Online Bryology Book Gains Grateful Readership

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

Over 10 years ago, Janice Glime began writing a text on the ecology of bryophytes, a group of diminutive plants that includes mosses. But, as the field progressed by leaps and bounds, she never seemed to be able to finish so much as a chapter.

Faced with the choice of publishing a work that would quickly become obsolete or not publishing at all, she picked a third option.

Glime, a professor of biological sciences, decided to post her work online. Now, "Bryophyte Ecology" is available at . The book is evolving into an encyclopedia, which, at this point, would be at least three volumes in print. Perhaps when this work is done, Glime says, she’ll be able to synthesize it into a textbook. For now, it’s growing like topsy.

Her masterwork has two major advantages over a print edition. First, the number of dazzling full-color photos and illustrations is virtually unlimited. And secondly, you don’t have to wait for the second edition to fix mistakes.

After announcing the publication to her colleagues on Bryonet, the bryologists’ international list serve, she quickly was able to correct some errors, thanks to friendly suggestions from experts around the world. The warmest responses, however, have been from bryologists as far flung as China and Bulgaria, who thanked her profusely for making such a vast trove of knowledge available.

“I really wanted to reach people who don’t have the money for books,” Glime explains. Bryologists are uncommon enough in the United States, but in South America and parts of Asia, they are exceedingly rare, so reference books on bryology are well nigh nonexistent.

The book is as good as it is because of her fellow bryologists. “One thing I’ve appreciated is how helpful they are,” she says. “I’ll ask questions and get answers right away. Or I’ll ask permission to use photos, and they’ll say yes, of course, but let me send you a better one.”

“Bryophye Ecology” is also a good tool for nonexperts. “I want to reach foresters, park service people, ecologists, teachers . . . anyone who wants to look something up but doesn’t want to pay for an expensive book,” says Glime.

Which begs this question: with no one buying any books, and with no ads for low-interest mortgages posted on the website, it appears that Glime is not profiting from her endeavor, at least in the traditional sense.

That’s quite true, she says. But money is not really an issue. “You don’t get paid for publishing most scientific books anyway,” she explains, with a verbal shrug. “For a book on bryophyte ecology, you might get a few free copies. Writing it has to be a labor of love.”

At least it has not gone unrequited. “Dr. Glime, I think you are one of the most generous and collegial scientists I have (not!) met,” wrote a Canadian bryologist after perusing the book. “You are really an inspiration . . . All my students are thrilled with your online book, and I am, simply, in awe. Thank you.”

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.