Digital Libraries - selected online resources

From print to pixel 

Everyday more and more print books are being transformed into digital formats; giving professional and amateur researchers in nearly all subjects are obtaining global online access to a significant volume of almost every type of literature. Access to some of this digital literature is restricted by fees and licensing.  However a large proportion is open source and can be used non-commercially provided credit is given.   

Staff in RBGE Library use a number of online digital libraries when deaing with requests from staff, students and the general public. 

Amongst these digital libraries are:  

INTERNET ARCHIVE Founded in 1996, on a non-profit basis, with the aim of building an digital library with content provided on a permanent, open access basis to all intetrested individuals, professional or amateur. The text archive contains over 3.3 million items.  

GALLICA  Launched in 1997, by the Bibliotheque nationale de France, by 27 February 2010, the 1 millionth document was made available. Aggregating content - mainly French language, but not exclusively, from 41 partners.

HATHI TRUST DIGITAL LIBRARY  Founded in 2008, to preserve and provide access to digitized books and journals from partner libraries, mainly in US universities. Currently (2012) Hathi contains over 10 million titles from 60 partner institutions.  The content is mixed full text access and limited search access to in copyright material. Whilst content can be downloaded, re-use in other applications is not permitted.

ANIMALBASE Begun in 2003 by the Zoological Institute, University of Göttingen, with twin aims to provide open access to digital versions of copyright-free historic zoological works; and, a database of verified names of zoological taxa.  Links to zoological content in 18 other projects. Contains digital version of the first natural history book published in Scotland, Scotia Illustrata (1684) by Sir Robert Sibbald, joint founder of the physic garden that grew up to become RBGE.      

DIGITAL LIBRARY OF THE REAL JARDIN BOTANICO MADRID Launched in 2005, now (2012) digital versions of 6136 titles are accessible. 

And last but, by know means least, two of the three active Biodiversity Heritage Library portals: 


BHL logo

Founded in 2005 BHL is a consortium of US and UK natural history institute libraries, which provides secure, permanent open access to digital literature from partner collection libraries. The portal contains tools designed to navigate through the content, read content online, download whole or part books and journal parts, and of course search for particular items. Users with a technical and programming background can also undertake data exports and use the API's that BHL has developed to remix and re-use content


A useful feature for locating and linking to specific papers, when you know the page numbers of the paper you are looking for, is the Citation Finder, which uses the BHL's OpenURL resolver to search for individual pages in books and journals.   


Images from finely illustrated works in BHL have been extracted and formatted into sets within FLICKR to form BioDivLibrary's photostream. There are currently 586 of these sets.  Botanical sets include Köhler's Medizinal Pflanzen v.1,  Loudon's Arboretum et Fruticetum v. 6, and  Grew's Anatomy of Plants, and many others.   The BHL site has a scroll bar with selected BioDivLibrary photostream images, which links back to the FLICKR sets. 


A number of historic Scottish imprints have digital copies in BHL.  These copies have been created by BHL and Internet Archive partners in the USA and the UK. The content covers ornithology, zoology, ecology, botany, and general natural history. You can link to and download a simple table of some Scottish imprints in BHL here.    


BHL-Australia logo

Launched in 2011, BHL-Au is the digital literature component of the Atlas of Living Australia and currently provides access to BHL content with a different set of tools from BHL for downloading and viewing the digital books.  The pdf generator is particularly user friendly.

The third active BHL portal BHL-CHINA does not have an English language interface, but 893 of its titles are available in BHL, with transliterated titles.  

For the last three years RBGE has been a content provider partner in a consortium of 28 partners from 14 European nations and the USA building  Biodiversity Heritage Library - Europe. Here is a link to more information on the RBGE website about BHL-Europe.  

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Title page of Hortus Medicus Edinburgensis (1683)

Title page of a copy of James Sutherland’s “Hortus Medicus Edinburgensis” printed in 1683.  This is the first published catalogue of plants growing in the physic garden, which gradually grew to become RBGE.  You can read a digital version of a copy of this book from RBGE Library on the Internet Archive site.   

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