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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.
Much of the published literature on biological diversity 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 biota existing in developing countries is often not available within their own 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. Free global access to digital literature repatriates information about the earth’s species to all parts of the world.
The BHL consortium members digitize the public domain books and journals held within their collections. To acquire additional content and promote free access to information, the BHL has obtained permission from publishers to digitize and make available significant biodiversity materials that are still under copyright.
Because of BHL’s success in digitizing a significant mass of biodiversity literature, the study of living organisms has become more efficient. The BHL Portal allows users to search the corpus by multiple access points, read the texts online, or download select pages or entire volumes as PDF files.