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The Biodiversity Heritage Library improves research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community.
BHL also serves as the literature component of the Encyclopedia of Life .

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Where field book records are found and why

The Field Book Project is working to increase access to field book content by making item descriptions and digitized field books easier to find. One way we are doing this is making catalog records and digitized field books available through multiple online sources. Currently, field book records are available through the Smithsonian Collections Search Center and Digital Public Library of America. Digitized field books are available on BHL in the Smithsonian Field Books collection.

With these field books available in more than one online location, researchers can more easily search for them alongside other types of resources and find new connections.

Types of field book information found in online catalogs

You may have noticed that catalogs have differing amounts of field book information. This stems from the different kinds of information the catalogs are designed to hold.
Collections Search Center (CSC) is designed to hold records that describe the many kinds of physical and digital items found across the Smithsonian Institution. CSC contains all the types of records that Field Book Project creates—records describing the field book creators, collections, and individual field books. It also contains links to currently available digitized field books.
Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is designed to lead users to digitized items contributed by institutions across the country. For this reason, DPLA only contains records for field books that are available in a digital form.

Our field book in Biodiversity Heritage Library

Digitized field books are made openly available through Biodiversity Heritage Library. To see all field books digitized by the Field Book Project, visit the project collection in BHL.

Our records in Smithsonian Collections Search Center

Are all the Smithsonian field books described in Collections Search Center?
That is the ultimate goal, and The Field Book Project is actively cataloging and digitizing field books. We routinely update these resources with new records and digital content in CSC and DPLA; we encourage you to check in and see what’s new.

How to Search Smithsonian Collection Search Center

Below are tips for getting started on CSC, based on methods that we frequently use. Still have questions? Please contact us at

Getting started

The Smithsonian’s Collection Search Center ( includes materials from across the institution dealing with art, culture, and the sciences. These tips are designed to help you narrow your search to just content related to field notes.

The left-hand menu of CSC’s website provides a lot of great options for navigating records by discipline, collector, or topic. These categories often produce more accurate results than keyword searches. For best results, go to the Cataloging Record Source and limit to “Field Book Project.”

To the right is a snapshot of the categories for narrowing a search in Smithsonian Collection Search Center, and includes quick explanations of what to expect within each of the search categories.

How to find field book records

There are two ways. Either use keyword search “unit_code:FBR” or select Cataloging Record SourceSmithsonian Field Book Project.”

How find just field books

Limit the search category Type to “field notes.”

How to find field books from one natural history discipline

If you select Topic, you’ll see that most disciplines are cataloged by their subject term (e.g. study of mammals is cataloged with “mammalogy”). In the cases of botany and ornithology you will have more accurate search results if you select the Topic “plants” or “birds.”

How to locate field books in National Museum of Natural History

We catalog the physical location of both the collections and individual field books. You can see this information when the catalog record is expanded. To locate field books and collections in various departments use the following keyword searches in quotations.

How to find contact information for field books in National Museum of Natural History

Expand the field book record that you’re interested in and about halfway down the record, you’ll see Access Information listed. This will provide a phone number and email address where you can reach the department that holds that collection.

How to find types of records

The Field Book Project creates 5 types of records: (1) Collection records, (2) Item [or field book] records, (3) Personal Biographies, (4) Organization Histories; and (5) Expedition Histories. To limit the search to just field books, select search category Type “field notes.”

Other types of records can be selected by using the following keyword searches in quotations.

How to find digitized field books

This is a small but consistently growing segment of the field books led by the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA’s) Division of Digital Services and their awesome digitization staff. To find all currently available digitized field books, select Online Media and limit to “Electronic Resource” or "Images."

Useful Information Categories to Filter By

Information in the category “Type”

This can give you a lot of information about the format of the field book. Field books come in a wide variety of formats including videos, photographs, journals, diaries, and slides just to name a few.

Information in the category “Place”

Field book records can include geographical information that ranges from the political boundaries like country level to town level or geological boundaries like mountain range, river, or island. These levels of specificity can be seen in the category Location.

Information in the category “Date”

The field book catalog records include a significant amount of date information. Individual collectors have birth and death years, expedition records list beginning and end years. Field book records often list the beginning and ending dates covered within a given item. Limiting your search by date can be a great way to filter results.

Field books in Smithsonian's Transcription Center

Through our partnerships with Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) and Smithsonian Libraries (SIL), the Field Book Project has contributed digitized field books to Smithsonian’s Transcription Center. Results have been impressive. Dozens of field books have now been fully transcribed and reviewed. Volunteers are excited about and connecting with the content. Best of all, when a field book has been completely transcribed and reviewed, the content is available to researchers.

The public can download text searchable PDF’s from the Transcription Center’s project pages. In addition, researchers can use the Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center to perform specialized searches for any text across multiple transcribed field books, such as “broad wings” or “the banks of the Mahakam River”.

If you haven’t visited the Transcription Center, we encourage you to take a look.

Have more questions? Contact us at marroquina(at)si(dot)edu
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