[I apologize to my non-US readers for a flurry of postings that will be of limited interest to them. Rest assured that I will be back to writing about bogus puma sightings in Devon in the very near future]
For the last few months, rather like Britain and France during 1939/40, we've been engaged in a bit of a Phoney War; everyone knows that something big is coming, but nothing has actually happened yet. So it's with a sigh of relief that I can finally report that the first round of grants under NSF's Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections (ADBC) program has been announced. You can read all about them here, but in a nutshell there are now three large-scale collections digitization networks, focusing on invertebrate collections, insect/plant interactions, and North American lichens and bryophytes. Hopefully these will be the first of many.
The whole program will be coordinated by a national center at the University of Floride, known as iDigBio, under the direction of Larry Page. They have some exciting plans, which you can read all about on their new blog. They were also kind enough to include PoH on their blogroll, which would have earnt them a plug even if this weren't a very important program for all the reasons that I've mentioned over the past year or so (click on the "digitization" tag in the tag-cloud on the right if you want to rehash all of this).
One of the most impressive aspects of this first round is the sheer number of collections that are involved in the first round - 92 institutions in 45 states. This breadth of coverage is important, because from an early stage it's been clear that one of the biggest challenges for a national digitization program is going to be engaging and motivating all those collections who don't get any direct funding under ADBC. So community engagement will need to be a big part of the work of iDigBio.
For the sake of full disclosure, I should probably mention that I was part of an unsuccessful proposal under ADBC, so this has all been something of a bittersweet experience - great satisfaction to see the program up and running in such a short period of time, anticipation for what will be achieved, and regret that I'll be watching it happen from a distance rather than participating directly. On the other hand, I do get to spend more time in my garden....