The Biodiversity Heritage Library: Empowering Discovery through Free Access to Biodiversity Knowledge


  • Martin R. Kalfatovic Biodiversity Heritage Library, Smithsonian Libraries, Washington, DC
  • Grace Costantino Biodiversity Heritage Library, Smithsonian Libraries, Washington, DC



biodiversity, open access, open data, natural history, digital libraries, science


The advancement of knowledge about life on the planet—its origins, preservation, and loss of species and environments—is dependent on access and reference to library collections. The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a global digital library that serves the biodiversity research community, as well as a widening circle of those interested in learning more about life. Through an international consortium of natural history and botanical libraries and in close collaboration with researchers, bioinformaticians, publishers, and information technology professionals, BHL has democratized access to biodiversity information and revolutionized research worldwide, allowing everyone, everywhere to study and explore life on Earth.


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Author Biographies

Martin R. Kalfatovic, Biodiversity Heritage Library, Smithsonian Libraries, Washington, DC

Twenty years of progressively complex management in digital libraries and information technology with a focus on the areas of information management, data access, and digitization. Work experience located in a major museum complex. Significant experience in cultivation of donors, corporate and institutional giving, building national and international partnerships in both the private and public sectors, and the development of online and social media development projects. Research interests include transformational elements of new media technologies on traditional research, publishing and learning models, and associated metrics for scholarly communication. As Associate Director, Digital Programs and Initiatives Division, manage all aspects of the Smithsonian Libraries digital library program and work across boundaries in strategic planning activities. Major duties include supervision of Web Services Department, Information Services Department, Scholarly communication and evaluation metrics, Product Development and Licensing, and Digital Imaging. Serve as the key unit contact point both within the Institution and at a national and international level for all digital library activities. Serves as Program Director, Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) which functions as the executive director and manager of the international consortium of seventeen natural history, botanical garden, government, and university libraries engaged in the mass digitization of taxonomic literature. Coordinates developments of global nodes at the national and regional level. The position also serves as a key contact for government, NGO, and academic leaders at both the national and international level. Current research interests include linked data, taxonomic intelligence and other analysis tools; and the data curation and related issues that surround the publication of Smithsonian Contributions and Studies series in an electronic format.He is a frequent contributor of articles and reviews and the author of three books, “Creating a Winning Online Exhibition: A Guide for Libraries, Archives, and Museums”, “The Fine Arts Projects of the New Deal: An Annotated Bibliography”, “Nile Notes of a Howadji: A Bibliography of Travelers' Tales from Egypt, from the Earliest time to 1918”. He earned his MSLS from SLIS at the Catholic University of America in 1990. He can be found on twitter @udcmrk and maintains a blog at UDC793. He has an inordinate fondness for dodos.”

Grace Costantino, Biodiversity Heritage Library, Smithsonian Libraries, Washington, DC

Grace Costantino is the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) at the Smithsonian Libraries. In this capacity, she developed and manages an international communication strategy for the library, oversees social media initiatives, and engages with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage contributed to BHL by the library's worldwide consortium. Prior to this role, Ms. Costantino served as the BHL Program Manager from 2012-2013 and a Digital Collections Librarian at Smithsonian Libraries from 2008-2012. Ms. Costantino has an Master's in Information Management and Systems from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Graduate Certificate in Communication Management from the University of Denver.


Clough, G. Wayne. 2013. Best of Both Worlds: Museums, Libraries, and Archives in the Digital Age. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. DOI:

Darwin, C. R., et al. 1847. “Copy of Memorial to the First Lord of the Treasury [Lord John Russell], respecting the Management of the British Museum.” Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers paper number (268), XXXIV(253): 1–3. 13 April. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online, John van Wyhe (ed.), 2002–.

Kalfatovic, Martin R. 2017. “‘The Gift of Time’: Impact through Open: The Biodiversity Heritage Library.” Presentation at the “Bracing for Impact: Digitizing Collections to Change Lives” Smithsonian Digitization Fair. Washington, DC, October 19, 2017.

Pyle, Richard L. 2010. “[Taxacom] Was Reproducibility of phylogenetic analysis.” TAXACOM Listserv, January 27.




How to Cite

Kalfatovic, Martin R., and Grace Costantino. 2018. “The Biodiversity Heritage Library: Empowering Discovery through Free Access to Biodiversity Knowledge”. KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies 2 (1):17.