Plant Talk

The Biodiversity Heritage Library

Posted in Inside our Collections on April 6, 2020, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at NYBG.

Botanical illustration of Indian clockvine

An illustration of Thunbergia mysorensis from “Flore des Serres” (1845–1880), from the Mertz Library

One of the most important things that librarians do is build collections. In these collections, knowledge is preserved for generations. Through these collections, information is shared with the world.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is the most important digital collection of biodiversity literature in the world. BHL’s digital library provides free and open online access to over 250,000 volumes from the 15th–21st centuries on a wide range of biodiversity subjects. All BHL content can be accessed online for free and in full through our digital library portal at No login, account, or membership is required.

Since 2006, natural history museums and botanical garden libraries from around the world have been digitizing materials held in their physical collections related to biodiversity topics, and making those collections available to the world, for free. The LuEsther T. Mertz Library at NYBG is one of the founding members of BHL, and has been regularly digitizing and contributing material to this collection for over twelve years.

Because of the nature of copyright law, many of the materials in BHL are in the public domain, or published in 1924 and earlier. Through grant projects, such as the IMLS-funded project Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature, for which NYBG was the lead institution, select in-copyright work has also been added.

There are many ways for the public to use content in BHL, both for academic and artistic research, as well as personal projects and distance learning.

This list of resources to support distance learning is especially useful. You can also check out NYBG Contributions to BHL (full books), as well as check out images from our collection on Flickr.

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