18 July 2018

Celebrating 50 years of library collaboration

Fiona Ainsworth, Head of Library, Art and Archives at RBG Kew, reflects on the importance of meeting her counterparts in botanical and horticultural organisations across the world.

Honzo Zufu Illustrated manual of medicinal plants

I recently attended the first ever joint annual meeting of the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL), the European Botanical and Horticultural Libraries group (EBHL), and the Linnaeus Link partnership – along with David Iggulden, Kew’s Electronic Resources Manager. Hosted by New York Botanical Garden and Brooklyn Botanic Garden, this joint meeting was a very special occasion as we were celebrating the 50th and 25th anniversaries of CBHL and EBHL respectively.

The two organisations bring together librarians and archivists from across North America and Europe (and sometimes even further afield) to share experiences and to get to know and learn from each other. Over 100 people met at the botanic gardens to hear a variety of talks. I gave a presentation on two Kew projects: digitising rare Chinese illustrations and cataloguing the Miscellaneous Reports collection in Kew’s archives. We heard about digitising and transcribing the papers of John Torrey, the 19th century US botanist, a project digitising the special collections of the Royal Horticultural Society, an update on a new resource from Jstor, Plants & Society, and a presentation on a new research tool, BIOfid, which brings together resources for biodiversity research.

We also had the chance to visit the libraries of both Gardens and the High Line (a 1.5 mile linear park in Manhattan built on a section of disused New York central railway). We took time to reflect on the histories of both CBHL and EBHL and celebrate the many friendships and collaborations which have resulted, such as the two people who have been emailing each other for more than 20 years and who met in person for the very first time at the meeting. One of the most fruitful and long-standing collaborations has been the supply of articles for library users; in the early days, this meant posting a photocopy, but nowadays can result in the almost instantaneous supply by email of the requested article.

CBHL’s Annual Literature Awards are always announced during the meeting and this time, it was my great pleasure to accept the Award of Excellence in Plant Identification and Field-Guides, on behalf of Kew Publishing for Chinese Medicinal Plants, Herbal Drugs and Substitutes, by Chris Leon and Lin Yu-Lin (see recent news item).

Kew was instrumental in getting the European Botanical and Horticultural Libraries group off the ground: the first two meetings were held at Kew in 1994 and 1995, closely based on the equivalent North American group. The European group returned to Kew in 2013 to celebrate its 20th meeting and it was then we got the idea of having a joint meeting between the North American and European groups in 2018. The idea was superbly realised by the staff of New York and Brooklyn botanic gardens, in particular Susan Fraser, the Director of the Mertz Library in New York.

2018 was significant for me personally as I announced I was standing down as EBHL Secretary, a role I’ve occupied since 2005. As the group looks forward to the next 25 years, now seems a good time to hand on to someone new.