Fourteen major natural history museum libraries, botanical libraries, and research institutions have joined to form the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The participating libraries have over two million volumes of biodiversity literature collected over 200 years to support the work of scientists, researchers, and students in their home institutions and throughout the world.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) consortium cooperates 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.” Because of the BHL's success in digitizing a significant mass of biodiversity literature, the scientific documentation of the study of living organisms since the time of Linnaeus has became easily accessible.
Anyone can access the BHL website directly or link to it from any EOL species page. When on a species page, click on the “References” tab to access literature directly related to the species under consideration.
The published literature on biological diversity has limited global distribution; much of it is available in only a few select libraries in the developed world. These collections are of exceptional value because the domain of systematic biology depends more than any other science-upon historic literature. Yet, this wealth of knowledge is available only to those few who can gain direct access to significant library collections. Literature about the life that exists in developing countries is often not available within their borders. Biologists have long considered that access to the published literature is one of the chief impediments to the efficiency of research in the field. Among other results, free global access to digitized versions of the literature would make available information about the Earth’s species to all parts of the world. Many of the texts digitized by the BHL have until now only been held in a few European or North American libraries. Now, with this resource, scientists and student in the developing world have access to them, thereby accelerating biodiversity research.
Since 2009, the BHL has expanded globally. The European Commission’s eContentPlus program has recently funded the BHL-Europe project, with 28 institutions, to assemble the European language literature. Additionally, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Atlas of Living Australia, Brazil (through SciELO and BIREME), and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina have created regional BHL sites. These projects will work together to share content, protocols, services, and digital preservation practices.