Biodiversity Heritage Library

Biodiversity Heritage Library

Biodiversity Heritage Library Logo
Type of site
Digital library
Commercial No
Launched 2005

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global “biodiversity commons.” The BHL consortium works with the international 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. In partnership with the Internet Archive and through local digitization efforts, the BHL has digitized millions of pages of taxonomic literature, representing tens of thousands of titles and over 100,000 volumes.

Founded in 2005, BHL soon became the third broad digitization project for biodiversity literature, after Gallica and AnimalBase. In 2008, the size of Gallica and AnimalBase was passed, and BHL is now by far the world's largest digitization project for biodiversity literature.[1]

It is a cornerstone organization of the Encyclopedia of Life.


The Biodiversity Heritage Library was initially a collaboration of ten natural history and botanical libraries and currently has fourteen members. The founding member libraries are:

In May 2009, two new members were added to the consortium:

In November 2011, two new members were added to the consortium:

In February 2013, one new member was added to the consortium:

Since 2009, the BHL has expanded globally. The European Commission’s eContentPlus program has funded the BHL-Europe project, with 28 institutions, to assemble the European language literature. In May 2009 a European partner project BHL-Europe was founded by 28 consortium partners, mostly European libraries. Shortly thereafter another project BHL-China was launched in Beijing, in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Since then BHL in the strict sense has been called BHL-US/UK (usually only BHL-US), the global project has been referred to as BHL-Global, to distinguish it from the US/UK project. The global BHL project is managed primarily by the Smithsonian Institution (Washington D.C.), Natural History Museum (London), and Missouri Botanical Garden. Planned are six regional centers. Additionally, the Atlas of Living Australia, Brazil (through SciELO) and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina have created regional BHL nodes. These projects will work together to share content, protocols, services, and digital preservation practices.

There is an online BHL portal featuring Google Maps API integration, AJAX, tag clouds, and JPEG2000 images that facilitate multi-resolution zoom and pan.

A companion project exists in Europe and is known as Biodiversity Heritage Library for Europe.


The Biodiversity Heritage Library was awarded the 2010 John Thackray Medal of the Society for the History of Natural History. This award "recognizes significant achievements in the history or bibliography of natural history".[2]

In March 2012, the Missouri Botanical Garden received $260,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to identify and describe natural history illustrations from the digitized books and journals in the online Biodiversity Heritage Library. The Art of Life project [3] will develop software tools for automated identification and description of visual resources contained within the more than 100,000 volumes and 38 million pages of core historic literature made available through BHL digitization activities.[4]

IDG’s Computerworld Honors Program announced on March 19, 2013 The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) as a 2013 Laureate. The annual award program honors visionary applications of information technology promoting positive social, economic and educational change.

In May 2013, The Biodiversity Heritage Library was the recipient of the Charles Robert Long Award of Extraordinary Merit from the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL). The highest honor bestowed by CBHL, the award honors outstanding contributions and meritorious service to the field of botanical and horticultural literature, with only 14 recipients named since 1988.[5]

In appreciation of the services to taxonomists, a species of snail from Laos was named Vargapupa biheli in 2015, the species name derived from the initials BHL.[6]

Funding sources

The primary funding for the Biodiversity Heritage Library came via the Encyclopedia of Life through a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.[7]

Additional grants have been received from The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The Richard Lounsbery Foundation, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).[7]

Members of the Biodiversity Heritage Library have also received generous support from their parent institutions. In addition to staffing and other costs, direct contributions have included the Atherton Seidell Endowment Fund (Smithsonian Institution).[7]


  1. Kasperek, Gerwin (2010). "Eine Übersicht von für die Biologie relevanten Projekten zur Digitalisierung historischer Fachliteratur. Darstellung eines speziellen Segmentes aus dem Internetquellen-Führer einer Virtuellen Fachbibliothek" (PDF). Bibliotheksdienst. 44 (5): 448–460. ISSN 0006-1972.
  2. BHL Europe Newsletter #9 Archived November 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. The Missouri Botanical Garden News Release
  5. Charles Robert Long Award of Extraordinary Merit Archived December 31, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. (CBHL)
  6. Páll-Gergely, Barna; Fehér, Zoltán; Hunyadi, András; Asami, Takahiro (2015). "Revision of the genus Pseudopomatias' and its relatives (Gastropoda: Cyclophoroidea: Pupinidae)". Zootaxa. 3937: 1. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3937.1.1.
  7. 1 2 3 Marcum, Deanna (2013). Ithaka S+R Case Study Biodiversity Heritage Library Smithsonian Institution Libraries (PDF). Ithaka S+R. Retrieved 19 January 2016.

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