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Encyclopedia of Life underway at the Museum

17 May 2007

Work on the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) and Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) projects is underway at the Natural History Museum.

Launched last week, the EOL project is a collaboration with the world’s leading scientific institutions to create a free online encyclopedia of all the 1.8 million living species on Earth.

The EOL website will have detailed pages, checked by experts, for every species of animal, plant and organism. There will be images, videos, and details on genetic information, habitats, population numbers, prey and predators, whatever information is available.

This valuable resource will give scientists, teachers, students, or anyone who is interested in understanding the natural world, easy access to information that has been hard to find up until now.

Graham Higley is Head of the Natural History Museum's Library and Information Service. Graham says, 'The EOL offers a fantastic opportunity to work on a project that will have a major impact on the way biology is done as a science, and which also engages with the public on a massive scale'.

When will the pages be ready?

You can see demonstration pages on the EOL website and real species pages will be live in 2008. It is expected to take 10 years for all the 1.8 million species that we know about to be online. However, there are an estimated 5-50 million species of animals, plants and organisms on Earth, so more will added as they are discovered.

Biodiversity Heritage Library

The Museum is already working on the BHL project, a collaboration with nine other institutions to scan and digitise millions of biodiversity documents. These records are being incorporated into the EOL project.

Scanning one million books

Jane Smith, Head of the Museum's Library Collections and Services, will be managing the scanning of over a million natural history books so that they can be added to the EOL project.

The Museum looks after an extensive collection of books and manuscripts and includes many rare items, some more than 400 years old.

The scanning is time-consuming as each page of a book is turned and scanned one by one. On average, 500 pages takes one hour. It is estimated to take five years to complete the scanning of the Museum's documents.

Further Information

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