Tag Archives: Free

The Biodiversity Heritage Library made over 150,000 illustrations and 55 million pages of research free to download

The world’s “largest open-access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives” has made 55 million pages of literature and at least 150,000 illustrations open for the public to enjoy.

Illustration from the Transactions of the Entomological Society of London, 1911.
Image credits Biodiversity Heritage Library / Flickr.

Do you like life, science, cool art, or all three? Then the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BIH) has a treat for you. The BIH pools together diagrams, sketches, studies, and data pertaining to life on Earth from hundreds of thousands of journals and libraries, some of them from as far back as the 15th century. You can see it all, and download it all, without paying a dime.

Science for all

“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,” the Library’s about page explains.

“Scientists have long considered this lack of access to biodiversity literature as a major impediment to the efficiency of scientific research.”

The sheer wealth of information that the BIH contains is staggering. However, this is a goldmine even if you’re not too keen on learning biology, even if you don’t need some citations for your degree paper — there is a lot of beauty to be found here. Illustrations of plants, animals, and the biological mechanisms that keep them going abound. They’re analyzed in hand-drawn diagrams, detailed in bright watercolors, and celebrated in dazzling lithography.

From “Report on the work of the Horn Scientific Expedition to Central Australia, pt. 2 – zoology, London: Dulau, 1896.”
Image credits Biodiversity Heritage Library / Flickr.
From “Beiträge zur Pflanzenkunde des Russischen Reiches. Lf. 10 (1857)”.
Image credits Biodiversity Heritage Library / Flickr.

Among the works in the BIH is a digitized copy of Joseph Wolf’s 19th-century The Zoological Sketches, two volumes totaling around 100 lithographs of wild animals kept in London’s Regent’s Park (which are drop-dead gorgeous). Dig around deep enough and you will find a DIY taxidermy guide, full with illustrated guides, published in 1833. Weird, but cool. One of my personal favorites is Osteographia, or the Anatomy of the Bones, a body of sketches published in London, 1733, looking at the human skeleton and its afflictions. Die Cephalopoden by one G. Fischer and Margaret Scott’s British sea-weeds could easily pass for surrealist artwork in my book. The striking yet translucent watercolors of The genus Iris make for an almost otherworldly look at the family of flowers.

From “Die Cephalopoden T.2”.
Image credits Biodiversity Heritage Library / Flickr.
From “British sea-weeds, v. 1”.
Image credits Biodiversity Heritage Library / Flickr.
From “The genus Iris”.
Image credits Biodiversity Heritage Library / Flickr.

Still, this is, when you get down to it, a resource aimed at scientists. As such, it comes with a wide range of tools to help navigation and assist research: these include features to monitor online conversations related to books and articles in the archive or to find works related to a particular species. But, if all you want to do is look at the pretty pictures (I don’t blame you), the BIH also has an Instagram and Flickr account that you can check out.

“Through Flickr, BHL provides access to over 150,000 illustrations, enabling greater discovery and expanding its audience to the worlds of art and design. BHL also supports a variety of citizen science projects that encourage volunteers to help enhance collection data,” the Library’s about page adds. “Since its launch in 2006, BHL has served over 8 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.”

That’s definitely a goal I can get behind.


You’re doing fun activities wrong — but a new study reveals how to do them right

Scheduled fun isn’t as enjoyable as spontaneous fun, apparently.


Image credits Andreas Lischka.

Your trying to have a good time might just be what’s keeping you from it, a new paper suggests. According to the research, performed by a duo of scientists from the Ohio State University (OSU) and Rutgers Business School (RBS), planning leisure activities ahead of time makes us enjoy them less compared to spontaneous or more loosely-scheduled events.

It’s all about the timing

The paper explains that we tend to subconsciously ‘lump together’ all of our scheduled activity under the same mental group. It doesn’t matter if said activity is going to the dentist, paying your taxes, or a date with a special someone — if it’s scheduled, it goes in the same group. In the end, that makes us more likely to perceive pleasurable activities as chores, the authors explain, draining them of some enjoyment.

“It becomes a part of our to-do list,” Selin A. Malkoc, study co-author and an associate professor at OSU, wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “As an outcome, they become less enjoyable.”

“When scheduled, leisure tasks feel less free-flowing and more forced — which is what robs them of their utility.”

Part of the problem, Malkoc believes, is cultural. We place such a high value on achievement that even fun and contentment become secondary. Most of us live hectic lives, juggling work, school, social events, hobbies, sports, and many other activities that require an investment of time and energy. We jam-pack our schedules, fearing that we will never do all that we want to do if we give ourselves some free time, Malkoc explains. Because of this over-commitment to achievement, “people even strive to make leisure productive and brag about being busy,” the paper explains.

In the end, we do more — but we enjoy all of it less.

The paper builds on a 2016 study published by the two researchers, in which they pooled together data from 13 previous studies conducted on the enjoyment of leisure activities. After analyzing all the results in parallel, the team concluded that scheduling leisure activities — ranging from a carwash, test-driving a car, and watching a fun video — had a “unique dampening effect” on their enjoyment.

In one of the 13 studies, the authors gave students a hypothetical calendar consisting of classes and other activities. Some of the students were asked to schedule a frozen yogurt outing with friends, two days in advance, and add it to the calendar. The rest were asked to imagine they ran into a friend by chance and ended up going to the same frozen yogurt place — but spontaneously. Both groups were later asked to report how they felt about the situation.

The first group — the schedulers — ended up perceiving the event “more like work,” the paper concludes.

So, then, what can we do to enjoy some downtime but still get something done? Malkoc believes “rough scheduling” could be the answer. Boiled down, this approach means setting up plans to meet for lunch or an after-work drink with someone, but not assigning it a time per se. If this loose plan isn’t enough to make the meetup happen, she adds, that may be for the best.

“As trivial as the change might seem, it has an important effect on human psychology: It reintroduces the flexibility to the leisure tasks,” Malkoc wrote in her email to The Washington Post.

“If things don’t work out, in all likelihood at least one of the parties was forcing themselves to make it happen – and thus would enjoy it less. So, maybe things worked out for the best, right?”

Malkoc uses the approach in her own personal life, saying it goes just fine and that her friends “are willing to play along”. Rough scheduling was also the subject of one of the previous studies she and Tonietto performed.

It included 148 college students who agreed to take a break for free coffee and cookies during finals. Half of these students were asked to come in at a specific time for their snack, while the others were given a two-hour window during which they could do so. The first group reported enjoying their break less than those who were given a window, according to the study.

Another piece of advice Malkoc would give is to simply stop trying to fit so many different activities in our schedule. A good place to start from would be to prioritize our enjoyment of activities rather than their quantity, she suggests.

“Be more selective in what we choose to do … take the liberty to let things go,” she concluded in her emails. “This is not to say we should never make plans. But we can prioritize better and let go of our fear of missing out.”

The paper “The Calendar Mindset: Scheduling Takes the Fun Out and Puts the Work In” has been published in the Journal of Market Research.