Work Package 4

Output number: 
Output type: 
Work Package

Moving from physical to digital collections

Type of Activity: RTD

Main Idea: improve access to data stored digitally within NH Institutions by developing mechanisms that enable institutions to enrich digital media with metadata to increase their usability to a broad range of potential Users. The as yet untapped data will be fed directly into global and European initiatives including the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and will underpin the CBD’s third Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3) and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

NH collections are still largely a physical database from which information can only be extracted by visiting the host institution. These traditional collections are now in a state of transition, with an increasing proportion of their specimens and metadata being digitised to facilitate new ways of accessing, integrating and using collections both in house and opening more flexible and effective access at a distance. This move towards virtual collections has the potential to create a more sustainable method of access by making it possible for digital surrogates and associated metadata to be sent rather than requiring expensive physical visits to collections or incurring the risks and expense of sending of valuable, fragile specimens via mail as a loan. This JRA will overcome two major challenges with the provision of digital data. Until recently the cost of mass digitising has been prohibitive. SYNTHESYS3 will develop specific software which can work with industrial-scale digitisers; thus the costs of digitisation can be dramatically lowered and digitisation rates increased. Increasing the speed and scale of digitisation will only resolve the problem of inaccessible virtual collections if their storage, management and accessibility systems are also developed alongside the technological advances in digitisation. SYNTHESYS3 will develop a shared strategy to ensure common standards and the compatibility of the digitisation programmes that are funded from national sources.

In conjunction with NA3, JRA will undertake a series of pilot studies to identify which digitisation equipment and methodology is most appropriate for creating research quality surrogates. Recent advances in micro-CT techniques have made it possible to reveal, for example, the complicated frond-like structure of the gold inside a sample, making the tool valuable to mineralogists in assessing the quality of ore bodies. Further development of this technique has the potential to further open up NH collections to industrial researchers. The JRA will research new methods for 3D digitisation of NH collections that will provide high
resolution 3D images that can be used by researchers in the same way as the actual specimen. For example, it can be rotated to view from all angles, magnified and the image will be an accurate colour. JRA will establish criteria for enhancing the metadata associated with the digitised specimens, improve storage of digital images and metadata, and improved accessibility to both the digitised images and metadata. The JRA will link with NA2 and NA3 to ensure management and accessibility is developed alongside the technology, and product development concepts are channelled to the manufacturers.
The JRA will support the EU’s Digital Agenda for Europe, notably point 2.2.1 – opening up the access to content, by increasing the amount of virtual data that exists and ensuring it is made readily accessible to both specialist Users and the wider public. This will be achieved by working alongside global and EU-funded initiatives such as OpenUp!, Europeana and GBIF. One of GBIF’s main priorities is to address key geographic and taxonomic gaps within currently available digital data. The JRA will help to achieve this by increasing the amount of data supplied to GBIF by Beneficiaries an the TA Users in SYNTHESYS3. The objective will be to establish a sustainable e-Infrastructure. In 2011, the European Commission adopted a ‘Recommendation on digitization and Digital Preservation1’ asking Member States to pool their resources and increase their capacity for digitizing cultural material and making it available through Europeana. The JRA will both improve existing and develop new methodologies that will increase the speed and efficiency of digitisation of NH collections. These sustainable methods will be used by European NH organisations after the life of the project and will help all Member and Associated States to implement this recommendation.

In progress

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Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith