Spicing things up at the Botanics

A pioneering virtual library will be spicing up the lives of visitors to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) next week.

The Biodiversity Library Europe (BLE), which provides digital information, recipes and images of over 50 spice plants, will be at RBGE on March 2 and 3. It will be demonstrated to the public in the John Hope Gateway as a pre-event for RBGE’s “Science on a Plate’’ which is part of this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival programme.

As well as introducing visitors to the BLE, there will be a selection of exhibits on spice plants, living plants from RBGE and some spicy foods to sample. The free event will be held between 10am and 3pm both days.

More than a dozen of the plants featured in BLE-Spices are listed in the first ever RBGE Catalogue of Plants, compiled by James Sutherland, first Intendant of the Royal Garden in 1683 when the garden was on a site now occupied by part of Edinburgh’s Waverley Station.

RBGE’s Serials Librarian, Graham Hardy, said: “Digital libraries are going to play an increasing role as a source of information in future. BLE-Spices will give people the chance to come and discover the wealth of information available at their fingertips.’’

BLE is a virtual library platform developed by staff at the Natural History Museum of the National Museums in Prague. As well as the virtual library on spices, there is also one on the topic of world exploration.

A portal is being developed for the Biodiversity Heritage Library for Europe (BHL-E) and when it is operational the BLE-Spices will link to digitised literature about the plants.

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For further information, or hi-res images, please contact Sandra Donnelly on 0131 248 1037 or Shauna Hay on 0131 248 2900.

Editor’s Notes

For scientists naming and correctly identifying species is crucial.

All scientists involved in the naming and identification of species rely on historic literature alongside physical collections of species to check if the plant, insect, or animal they are studying is new to science.  Making the literature easier to access is therefore vital in to their work.

Around Europe and across the world institutions (in museums, universities and botanic gardens) have been busily making digital copies of important books and journals held in their collections.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has been part of this movement since 2009 when it became a content provider to a key European Commission funded project, creating resources to facilitate online access to this digital historic biodiversity literature. 

This project, the Biodiversity Heritage Library for Europe (BHL-E), brings together the digitised biodiversity literature of over 20 partners, and is making it accessible through a multilingual online portal, to be launched in early summer 2012.  Content is also being made accessible through the Europeana site. Europeana is the leading access point for online resources covering all aspects of Europe’s cultural heritage.

Although professional scientists are expected to be BHL-E’s major user group it is not exclusively for them. Anyone with an interest in finding out more about the varied life forms that planet Earth currently sustains and has sustained in earlier ages, are invited to try out BHL-E, when the portal is up and running in the early summer.

BHL-E is not on its own, as a whole stable of similar digital libraries have developed and continue to develop around the world as partners in the Global Biodiversity Heritage Library programme. 

The oldest of these libraries is the Biodiversity Heritage Library started in 2005 by 10 US and two UK libraries, making their content available at http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/

In 2010 BHL-Australia came online at  http://bhl.ala.org.au/

BHL-China, see http://www.bhl-china.org/cms/ is also up and running for those with an interest in scientific publications from China.

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The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)