By guest author Patricia Lehar, Head Librarian at the Charles Darwin Foundation.
The chance to experience the Galapagos Islands first-hand is a dream come true for many nature lovers. When I first learned of an opportunity to help modernize the GT Corley Smith Library at the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), I saw a way to combine three of my passions: love of nature, support of conservation efforts, and libraries. Upon answering a job posting, I was soon offered a position and within a few months flew to Galapagos to join the CDF team.
One of my first realizations was that we now have the technology to share some of the library’s riches with the public without them having to be physically present in the Islands. Even though an automated catalog had been available at one time, a system problem had made it inaccessible for an extended period. And even though limited access was restored, it was not possible to add new items, and searches were inaccurate. Every new item or article brought to the library was queued to be cataloged, every book checked out was done so by hand, and every inquiry or search could only be partially fulfilled. It was as if time had stood still.
In order to address these and other issues, Galapagos Conservancy made the decision to sponsor a full-time professional librarian position at the CDF. Before we could even think about putting anything on the Internet, we had to restore the catalogue to full functionality. The first task was to modernize the software to the most recent release and migrate the data from the failing system to the new one.
That substantial task was completed by placing the new software on an internal CDF server so that the catalogue could be accessed by any investigator or scientist at the research station. Moving forward meant identifying a partner to host our catalogue externally. Given our remote location more than 600 miles from mainland Ecuador, fiber optic communication is impractical, making satellite the only option for Internet connectivity. This is a very expensive form of telecommunication; therefore, our bandwidth is necessarily limited.
The information we would be sending, mostly scientific publications with lots of charts and photos, would take up a significant portion of our resources, making it essential for us to partner with someone on the mainland. Complete access to our catalog was accomplished by using a server graciously sponsored by Yachay E.P., and housed in Quito. As a result, visibility to our catalog spotlights our unique collections for interested parties worldwide.
While that was a terrific advance, there was still a backlog of unique research on the Galapagos Islands that was inaccessible. Since 2012, there had not been an ongoing effort to compile a list of publications associated with CDF. These important materials needed to be included in the catalog. Part of our task was to work with individual scientific investigators to ensure the updated list of citations was comprehensive.
This was a much larger effort than you might think, owing to the volume of output from scientists working with CDF. After months of dedicated work by library staff, the full text of many of these publications is now available online through the library’s catalog at www.darwinfoundation.org, and for most of the remaining publications, an abstract is available. This allows scientists, researchers, students and others, from Australia to Zimbabwe, to share a portion of our holdings without having to make the journey to Galapagos.
Although my contributions seem tiny in relation to the conservation efforts that continue here at the Charles Darwin Research Station, we all have a role to play. The most critical tool of the library, the catalog, has been restored and enhanced with recent CDF publications. On a personal level, the experience of a cross-cultural scientific exchange working to share results about the Galapagos Islands has been very rewarding. Imagine being a part of that!
Patricia is an information management professional with experience working in libraries, archives, records management, and information technology, administering programs in government, manufacturing, and business environments. As a computer scientist, she worked as a systems programmer, database administrator, and enterprise systems consultant. Upon concluding her 15-year information technology career, she earned a Master’s of Library and Information Science and has worked subsequently as a librarian, archivist, and records specialist. Since starting as the CDRS librarian in May 2016, her work has focused on providing information access to this extraordinary collection.
All photos © Charles Darwin Foundation.
This project was made possible by the generous support of Dr. Ken Saladin and his wife Diane, who have been dedicated to the conservation of the Galapagos Islands for more than 15 years. They were instrumental in the endeavor to create a better library at the Charles Darwin Foundation to house 50 years of research and serve as a resource for scientists and the local community. Read more about the Saladin’s contributions to Galapagos conservation.