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From the Stacks 

March 31, 2010

Dean Kinter Photographs of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges

With the construction of the new East Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge ongoing, it seemed a fitting time to look back on the 1930s era construction of San Francisco’s two signature bridges. Dean W. Kinter was a mechanical engineer and enjoyed the unique status of being the only person involved in the steel erection of both suspension bridges. He was also a highly skilled amateur photographer and took advantage of his access to take stunning photographs of the construction in progress. Mr. Kinter documented the efforts – and dangers – endured by the men who built them.

Golden Gate Bridge Construction

In 1997 Elizabeth Kinter, Mr. Kinter’s widow, donated a collection of 274 mounted photographs from the construction of both bridges to the California Academy of Sciences Research Library. Those photographs are the subject of our newest Research Library Reading Room exhibit; six of the photos have been selected for display.

The Academy’s Research Library Reading Room is open to Academy staff and visiting researchers.

Daniel Ransom – Archives and Digital Production Assistant

Filed under: Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 4:34 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

March 3, 2010

Theophrastus: Systematically Defining our Natural World

Hello world, my name is Julia Specter and I am a second year MLIS student from San Jose State University, and very excited to be completing my internship here at the Academy Library. My background is in art and education, but my very first job was as a library page and I have been hooked ever since. As a collection development intern at the Academy Library, I have stumbled upon interesting images, books, and tidbits of information that I would not otherwise have found. Since much of collection development work so far has been focused on Botany and Entomology, I have taken upon myself to also learn more about both discipline, historical and contemporary scientists alike.

Therefore, I decided to start from the beginning.  In fact the very beginning of botany, to Theophrastus. Student, collaborator, and successor of Aristotle, Theophrastus, (4th century BCE), began the first scientific approach to botany. He is also know to be among some of the first to study medical herbs and weather’s effect on plants. Exploration of the works of Theophrastus also made me discover the wonder of the legume. A plant that most may look over in their pasta salad or soup, but as Theophrastus illustrates in his work, one of great wonder and delightful variation. Enquiry Into Plants translated in English by Arthur Hort (1961), he notes that plants such as Peas or Pisum sativum, have been used for human food and animal feed since before than 300 years BCE. Arthur Hort’s book is available at the Academy Library, and can be located on the stacks at, QK41.T4 1961.

Theophrastus’ work on peas was only a small peek into his accomplishments he completed during his life, including the fact that he was also the first to apply principles of classification to vegetables.

Images of Peas from Theophrastus (1644)

Images of Peas from Theopharasti Eresil De historia plantarum: libri decem, Graece et Latine: in quibus textum Graecum variis lectionibus, emendationibus, hiulcoru (1644).

Another legume, liquorice, derived from two Greek terms, “sweet”, and “root” was also of interest to Theophrastus for its medicinal benefits. The liquorice, turns out to also have a deep root in human history and he found that its medical benefits have been used in different geographical regions and time periods, even before his time. Theophrastus named the plant, “the Scythian root” after the Scythian ethnic group who lived to the north and east of Greece, who had passed down their knowledge on the pharmacological uses of liquorice to the Greeks (Hort, 1961). Liquorice happens to be what I bring camping as a natural alternative to help with common aliments, but I had no idea how truly beneficial (and unoriginal) my remedy is.

Lastly after reviewing Theophrastus’ translated works, it seems clear that he truly understood the interactions between living organisms and their habitats; and could he can also perhaps, be considered the first ecologist. Much like the academy’s mission statement, Theophrastus work was on the bases to, “explain and explore the natural world” in order to preserve it’s important history and make use of the benefits this knowledge can offer us in our daily lives.

Filed under: Rare Books — Intern @ 6:16 pm

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