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Ernst Mayr Library Update

By Connie Rinaldo, Librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology.


The Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) provides life sciences support to the faculty, students, and staff in the Harvard University community, particularly in the MCZ, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) and Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) departments, as well as global scholars. 2016 is an exciting year for the library, with grant projects continuing to develop and increased opportunities for ongoing collaborations with biodiversity scholars at Harvard and beyond.

Research, Teaching and Learning

The Ernst Mayr Library maintains ongoing relationships with faculty in OEB and the History of Science, who bring their undergraduate and graduate classes to the library on a regular basis.

  • Robert Young and Dana Fisher help guide students through the Special Collections and develop thoughtful exhibitions for visitors.
  • Mary Sears collaborates with MCZ/OEB faculty and staff regularly on detailed, biographical reviews of little-known scientists and also works with visiting classes.
  • Dorothy Barr curates exhibitions in the Northwest labs with faculty and students that cross subject boundaries. The latest exhibition, Hearing, is on view now. She also creates lib guides for each exhibition as well as class-related and other subject-oriented guides and works with faculty and students in MCB. 
  • Ronnie Broadfoot provides reference services and proactively works with faculty to ensure their reserve needs are met.
  • All staff members contribute to orientation sessions for potential, new, and current graduate students and faculty.

Digitization: Biodiversity Heritage Library

The Ernst Mayr Library is a founding member of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), a global collaborative that makes biodiversity literature openly available to the world. Partnerships with the Encyclopedia of Life and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility are key to linking species data with published literature, which is critical to the work of taxonomists and systematic biologists. Without this access, research takes years and extensive travel is required. All digitized books and journals in the public domain or with copyright permissions are deposited in the Internet Archive and served through the BHL.

  • During the 2014–2015 academic year, a total of 593 volumes (160,110 pages) were digitized for inclusion in the BHL.
  • Since November 2007, the Ernst Mayr Library has contributed 8,545 volumes of material that have been accessed more than 5.3 million times.
  • Recent usage reports for Ernst Mayr materials in BHL reveal well over 100,000 downloads per month. 
  • Joseph DeVeer manages all of the work related to the BHL and grant projects and serves as an important liaison to MCZ departments. 
  • Connie Rinaldo is a member of the Executive Council of the BHL and works with MCZ departments on collaborative projects.

Website Redesign

Work has begun to redesign the Ernst Mayr Library website. April Collins, technology specialist, is collaborating with the Museum of Comparative Zoology community and events coordinator to migrate the website and improve integration with the MCZ and OEB sites.

Grant Projects

In November 2015, the Ernst Mayr Library wrapped up its partnership on the Purposeful Gaming and BHL grant led by the Missouri Botanical Garden with other participants including the New York Botanical Garden and Cornell University. The Purposeful Gaming project aims to significantly improve access to digital texts by using crowdsourced games to improve the accuracy of transcription, a task that is problematic for optical character recognition (OCR). Tiltfactor, a game development laboratory at Dartmouth College, was contracted to develop two games for this project—Smorball for serious gamers and Beanstalk for beginners—which were launched in June 2015. The games are available to play through 2016, and all members of the library community are encouraged to try them out. Smorball won an award for “Best Serious Game” at the Boston Festival of Indie Games in September 2015. The grant provided funding for the appointment of two part-time project assistants, Patrick Randall and Elizabeth Meyer. 

Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature is an IMLS National Leadership Grant with the Missouri Botanical Garden and New York Botanical Garden as grant leaders. This two-year project is designed to significantly increase online access to biodiversity material from natural history literature collections, thus ensuring the widest possible audience, and will act as an onramp to the Digital Public Library of America. The project team, including Patrick Randall as the community manager, will identify new content providers, provide training and quality control, engage the community through outreach, pursue copyright permissions, and improve BHL technology infrastructure.

The Council on Library and Information Resources awarded a Hidden Collections grant to the Smithsonian Institution Libraries to digitize field notes in about 10 natural history archives around the United States in February 2016. Grant SMI‐160201, known as the Biodiversity Heritage Library Field Notes Project, is an opportunity for the Ernst Mayr Library to complete the digitization of the archives of William Brewster, an ornithologist associated with the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Brewster’s diaries and correspondence are filled with observations on notable historical events as well as a detailed record of the climate and bird life.

Pforzheimer Fellow in the MCZ Archives

Deirdre Moore, a graduate student in Harvard’s History of Science Department, spent the summer of 2015 as a Pforzheimer Fellow in the Ernst Mayr Library, working with approximately 3,000 lantern slides of images depicting subjects such as ants and island landscapes from Harvard entomologists Edward O. Wilson, William Morton Wheeler, Charles T. Brues, and Frank M. Carpenter.

Under the direction of librarians Robert Young and Joseph DeVeer, Moore recorded data from 2,885 lantern slides, cleaned more than 1,000 slides, and housed approximately 800 in numbered envelopes. For the scholarly context, Moore met with current entomology staff. This led to the discovery of additional slides by entomologist Philip Darlington from the “Banana Massacre” in Columbia during 1928–1929—some of the only surviving records of that era. Gwendolyn Fougy-Henry is following up on the necessary processing work as well as contributing to other tasks in the MCZ Archives.

Article written by Connie Rinaldo, Librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Article published on March 16, 2016.