Taxonomic Literature (Lit) Interest Group Charter


Anna Weitzman
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012

Core Members

  • Chris Lyal - (Natural History Museum, London) co-author and liaison to taXMLit; principal liaison to GBIF, EDIT, Encyclopedia of Life, and ZooBank; working zoologist
  • Aaron Wilton - (Landcare, New Zealand) expert in Flora & Fauna mark-up
  • P. Bryan Heidorn - (University of Illinois) computer scientist, expert in parsing, liaison to TaxonX
  • Neil Thomson - (Natural History Museum, London) liaison to BHL; librarian
  • Greg Whitbread - (Australian National Botanic Gardens) expert in Flora mark-up
  • Terry Catapano - (American Museum of Natural History) liaison to TaxonX
  • Richard Pyle - (Bishop Museum) liaison to ZooBank, interest in micro-citations


Our mission is to facilitate the sharing and access of taxonomic literature worldwide. Taxonomists and those who need taxonomic information require efficient access to material held in natural history museums, biological repositories and libraries. These repositories are difficult to access but hold a wealth of resources that describe and explain the diversity and depth of life on earth. Mining these data for research, conservation, drug discovery, protected area management, disease control, education, enjoyment of the natural world, etc., can be difficult and time consuming. What should be a seamless, open "book" of knowledge currently consists of disparate published and unpublished sets of mostly paper-based data.

Information held in museums is centered on specimen collections, taxonomic databases, published taxonomic literature, geographical information systems, and unpublished archival materials. A worldwide effort to make these data more readily available requires linkages between, and simultaneous access to worldwide information sources. Literature is critical to, and includes information overlapping with each of these data sets. Literature may serve as a link that binds these data types together and is therefore a model for interoperability.

Making literature sources available is part of a larger worldwide effort to enable easy access to the complete range of data required to understand individual species and their environmental and evolutionary relationships. Increasing numbers of institutions, publishers and funding bodies are showing interest in making full text of portions of the taxonomic literature available on the World Wide Web as evidenced especially by the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). In literature, most of these are currently available only as image files though a few are turned into machine-readable text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR); both of these formats are planned by the BHL. While both of these formats are steps forward in making literature widely available throughout the world, they do not facilitate searching in a way that will facilitate finding specific information or answering specific biodiversity questions. In fact, to use literature digitised in this way requires nearly as much work and pre-existing knowledge of where and how to look as the printed volumes mostly held in "northern" libraries. The literature standards developed by this Group will facilitate this work and enable more accurate search capability, interoperability within the literature and with other pertinent data.

The Group will develop standards, best practices, technology tools, and specifications for the mark-up of Taxonomic Literature.

The Group is responsible for setting new and adopting, modifying or retiring existing standards for citations (and their elements) and literature mark-up.

The Group will ensure that these standards are compatible and interoperable with standards for the kinds of data the literature contains (e.g., taxon names, taxon concepts, specimens, geospatial data, descriptions, ecological information). In doing so, the Group will maintain focus on liaising with and providing feedback to other TDWG Interest Groups working on standards which overlap with taxonomic literature.

The Group will liaise with SDD Interest Group to approach the key problem of marking up legacy descriptive data.

The Group is responsible for the adaptation of existing standards for botanical literature (especially names of journals, publications and people; their abbreviations; and dates: BPH, BPH-S, Authors of Plant Names, and TL-2 and supplements) to the new TDWG standard process and principles

Becoming Involved

The Literature group welcomes participation from all interested parties with biological, library, and publishing backgrounds. Members of the group are interested in standards and technologies for analysing biodiversity data from taxonomic literature and combining them with knowledge from other biodiversity data sets.

Participants in other TDWG groups that work on data included in taxonomic literature are strongly encouraged to participate. This participation is vital to ensure the standards are compatible and interoperable.

The TDWG process requires that new Task Groups be launched through an Interest Group. The Literature group can facilitate establishment of new Task Groups that relate to taxonomic literature standards.

Please contact the Convenor or Core members to discuss potential projects or join existing Task Groups.


The Taxonomic Literature group was informally launched at the TDWG meeting in New Zealand in 2004. The group is now established as a formal Interest Group to conform to TDWG's new structure and process.

There is a growing collaborative interest between this group and the library community and its standards.


Due to the international calls for greater availability of biodiversity data, an increasing number of institutions, especially the Biodiversity Heritage Library project (BHL) are digitising taxonomic literature and making these materials freely available on the World Wide Web. Most of the digitally available literature is in the form of image files and to a lesser extent, text files generated, sometimes very imperfectly, using optical character recognition (OCR). These are the two forms planned by the BHL. In a few cases text or metadata are searchable, but those are idiosyncratically formatted, marked up or split into fields.

An increasing number of institutions, publishers and funding bodies are however showing interest in making full text of portions of the taxonomic literature available. Having standards in place will facilitate their work and encourage them to make the literature data interoperable with other pertinent data.



  • Taxonomists/Systematists
  • Librarians
  • Publishers
  • Conservationists
  • Ecologists and other biologists who need information about taxa, for example, what they are, where they occur and observations about them.
  • Collections cataloguers

  Last Modified: 08 September 2007