Read rare, old publications on biodiversity for free

Singapore institutions join global online initiative by Smithsonian to give public access to titles
Audrey Tan Straits Times 9 Dec 16;

In 1854, tigers roamed Singapore and, on average, a person was killed every day. This was the account of famed British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who detailed his observations in The Malay Archipelago, The Land Of The Orangutan And The Bird Of Paradise.

Until recently, the public had limited access to the 1874 book and other manuscripts that tell the stories of old Singapore. Many of them are among the rare collection of the National Library Board's (NLB's) Lee Kong Chian Reference Library and not available for loan.

But Wallace's book and more than 100 other manuscripts from Singapore are now just a click away.

They have been scanned and are published at It is part of an international initiative known as the Biodiversity Heritage Library driven by the Smithsonian Institution.

Natural history and botanical libraries from around the world upload digitised copies of biodiversity-related literature in their collections on the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

It can be accessed for free.

In the middle of this year, the Singapore Botanic Gardens started contributing titles to this library and has shared 22 volumes to date.

It was done to share the Gardens' knowledge and resources with a wider audience, said Dr Nigel Taylor, the Gardens' group director.

Among the titles it contributed are volumes of one of the oldest scientific journals in South-east Asia, the Agricultural Bulletin Of The Straits Settlements - now known as the Gardens Bulletin. It was first published in 1891.

In 2014, NLB became the first South-east Asian partner to join the Smithsonian initiative, which now has 16 members, including Harvard University in the US, and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London.

"The partnership with the Biodiversity Heritage Library strengthens the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library's position as Singapore's key research and resource centre for materials on Singapore and South-east Asia," said the National Library's director, Mrs Wai Yin Pryke.

"We also hope to showcase the library's rich collections and spark interest and research on these key collections on Singapore and the region."

Dr Nancy Gwinn, director of Smithsonian Libraries and chairman of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, said: "Singapore's important role in the Asean community in both the areas of library science and biology will be important as we seek partners in those countries."

Environmental studies undergraduate Shaina Tan, 19, said it helps to have access to the books, adding: "The books could be useful to study historic biodiversity and might come in handy for future research, perhaps for our final-year projects."

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