About the Biodiversity Heritage Library

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. BHL is revolutionizing global research by providing free, worldwide access to knowledge about life on Earth.

To document Earth’s species and understand the complexities of swiftly-changing ecosystems in the midst of a major extinction crisis and widespread climate change, researchers need something that no single library can provide — access to the world’s collective knowledge about biodiversity. While natural history books and archives contain information that is critical to studying biodiversity, much of this material is available in only a handful of libraries globally. Scientists have long considered this lack of access to biodiversity literature as a major impediment to the efficiency of scientific research.

Headquartered at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives in Washington, D.C., BHL operates as a worldwide consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries working together to address this challenge by digitizing the natural history literature held in their collections and making it freely available for open access as part of a global “biodiversity community.”

The BHL portal provides free access to hundreds of thousands of volumes, comprising over 60 million pages, from the 15th-21st centuries. The historical literature and original materials in BHL’s collection may contain content that is outdated and harmful. As we continue to understand our role and responsibility as a digital library to address issues of equity and inclusion, we have provided an Acknowledgment of Harmful Content on our websites.

In addition to public domain content, BHL works with rights holders to obtain permission to make in-copyright materials openly available under Creative Commons licenses. Through Flickr, BHL provides access to over 300,000 free nature images from its collection, enabling greater discovery and expanding its audience to the worlds of art and design. BHL also supports a variety of volunteer projects that encourage the public to help enhance collection data.

The BHL consortium works with the international taxonomic community, publishers, bioinformaticians, and information technology professionals to develop tools and services to facilitate greater access, interoperability, and reuse of content and data. The data in BHL’s collection is sourced and aggregated from its consortium partners and Internet Archive contributors. BHL provides a range of services, data exports, and APIs to allow users to download content, harvest source data files, and reuse materials for research purposes. Through taxonomic intelligence tools developed by Global Names Architecture, BHL indexes the taxonomic names throughout the collection, allowing researchers to locate publications about specific taxa.

Since its launch in 2006, BHL has served over 14 million people in over 240 countries and territories around the world. Through ongoing collaboration, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to open access, the Biodiversity Heritage Library will continue to transform research on a global scale and ensure that everyone, everywhere has the information and tools they need to study, explore and conserve life on Earth.

Learn more about the history of BHL.