Greetings from the Biodiversity Heritage Library!

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Hello Science Gossip Community (and thank you for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself, Geoff Belknap!) I am looking forward to getting to know you! My name is Ariadne Rehbein and I am serving as a National Digital Stewardship Resident (NDSR) for the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL,) a natural history and botanical library consortium dedicated to making biodiversity literature openly available through a digital library of the same name. I am based at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO, one of the founding members of BHL. Five BHL NDSR Residents are working on requirements to improve the functionality of the BHL digital library this year. (Keep up with all of our work through our blog!) NDSR is an Institute of Library and Museum Services program that supports the development of digital stewardship professionals in the United States.

My project focuses on improving access to natural history illustrations through the BHL digital library; illustrations that have been described through your efforts and the work of “taggers” on BHL’s Flickr account. Science Gossip was launched just a few months before the end of BHL’s Art of Life grant project in 2015, a celebrated collaboration between Trish Rose-Sandler and the AoL team members, Dr. Geoff Belknap of Constructing Scientific Communities, and Zooniverse.

Your work as a research community is groundbreaking; and for BHL it raises a similarly groundbreaking question: How does a digital library organization determine how to grow from its experiments in reaching new audiences? Research into the types of audiences reached through BHL’s illustration-based outreach and crowdsourcing initiatives, and their needs, has been very limited. BHL thus far has sought to meet the needs of scientists and librarians through its digital library functionality, reflecting the missions of its consortial members.

I have lots of research to do before I can determine technical requirements. Interface functionality surrounding illustrations based upon user studies and a method for metadata integration are required for my project. But what is the best way for BHL to approach future data production and engagement with content through crowdsourcing? I hope I can ask for your help. I would like to provide BHL with a clearer picture of who you are and what motivates you in your work. What are your opinions regarding sharing your work in a digital library? How might you like to use the data? I also believe it is critically important to convey what has made your work successful, and if and how you would like to improve it.

More to come

There are lots of interesting elements to this project that I would like to share as time goes on. There are many more illustrations to be described; crowdsourcing has just scratched the surface of the approximately 4 million that remain. Prioritizing these illustrations for description based on stakeholder viewpoints and determining an appropriate way to undertake this are future goals.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I hope to reach out again soon. (I am still in the process of honing my methodology and questions!) In the meantime, if you have any questions or suggestions for me, I welcome you to reach me at or through Science Gossip at arehbein.

Happy birthday, Science Gossip!

Well, Science Gossip is a self-determined toddler at 2 years old today. It feels like it was only yesterday that was launched onto the wide citizen science world! But looking back, we can see that in the last twenty-four months, we have done a whole lot.

You all – the wonderful volunteers on the Web – have done a really amazing job – completing 16 Victorian natural history periodicals, which accounts for over 150,000 completed pages with 540,000+ classifications. Had I attempted to discover and classify illustrations as a lone historian, I wouldn’t have even got through a tenth of these pages.

journalofquekett208quek_0551The periodicals you have all been classifying represent some of the most important sites for nineteenth century natural history. My task in the following year is to start writing a book-length account of how the illustrations, illustrators and species classifications that you have discovered can help to tell a story about the importance of images to practices and processes of observing and communicating knowledge about the natural world. As I write this account, I plan on bringing questions that arise out of the data back to the experts on ‘talk’ – so stay tuned on if you are interested in participating in these discussions.

What’s Next?

The current batch of periodicals that we have up should keep us going for a bit longer. Of the six journals left to classify, four are over 65% finished, and the remaining two are hovering at around 10% complete. Our two geology periodicals are very close to finishing, with only 10% left to go – so with a little group effort we should be able to get two more complete very soon.

What happens after we finish all of the current periodicals is up to you. We have already started a discussion on Talk about what the next tranche of periodicals could be. Join that discussion here!

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-18-17-25The Biodiversity Heritage Library – which has been the source for all the images and periodicals we have been classifying over the last two years – still has thousands of unclassified books and journals which are full of interesting, but currently hidden, images. The research decision on which sources we – as a community – should work on next is in your hands. This is the essence of citizen science.

With all the knowledge and expertise you have developed over the last two years identifying and classifying images – it only makes sense that the direction of the research becomes community-, rather than individually, driven.

I can’t wait to see what we’ll all do next!

A Year of Science Gossiping

On March 3rd, turns 1! And what a first year it has been.


As a historian, I have been trained to look at books and images and to say something about them that is relevant to other historians. But – and this is my confession – when it comes to doing history with citizen science/humanities I don’t have any training or expertise. And this is what has made this first year so interesting for me – I’ve learnt so much from the 8000+ community that has participated in classifying historical images, and it has been changing the way I think about researching and writing history. But more on that in a future blog, for now, let’s celebrate all we have done!

So what have we achieved over the last year?

We’ve classified just under 135,000 pages from 19th-century journals. Which means that we have completely classified 13 journals and are approximately 90% away from classifying three more.

To put this in perspective – a very diligent historian, working on his or her own for 3-4 years might be able to do thorough research into 4-5 periodicals over a 10-year run. You lot have shown just how important working as a community can be.

What’s more is this means not just an increase in productivity, but new thoughts and ideas a solitary historian would not be able to come up with on their own.

For instance, we now have new information on female illustrators, created a comprehensive list of contributors, and even made an amazing alphabet – all driven by the work and interest of the Talk community.

We’ve also been gaining some attention from within the history of science community. We were shortlisted for the British Society for the History of Science newly founded Ayrton prize, for outstanding web projects.

Viewpoint Scan

For me – as I hope for the rest of the community – it has really been an amazing year. But, we are hoping it is just a taste of what is yet to come.

What is to come for sciencegossip?

To start we have 5 new periodicals for everyone to whet their appetite. These include a new journal on microscopy, 2 on botany, and 2 new journals focusing on geology.

Over the upcoming year, the data on the currently classified journals will be used to inform a new understanding of what it meant to participate in 19th-century science, drawing and journal publication. While this will, in part, take the form of academic articles and ultimately a book – we are also planning a collaboration with digital humanities experts such as Stanford University’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis – which will help us visualise the data you all have collected into an interactive platform.

Most important of all, however, is that from here on in we would like you, the community, to take the helm over the content and direction of sciencegossip. Up to now, the research team has decided what periodicals will go up, and what questions will be asked of the data. So far, this has worked well – but we don’t want to hog the fun! If you find or know of a historical periodical or book that is on the BHL archive, then let’s make a decision as a community over what the next uploads are going to be. Let’s also make new hash tags and discussion threads over what you find most interesting in the documents and images. What the content and research of the website looks like in March 2017 is really up to you!

Because, after all, this is citizen humanities – which means the community is in control, not the individual.