmetric is a really cool tool that tracks online mentions of BHL content. There’s a little colorful donut on item records that opens a dashboard to display specific tweets, Facebook posts, news and Wikipedia articles, and blog posts that link to BHL content. This is a fantastic way to explore the impact and dissemination of biodiversity information resources!
  • Flickr & crowdsourcing – BHL adds photographs, illustrations, and other images to Flickr and invites users to tag taxonomic names for use in Encyclopedia of Life. Crowdsourcing has been a tremendous success for BHL and the Residents are tasked with recommending future expansions of crowdsourcing programs for transcribing manuscript items and correcting errors in the published literature’s OCR.
  • Disqus & Hypothes.is – Disqus (pronounced like “discuss”) is a social commentating utility that is now extinct in BHL. It allowed users to hold discussions about BHL content directly in the item page and connect those discussions to Twitter and Facebook for easy sharing and discoverability. Although the features were promising, BHL decided to discontinue the Disqus tool in order to focus on the development of a new annotation tool. Hypothes.is has been “disqus-ed” as a potential commenting alternative, but BHL isn’t quite set up to support it yet. Hopefully the Residents can figure out some ways to make this a reality! Head to Ron Page’s fantastic blog to learn more about Hypothes.is and BHL potential ideas.

These outreach programs and opportunities demonstrate an impressive level of user engagement – and it’s all thanks to Grace! For more information about BHLs outreach and communication strategies, you can read the documentation, learn about it on the BHL wiki, or tweet @BioDivLibrary.

Tours and Cross-program Networking event

Pamela McClanahan

Our workshop included some wonderful opportunities to meet others in the field and tour a few amazing collections.


Leslie Overstreet, Curator of Natural-History Rare Books at Smithsonian Libraries’ Joseph F. Pullman 3rd Library of Natural History welcomes us to the Reading Room.

During our first workshop day, Leslie Overstreet, Curator of Natural-History Rare Books at Smithsonian Libraries’ Joseph F. Pullman 3rd Library of Natural History, gave us an insider’s look at some beautiful natural history books. Many of the monographs we were able to view are in BHL, such as Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. What a treat to see them in person! Next, Jaqueline Chapman, Digital Collections Librarian explained the digitization workflow process at the Smithsonian, which offered more insight into content entering BHL.


Jaqueline Chapman, Digital Collections Librarian at the Smithsonian Libraries and Daniel Euphrat, Digital Imaging Technician, demonstrate use of the IA Scribe system.

After our first day of workshop trainings, Smithsonian Libraries hosted a networking event for current and former NDSR residents located in the DC area at the National Museum of Natural History. Our BHL cohort enjoyed the chance to share experiences with these fellow NDSR residents. Additionally, the networking event brought together several professionals from the information field allowing us to make connections that could offer assistance in our projects and future career aspirations.


Library of Congress Reading Room

On our last day of the workshop, we toured the Library of Congress, as well as the Entomology and Paleobiology departments at the National Museum of Natural History. John Cole, Library of Congress Historian, shared his wealth of knowledge with us on a detailed tour including the Main Reading Room and the Thomas Jefferson Library Exhibition. Tours of the Department of Entomology and the Department of Paleobiology helped us learn more about Natural History collections including some innovative efforts to digitize collections. Floyd Shockley, Acting Collections Manager, Department of Entomology and Kathy Hollis, Collections Manager, Department of Paleobiology, shared some “showstoppers” from their collections including morpho butterflies whose wings changed color depending on the light and Hatcher, the Triceratops.

A big thank you to all of our tour guides and the BHL staff who helped organize the tours! It truly enhanced our workshop experience and provided first-hand background and insight into our projects and the field of library and information science.


Floyd Shockley, Acting Collections Manager, Department of Entomology at the National Museum of Natural History, shows some color-changing morpho butterflies to the group.


Kathy Hollis, Collections Manager, Dept. of Paleobiology, NMNH shows us a “treasure” from the collection–10,000 year old droppings.

Digitization Workflow and Curation and Collection Development

Alicia Esquivel

Bianca Crowley, BHL Collections Manager, presented on digitization and collection development at BHL. Her presentation clarified BHL processes that I thought I already understood going into the workshop. Most notably, that the full text materials (image files) are stored at Internet Archive while the metadata and only the metadata (including title level1, item level and page level) is stored at BHL. The full text and the metadata is then united and presented in the BHL portal for users and presented as one digital book or volume.

Bianca also covered how BHL handles copyright for materials which are given one of three distinctions: public domain, no known copyright or in copyright. For in copyright items in BHL creative commons licenses are assigned after permission from publishers is granted. In copyright items make up a small portion of BHL corpus, but this is currently being expanded by the EABL grant!

Macaw and Curation Tools

Marissa Kings

Day 2 of the workshop focused on the software platform Macaw and other curation tools used by BHL. As Alicia mentioned above, BHL has a partnership with the Internet Archive where images are hosted through IA – so any time you view a scanned book on the BHL website, you’re actually looking at a portal into the Internet Archive.


Macaw, short for Metadata Collection and Workflow, is a software tool used by BHL to upload digital images of books and their corresponding metadata to IA (If you’re really interested in Macaw, BHL makes documentation on its different software and workflows publicly available through their wiki).


Macaw login screen

Adriana Marroquin, Project Manager for the BHL Field Notes Project, gave us an overview of Macaw and also did a live demo for us where she uploaded a book and added its page metadata. It was helpful to see Macaw in action since we’d been hearing about it in the weeks leading up to this workshop, and some of us may have a chance to use it for our NDSR projects.

Once items are in IA, they may need to be edited: for instance, to add the copyright status of works uploaded. Bianca took us through this process, which requires an IA login (but if you want to simply view a book featured in BHL on the Internet Archive, you can select “View at Internet Archive” from the Download Contents menu – see the screenshot below).


How to view an item at IA

We also learned about BHL’s Administrative Dashboard (or Admin Dash, for short), the back-end to the BHL website where staff can edit materials. The landing page to the Admin Dash is daunting as there are about a dozen different sections, but luckily for BHL librarians, we will typically only work with the section called Library Functions. Bianca explained the differences between title, item, and segment metadata and reiterated that any edits made here will be reflected on the BHL website only – they won’t automatically be applied to the materials in IA. Understanding the relationship between BHL and IA and how they are integrated is crucial, so keeping this in mind every step of the way is key!

The last curation tool we learned about was Gemini, BHL’s issue tracking system. Whenever a user submits a question or comment in the Feedback section of the BHL site, an issue is created in Gemini that gets assigned to a staff member (or members) to address. As I’ve been considering best practices in digital libraries and what might be useful in BHL Version 2, some of the issues submitted to Gemini by users and staff alike have been a great starting point with functions that may be missing now from BHL.


Alicia Esquivel

As the workshop came to a close, Martin Kalfatovic, BHL Program Director, encouraged us to think about the underlying data structure and metadata schemes of BHL and focus on ways to make the new version of BHL (colloquially called BHL version 2) extensible and flexible. He told us to dream big and not worry about money or limitations but to focus on how BHL turns objects into data and how to make that data more useable whether those research points are environments, taxons or locations.


By the end of the workshop we realized how important in-person meetings can be and how much work can be made with the whole team—Residents and Mentors—together in one place. We began thinking about the possibility of meeting again later in the year as projects become more concrete and we prepare to write a final document. Carolyn mentioned that the BHL Technical Advisory Group (TAG) will be meeting in St. Louis in September and that it could be a good opportunity to share our recommendations for BHL infrastructure development with them.

In the weeks since the “Bootcamp,” our plans for an in-person group meetup have begun solidifying and NDSR Residents and Mentors will be attending the TAG meeting in September to present our project progress.

1. [Title level metadata harvested from MARC records which are required for all materials at digitization. MARC records are not retained by BHL, however, but harvested for title level information and deposited into data tables. ]