GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Six months after receiving $10 million from the National Science Foundation to organize digitization of the nation’s biological collections, University of Florida researchers welcomed participants to Gainesville this week for the project’s kick-off symposium.
Researchers from 31 institutions, project collaborators and five program officers from NSF are participating in planning workshops Wednesday and today at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center on Southwest 34th Street.
“This is our first opportunity to get the staff of iDigBio together, who are providing toolsets to help collections become digitized easier, cheaper and faster, and integrating those databases into one research tool,” said iDigBio project manager Jason Grabon, who works at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “We’re also hearing from some of the tool providers so we can create plans and road maps for interfacing, moving forward and prioritizing needs.”
UF and Florida State University are leading the project, which aims to digitize as many collections as possible during the next five years. Based on current technological capabilities, complete digitization of the nation’s collections would take about 150 years. The first collections to be digitized will be those with a focused theme, known as thematic collection networks.
“The meeting is for groups that are currently funded, but NSF is still accepting proposals for more thematic collection networks,” Grabon said. “We’re all finding a common ground and working our way through this together to create one national network.”
The project involves 92 institutions in 46 states, and researchers hope the results will raise awareness about the importance of collections.
“There’s this wealth of information that’s out there but only 10 percent of it has currently been digitized and less than 1 percent is even visible in publicly accessible museums,” Grabon said. “The data is out there but it’s not accessible, so by digitizing all these specimens, it not only makes them available to the public, but it makes them available to researchers that could improve understanding in areas like climate change, species invasions, land use policies, the spread of disease and natural disasters.”
Larry Page, a Florida Museum research scientist and principal investigator for the project, said he looks forward to seeing how the public accessibility will influence peoples’ opinions about collections.
“Institutions with biological collections have not done a very good job of explaining the importance of the collections and it’s because we haven’t been able to get all the information about the collections out there for people to use,” said Page, who was recently elected president of the National Science Collections Alliance. “Now we have this vehicle to effectively get that information out which should make it easier for institutions to rally support.”
Following the summit, recordings of the presentations and a report summary may be viewed at the iDigBio website, www.idigbio.org.