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Encyclopedia of Life

The Encyclopedia of Life project is an unprecedented effort to make available information for all species of life on Earth, accessible through one website. The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) will be a constantly evolving encyclopedia that lives on the Internet, with contributions from scientists and amateurs alike. EOL will create 'one-stop shopping' for authoritative information, offering the world at large a better understanding of the planet and all its inhabitants. Species pages will include authenticated information about species as well as access to a wealth of other materials, including peer-reviewed articles and access to DNA barcodes, all freely available. It is being assembled by a growing partnership of individual scientists, international organizations, technology leaders, and prestigious research institutions. But soon anyone will be able to provide information for consideration, too.

Initiated in May 2007, EOL's infrastructure now includes placeholder pages for 1 million species, of which 30,000 have been populated with detailed information derived from comprehensive, authoritative compilations available for some taxonomic groups (e.g., FishBase, AmphibiaWeb). In addition, about two dozen highly developed multimedia pages are presented as examples of what to expect in time throughout the EOL.

Harvard University is one of six cornerstone institutions that initiated the EOL. The initial idea for the EOL was articulated by E.O. Wilson, Harvard University Professor Emeritus. Harvard's involvement continues through a wide variety of activities, including: Professor James Hanken, director of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) is chair of the EOL Steering Committee; the Education and Outreach component of EOL is headed by Marie Studer housed at the MCZ; two of Harvard's libraries (Ernst Mayr Library of the MCZ and Harvard University Botany Libraries) are members of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a foundational partner of the EOL. In addition, several Harvard research scientists have written species pages for the EOL and it is expected more will be involved in this capacity in the future.

Biodiversity Heritage Library

The goal of the Biodiversity Heritage Library is to digitize the published literature of biodiversity held in major natural history museum libraries, botanical libraries and research institutions into one comprehensive web-based collection. The Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology is one of ten conglomerate institutions involved in the project, which also includes the American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY), The Field Museum (Chicago, IL), Harvard University Botany Libraries (Cambridge, MA), Marine Biological Laboratory / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Woods Hole, MA), Missouri Botanical Garden (St. Louis, MO), Natural History Museum (London, UK), The New York Botanical Garden (New York, NY), Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Richmond, UK) and the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (Washington, DC).

The participating libraries hold over two million volumes of biodiversity literature which have been collected over 200 years. These collections, many of which contain rare published literature, were previously only available to those who could gain direct access to the institution. The purpose of this project is to make this literature available to a global audience via the web, providing open access research and reference for scientists, researchers, students and citizen scientists alike.

Originally conceived in February 2005, representatives from the participating institutions began to lay the groundwork for the BHL by May of that year. Today, the BHL is a key component of the Encyclopedia of Life, providing essential legacy taxomic literature to developing species pages.

To learn more about the Biodiversity Heritage Library, please visit the BHL website.