Sunday, July 4, 2010

A National Digitization Strategy

In earlier posts (see here and here) I've written about the ongoing efforts to create a programme aimed at mobilizing data across all of the natural history collections in the USA and the potentially enormous benefits for research that will result from doing this. I'm pleased to report that the biological collections community has finalized a strategic plan to digitize and mobilize images and data associated with biological research collections. The proposed ten year national effort is the product of two workshops held at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center this year (one of which I attended), as well as surveys of 291 federal and approximately 600 federally supported collections.

The plan sets out three main objectives: digitize data from all U.S. biological collections and make them available online in a standardized format; develop and make available new web interfaces, visualization and analysis tools, data mining, and georeferencing processes; and prevent future backlogs of digitized collections through the use of tools, training, and infrastructure. To do this, the plan proposes a series collections networks, organized regionally within the US, or by scientific themes, such as clades or particular research questions. Coordinating this effort will be a national digitization hub.

So, will this plan actually amount to anything? In the current economic climate it's hard to say anything for certain, but the noises coming from DC (this is my feeble attempt to suggest that I have my finger on the pulse) are that this effort has built up considerable momentum with the relevant federal agencies that would have to provide funding to make it a reality. If it does happen, it may be on a scale that dwarfs the current sources of collection support. For this reason, I urge anyone with an interest in collections, and especially anyone working in biological collections, to follow this link and look at the strategy. Ultimately, it's your strategy - read it, know it, own it.

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