Biodiversity Heritage Library

Australian Branch

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is the world’s largest virtual library of biodiversity literature and archival materials. It consists of over 500 contributing libraries from across the globe, who together have digitised over 58 million pages from more than 258,000 volumes. This incredible resource contains information on millions and millions of the world’s species and is freely accessible online.

Montage of three woman
Museums Victoria Librarians Olga Hionis, Hayley Webster & Gemma Steele with treasures from Museums Victoria’s Rare Book Collection.

The BHL Australia project started in 2010. It is nationally funded by the Atlas of Living Australia and is hosted by Museums Victoria in Melbourne. Since 2010, the project has grown from just one organisation to twenty-eight. BHL Australia is now a truly national project, representing every state and territory in the country. The contributing organisations include the state and territory museums, herbaria and government agencies, as well as smaller organisations such as royal societies and field naturalist clubs.

Rare book on a large book scanner
BHL Australia’s Zeutschel OS 16000 scanner. The book being digitized is The animal kingdom of the Baron Cuvier, enlarged and adapted to the present state of zoological science. 1839. Contributed to BHL by Museums Victoria.

The librarians at these organisations, particularly those working in the Museums Victoria Library, assist with the selection of books, journals and other book-like items for digitisation. The items are scanned at BHL Australia’s digitisation lab using a Zeutschel OS 16000 scanner. This work, along with the post-processing of images and metadata addition, is undertaken by a small team of BHL staff and a much larger crew of incredible volunteers.

Woman sitting a computer
BHL Australia volunteer, Tiziana Tizian, cropping page images in preparation for upload onto BHL.

By its tenth birthday in 2020, BHL Australia had made over 350,000 pages of Australia’s biodiversity literature openly accessible online. Those pages track the evolution of our understanding of Australian biodiversity. They are filled with the first published descriptions of Australia’s animals and plants, as well as details of the biology, behaviour, distribution and abundance of Australia’s native and introduced species. They also contain spectacular scientific artwork.

Rare book with Duck-billed Platypus
The Naturalist’s Miscellany includes the first published scientific description and illustration of the Duck-billed Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus). Shaw, George. The Naturalist’s Miscellany. Volume 10. 1799. Contributed to BHL by Museums Victoria.


The Biodiversity Heritage Library exists because “The cultivation of natural science cannot be efficiently carried out without reference to an extensive library.” This is a quote from Charles Darwin, who would undoubtedly agree that, now more than ever, online access to an extensive library is critical to our understanding of changes in biodiversity over time.

Selected treasures

The animal kingdom of the Baron Cuvier, enlarged and adapted to the present state of zoological science. 1839.

The Naturalist’s Miscellany. Volume 10. 1799.
The first published scientific description and illustration of the Duck-billed Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus).

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