Adaptating to Change

This report on adaptation has been brought to you by curatorial trainee Adam Peel.

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One particular talk I found really interesting at this year’s NatSCA conference at the WMC in Cardiff was the one delivered by Paolo Viscardi, Justine Aw, and Russell Dornan about ‘Rising to the challenge’. The talk was essentially about how adaptation is needed within NatSCA itself and museum collections.
A rather interesting aspect of the talk (for myself anyway) was delivered by Justine Aw who discussed the makeover which the NatSCA website has recently undergone as well as some of the features that have been added. I found the addition of the crowd-sourced interactive map on the page ‘Natural History Near You’ to be the most intriguing. This is a section of the website where museum professionals, members of NatSCA or anyone who has access to the internet and an interest in Natural History can enter information on Natural History collections across the UK & Ireland.

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To do this, the webpage allows people to add/edit existing information and even for people to add their own new entries to the map by filling in a form at the bottom of the page.
It is important for us to keep records of Natural History collections, as people need to know about them in order to get the most out of them, no matter how big or small a collection is, as well as them providing us all with physical records of what is happening at all levels.

This, with the other recent additions to the site and the general makeover, show just how seriously NatSCA and everyone involved with Natural History take adapting in order to keep up with the rest of the world & technology.

Digitisation

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Today we have Lukas Large, curatorial trainee with the Birmingham Museums Trust, on digitisation:

The theme of this year’s SPNHC2014 meeting was ‘Historic Collections: Future Resources’. Digitisation was featured as one of the main topics as this is an important way that collections are being made accessible to researchers and new audiences.

The talks described a wide variety of digitisation projects from the enormous Paris Herbarium which ran for 4 years and created images of 5.3 million specimens to Arkansas State Herbarium with 18,000. Many of the projects involved herbarium sheets as these are relatively easy to image but an amazing variety of objects have been digitised including fossils at GB3D Type Fossils, insects and even historic slide collections.

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Extracting the information from specimen labels is an important but potentially expensive and time consuming process so many museums have started to use crowd sourcing to perform tasks such as transcribing specimen labels. Laurence Livermore discussed several successful examples such as Herbaria@home which has been running since 2007 and has a dedicated team of digital volunteers who have contribute 135,000 transcriptions.

These new uses of collections show just how important it is that these objects are properly cared for. Without the museum staff that have looked after these objects, we would not have them to digitise. Without ongoing care, researchers will not be able to study them in the future.

Slides from the talks are available on the iDigBio website as well as detailed descriptions of the protocols and tools used by different projects which are extremely useful for anyone planning their own digitisation project.

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