The Art of Life: Merging the Worlds of Art and Science

ROSE-SANDLER, Trish, GWINN, Nancy E. and RINALDO, Constance (2014) The Art of Life: Merging the Worlds of Art and Science. Paper presented at: IFLA WLIC 2014 - Lyon - Libraries, Citizens, Societies: Confluence for Knowledge in Session 149 - Art Libraries with Science and Technology Libraries. In: IFLA WLIC 2014, 16-22 August 2014, Lyon, France.

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Language: English (Original)
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The Art of Life: Merging the Worlds of Art and Science

This paper shows how a digital library, created primarily for the use of biologists, is reaching a broad audience of artists, art historians, exhibition and graphic designers, publishers, and others in humanities fields, thus merging the worlds of science and art. Created by a global consortium of natural history, botany, agricultural, university and national libraries, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a rich domain repository of historic biodiversity literature. Providing open access to over 43 million pages of text (approximatly140,000 volumes) via its portal (, the BHL has developed into an essential research tool for biologists around the world. Within these texts, but not easily accessible, are millions of visual resources, plates, figures, maps, and photographs, many produced by the finest botanical and zoological illustrators in the world, such as John James Audubon, George Dionysus Ehret, and Pierre Redouté. When BHL staff began to duplicate the beautiful plates in these volumes to a Flickr site, now containing 90,000 images, its popularity made clear that the BHL work could attract an audience far outside the scientific world. There was also a need to automate the identification process and create relevant metadata, a laborious procedure that currently requires significant staff time. In 2012, the Missouri Botanical Garden embarked on an ambitious project to automatically identify and describe all natural history illustrations in BHL texts, not just the plates, in order to make them more easily accessible and able to be shared with other repositories, such as ARTstor, Encyclopedia of Life, and the Digital Public Library of America. This paper describes the project and shows how scholars, educators, designers—and image lovers—will be able to find and view a wealth of illustrations of plant and animal life from which to make connections between science, art, culture and history.

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