Biodiversity Heritage Library

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is an open access digital archive of over 160,000 volumes of biodiversity  literature from a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries.


From ‘A history of the fishes of the British Islands’ by Jonathan Couch

Much of the published literature on biological diversity is available in only a few select libraries in the developed world. These collections are of exceptional value because the domain of systematic biology depends, more than any other science, upon historic literature. Yet, this wealth of knowledge is available only to those few who can gain direct access to significant library collections. Literature about the biota existing in developing countries is often not available within their own borders. Biologists have long considered that access to the published literature is one of the chief impediments to the efficiency of research in the field. Free global access to digital literature repatriates information about the earth’s species to all parts of the world.

'The Biologist' from 'Antartic days; sketches of the homely side of polar life, by two of Shackleton's men'

‘The Biologist’ from ‘Antarctic days; sketches of the homely side of polar life, by two of Shackleton’s men’

The BHL consortium members digitize the public domain books and journals held within their collections. To acquire additional content and promote free access to information, the BHL has also obtained permission from publishers to digitize and make available significant biodiversity materials that are still under copyright.

Because of BHL’s success in digitizing a significant mass of biodiversity literature, the study of living organisms has become more efficient. The BHL Portal allows users to search the corpus by multiple access points, read the texts online, or download select pages or entire volumes as PDF files.


The collection can be searched by title, author, date, collection or contributor. There are 264 volumes in BHL contributed by  Cambridge University Library, many of which are part of Charles Darwin’s Library which was given to the University’s Botany School in 1908 by Charles Darwin’s son Francis.  To browse digitised versions of Darwin’s manuscripts you can also visit Cambridge Digital Library’s webpages.

New titles are regularly being added to this resource. For the most recent additions please see this page.

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