Accelerating Digitization of Biodiversity Specimens through Online Public Participation

Sunday, 15 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Elizabeth Ellwood, iDigBio, Tallahassee, FL
Biodiversity research specimens provide a historical baseline of diversity and distributions against which to compare new samples and project changes to diversity and distribution into the future. However, just ca. 10 percent of the estimated 1 billion specimens in U.S. collections have been digitized (e.g., databased, imaged, and/or georeferenced) with the data made available online. A goal of the biodiversity research community is to digitize most of the remaining specimens within a decade. However, meeting this ambitious goal requires increased collaboration, technological innovation, and broader engagement in digitization beyond the walls of biodiversity research collections. Engaging the public in digitization, rather than simply hiring more digitizers, promises to both serve the digitizing institutions and further public understanding of biodiversity science. We identify 24 digitization tasks that the public could participate in online and examples from three broad areas that will accelerate research progress: label and ledger transcribing/cataloging from digital images, georeferencing from collection locality descriptions, and specimen tagging/categorizing from images. We illustrate each activity, identify and compare useful tools, present relevant best practices and standards, and identify gaps in our knowledge and areas for improvement. We will also highlight the citizen science projects of iDigBio, NSF's National Resource for Advancing the Digitization of Biodiversity Collections. This includes Biospex (, a system that provides project management functionality for public participation tools like Notes from Nature ( field of public participation in digitization of biodiversity research specimens is clearly in a growth phase with many emerging opportunities for scientists, educators, and the public. The field will benefit from broader communication with complementary or overlapping projects in other fields, such as the digital humanities.