Discover the World’s Largest Biodiversity Library

The Biodiversity Heritage Library brings together over 59 million pages of natural history literature for researchers around the world. Learn more about this important resource, based at the Smithsonian.

Plate from Conchology, or, The natural history of shells. London :W. Miller,[1811]. (Biodiversity Heritage Library, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives).
Plate from Conchology, or, The natural history of shells. London :W. Miller,[1811]. (Biodiversity Heritage Library, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives).

Did you know the Smithsonian oversees the world’s largest biodiversity library? The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), headquartered at the Smithsonian, works with libraries around the world specializing in natural history, botany, animal sciences, and related topics.

Together, this consortium is addressing a lack of accessibility to biodiversity literature by digitizing the materials in their collections and making them freely available online. The BHL portal provides open access to hundreds of thousands of volumes, comprising over 59 million pages, from the 15th-21st centuries.

Scientists have long considered the inaccessibility of biodiversity literature to be a major impediment to research: while natural history books and archives contain much of the information that is critical to this field of study, these materials have previously only been available in a handful of libraries globally.

By removing boundaries to access, BHL is making it easier to share and spread knowledge, thereby strengthening the efficiency and efficacy of research and conservation efforts on every continent.

Natural history illustration of magenta colored orchids.
Plate from Lindenia, Gand [Belgium] :Impr. F. Meyer-van Loo,1885-1906. Biodiversity Heritage Library, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

How can I learn more?

  • The BHL search portal lets you explore over 59 million pages of key biodiversity literature at no cost. Dig in by year, subject, author, and more!
  • You can also discover fabulous natural history images from BHL’s collection on Flickr. Over 250,000 images have been curated by book, subject, and contributor. These images have been viewed nearly 1 billion times! There’s no telling what you might find while scrolling.
  • The BHL blog is a great way to learn about how scientists, artists, and educators use the library — and to see highlights from amazing natural history collections from around the world.

How can I help?

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is always looking for volunteers to help enhance the data in its collections! Right now, BHL needs help tagging the treasure trove of images uploaded to Flickr. You can also play a role in making written materials accessible to researchers by becoming a transcription volunteer.

Screenshot of digitized journal in Biodiversity Heritage Library platform.
A species observation list from the journal of ornithologist William Brewster, 1900, with transcription. Collections of Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library. Biodiversity Heritage Library