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From the Stacks 

April 22, 2011

Map Madness!

My name is Tristan Campbell, for the last two weeks I’ve been an intern in the library here at California Academy of Sciences. I’m in the last year of a three year Masters program in Library, Archives, and Information Sciences at the University of British Columbia, and one of the requirements of the program is a two week practicum/internship. Most people in the program do these at local institutions in Vancouver, but I was lucky enough that there is a UBC connection here through librarian Rebecca Morin who had a database project I could work on.

The quick answer that I give when people ask how I chose my Masters program, is that I want to connect people with information, preferably through computers, and ideally using open source software. So when the opportunity to build a database for the California Academy of Sciences Library using open source software came up I jumped on it.
I’ve spent my time here building a database for the map collection here in the library using USGS maps, and up until now access to them has been managed using hand written indexes prepared by a long-time volunteer. The amount of work that must have gone into hand writing those indexes is incredible, my job was to build a database that could use and preserve those indexes. The database is very much a work in progress, my time here was far too short to put all of the data from the indexes into the database, and there is some work to be done by a library volunteer before the whole system is complete. But the basic structure is there, and it will be very useful for providing access to the map collection.

Two weeks is far to short a time to spend at a place like this, but it has been quite an experience. The work environment could not be more supportive and positive, and the materials they have here are amazing. One day, just for a change of pace, I got to help turn the page of the Audubon on display in the Library reading room, amazing. I had pretty high expectations coming here, and the experience has been far better than I had hoped for. So huge thanks to Rebecca, the Library and Archives team, and everyone else at California Academy of Sciences who have been so good to me, I only wish it could have been for longer.

Filed under: Library News,Rare Books — Intern @ 3:29 pm

October 6, 2010

Connecting Content grant award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Academy Library is proud to announce that we have just been awarded a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for our project titled Connecting Content! This year there were 211 applications and 34 projects were awarded funding. Click here to see all the National Leadership Grants that were awarded.

Connecting Content is an effort involving the California Academy of Sciences, Missouri Botanical Garden, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Harvard University Botany Libraries, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology Library, the New York Botanical Garden and the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.  The project involves the digitization of field notebooks and natural history collections and the generation of metadata for these items. We will then develop the means to map and link these collections to one another and to published material in the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The results of these projects will be made available for harvesting, reuse, and repurposing without cost, and third-party web applications developed to best serve diverse user communities.  The final deliverables will include an enhanced community Smithsonian Field Book Registry, as well as workflow and procedures so that other institutions may contribute to this project.

Ochsner 1905-06 Galapagos field notes

Ochsner’s 1905-06 Galapagos field notes

Our pilot project involves the digitization of field books and specimens from the Academy’s 1905-06 Galapagos Expedition. The page above, from Washington H. Ochsner’s geology field book, is one page of approximately 2,600 pages that we will digitize. Stay tuned to hear more about our project!

- Danielle

Archives and Digital Collections Librarian

Filed under: Archives,Connecting Content,Library News,Research — Archives & Special Collections @ 10:39 am

April 26, 2010

Five Weeks of Science Librarianship

My name is Renee Salters, and I first developed a love for the natural science and history field in my childhood. It was the habit of my old elementary alma mater to take inquisitive young minds on field trips to the Denver Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature and Science), in an attempt to show us that science was not only educational, but fun. From the moment our classes waltzed, screaming as children do, into the main doors of the Museum and came face to face with the towering skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, I believe we were all in awe. Some of us remained in awe, returning to the museum whenever possible, despite entering and surviving the troubled years that generally begin at the end of elementary school and do not end until the day one graduates high school and is a fish entering yet another pond in the world, albeit a somewhat larger and more intimidating pond.


Mendocino National Forest (California) from the Manzanita Image Project
Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

So imagine my glee when, as part of a course on Issues in Special Libraries for my Masters in Library and Information Science Program, I was asked to conduct fieldwork in a special library and was able to complete this work at the California Academy of Sciences Library. The assignment called for only thirty hours of fieldwork, leaving me precious little time to learn everything I could about the workings, procedures, and daily life of the institution. I found cataloging records, assisted in ongoing projects, and helped in the tail-end processing of some new acquisitions. I both shelved and retrieved books, all the while encountering the familiar and pleasant smell of volumes of old tomes gathered stoically together in scientific solidarity. I went through boxes of not inconsiderable and exceedingly interesting book donations and then made my allergies crazy with a few fantastically dusty and overflowing boxes of donated scientific papers. As part of the Manzanita project, I helped upload photographs to an online database, and was able to view some interesting and curious slides of the deserts, mountains, valleys, and snow-covered trees in various parts of California. I saw more antiquated, colorful, and international scientific journals and books in my thirty hours of field work than I had in the rest of my life combined. And perhaps most importantly, I met the people who do this every day and saw the continued enthusiasm with which they carried out their work, meeting each morning with a happy sigh of “let’s get this day started!” rather than the doleful sigh of “why?” I have encountered in other settings. They find all the excitement they need helping researchers and being active participants in an institution that focuses on the exploration of and education about the world around us. As I write this, I am looking out of the window at the trees of Golden Gate Park; as they sway in the wind I feel as though the research being conducted here is just an extension of the nature outside.


Sonoma (California) from the Manzanita Image Project
Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

Filed under: Library News,Photography — Intern @ 1:21 pm

March 24, 2010

Affecting change during the International Year of Biodiversity

My name is Phoebe Buguey, and I am also a library intern at the California Academy of Sciences this semester. I am working in the library inside of the Naturalist Center as well as the Academy Library, which is part of the Research Division of the Academy. My areas of study in both libraries are reference and the creation of educational materials, and for my first blog post, I will continue in an educational vein and discuss a concept that is critical to both the Academy and the world as a whole: biodiversity.

In 2006 the United Nations declared that 2010 would be the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB), the purpose of which is “to increase understanding of the vital role that biodiversity plays in sustaining life on Earth” (http://www.cbd.int/2010/welcome/). According to the IYB Webpage, humans have identified 1.75 million species, but there are still millions of species left to be discovered, and scientists predict that the exact value lies somewhere between 2.25 to 100 million species. Calculating these numbers is challenging since many of the unidentified species are most likely microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, worms, and arthropods such as insects) that can be hard or even impossible to see with the unaided eye.

Plate showing moth illustrations from Illustrations of exotic entomology

Several moths from Illustrations of exotic entomology. (v.12 plates). Image courtesy Biodiversity Heritage Library. http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org

Additionally, these unidentified, tiny organisms generally have a short generation time, which means that they reproduce rapidly and in large numbers even though their life spans may be relatively short. The quick cycling of generations in species such as these means that in a given period of time these organisms are more likely to undergo evolutionary change than species with longer generation times, and such change may lead to speciation, which is the evolutionary process that gives rise to new species. For instance, imagine a rare species of marine bacteria that is thriving on the ocean floor: it exists today in a certain form, but by the time it is discovered 100 years from now, it could be entirely changed and may in fact be two or three different species. In essence, since all species change, it is very hard to get a concrete grasp on the diversity of the planet, and since the types of species that we know the least about are those who are physically small and evolve quickly, comprehensive classification can be even more daunting than one may suspect.

Why is biodiversity important?

Ecological studies have demonstrated that the phrase the “circle of life” continues to be an appropriate natural descriptor of the interconnectedness of ecosystems, biomes, and the biosphere as a whole. We now know that preserving the entire ecosystem is central to saving species of interest, and beyond that important point, preservation focused on biodiversity can reap economic benefits as well. Sadly, even with the knowledge of both the biological and fiscal significance of biodiversity, the IYB Website reports that we are still losing species at up to 1000 times the natural background rate.

Original illustration of the thylacine

Artist labeled Didelphis cynocephala but in fact the original illustration of Thylacinus cynocephalus, or the thylacine, in Transactions of the Linnean Society. (v.9 1808). Image courtesy Biodiversity Heritage Library. http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org

The dramatic extinctions of large and interesting species such as the dodo or the thylacine are usually well documented. Many people know about the 17th-century die-out of the dodo, and although fewer people may know about the 20th-century extinction of the thylacine—the largest documented carnivorous marsupial of contemporary times—it is still an important footnote in biodiversity history. However, the disappearance of smaller organisms is hard or even impossible to document. For instance, E.O. Wilson, world famous entomologist and sociobiologist, claims that there are more microorganisms in a spoonful of rich, healthy soil than there are people on planet Earth. When you stop to consider the dramatic ways in which humans change the face of the planet while keeping in mind the estimate that countless species could exist within a few square inches of soil, it’s easy to see why the current extinction rate is so elevated.

What exactly does all this have to do with libraries? Please stay tuned for my next post to learn about the Academy Library’s role in researching and preserving biodiversity.

Filed under: Library News,Research,Scientific Illustration — Intern @ 9:15 pm

March 19, 2010

Biodiversity Heritage Library News

Just a quick post to give everyone an update about the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

For those new to these parts, the Biodiversity Heritage Library is a consortium of 12 major natural history museum libraries, botanical libraries, and research institutions organized to digitize, serve, and preserve the legacy literature of biodiversity. The Academy Library is proud to be one of these institutions, and I’ve blogged a bit about our participation in the past here and here. Here’s an example of the fantastic literature (and pretty pictures) you can access for FREE at http://biodiversitylibrary.org.

Geospiza strenua, from The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle. Image courtesy Biodiversity Heritage Library. http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org

This week brought two BHL tidbits I’d like to share:

1) The BHL is conducting a user survey to help us serve you better. If you’ve used the BHL at all in the past, please take our survey. It will take 5-10 minutes of your time and help us immensely. Thanks in advance! Also, if you follow me on Twitter @tiny_librarian, feel free to retweet my latest update on the survey.

2) The BHL was selected by the American Library Association’s Office for Library Advocacy as the Digital Library of the Week! We’re in good company, joining honorees such as the Cornell University Library Witchcraft Collection and On the Edge: The Hidden Art of Fore-Edge Book Painting from the Boston Public Library.

While we accept accolades in all forms, we also really want you tell us where we need improvement. Ten minutes of your time now means a better BHL in the future!

Filed under: Library News,Research — Librarian @ 1:13 pm

October 26, 2009

Keep Open Access Week going!

Open Access Week has officially come & gone, but that doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about Open Access!

Our very own Science in Action crew at the Academy are keeping OA Week going with a new edition of SIA about Open Access, the Public Library of Science (PLoS), and Breast Cancer Action.

Check out the newest installment of Science in Action, in which I share but one opinion on the value of PLoS and OA.

If you like this piece, be sure to visit Science in Action to learn more.

Filed under: Library News,Research — Librarian @ 3:33 pm

October 17, 2009

It’s awfully quiet around here

In case you’ve been wondering what we’re up to:

This coming week is Open Access Week!  October 19-23 2009 is a week to bring awareness to, and to talk about, the Open Access movement.

Do you think scholarly literature should be available online for free?  If you answered yes (or no), this week is a great time to educate yourself and others about Open Access!  Visit the Open Access Week website for more information.

This week the Academy Library is also hosting and participating in meetings with some of our partners in the Biodiversity Heritage Library here in San Francisco.  This is a nice fit with Open Access Week, since the BHL is working to digitize the published literature of biodiversity and make it available online free of charge.  There are over 15,000 titles accessible through the BHL portal, with more coming in every day.

If you’re curious about what keeps us busy here in the Library, you should follow me on Twitter.  I’ll keep you in the loop.

Filed under: Library News — Librarian @ 11:24 pm
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