GSA 2014 Digitization Symposium Attracts 33 Presentations, 4 Posters, and More than 75 Participants

Arguably the most important joint gathering of paleo and geo scientists in North America, the annual conference of the Geological Society of America (GSA) regularly attracts more than 5,000 participants, several hundred posters and presentations, and an array of vendors and exhibitors. Held this year in Vancouver, British Columbia October 19-22, the attendee list consisted of academic and practicing geologists, a cadre of paleontologists, numerous geoscience and paleontological collections managers, and a sampling of biodiversity informatics professionals.

The value of this integrated audience proved an important benefit to this year’s Advancing the Digitization of Paleontology and Geoscience Collections: Projects, Programs, and Practices symposium, jointly sponsored by iDigBio, University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, the Paleontological Society, and the GSA Geoinformatics Division. iDigBio is pleased to recognize Talia Karim, University of Colorado and co-PI on the Fossil Insect Collaborative TCN for her leadership in proposing, organizing, and moderating the symposium, Tim White of Yale Peabody Museum for serving as co-convener and leader in recruiting excellent speakers and topics, and iDigBio’s Gil Nelson for co-convening and coordinating on behalf of iDigBio.

Thanks to an enthusiastic reaction to the conveners’ call for papers, the symposium attracted 33 presenters, 4 posters, and more than 75 participants, and encouraged GSA participation by numerous paleontological professionals. The excellent response led us to expand the symposium from our original half-day plan to an all-day event extending from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with little time for breaks.

Talks ranged from updates on the National Science Foundation’s Advancing the Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) program, iDigBio, and the two paleo-related Thematic Collections Networks (TCN), to evaluations of imaging strategies and workflows, pro-active field-based digitization practices, the application of GIS and georeferencing to paleontological research, consideration of geo-related database schemas and portals, the importance of sharing data and connecting with iDigBio, the uses of images for morphometric analyses and automated species determination, strategies for public participation within digitization workflows, and the value and power of student involvement in digitization activities. The maturity of the topics and content reinforced the important role digitization enjoys in the collections community and underscored the impact of ADBC in moving digitization forward. At least 14 presenters mentioned or acknowledged iDigBio activities and the role of ADBC in their digitization practices and successes.

This symposium was the latest in a series of iDigBio-sponsored paleo-related activities that include paleo digitization workshops at Yale, the University of Texas, and the University of Kansas, the establishment and continued work of the Paleo Digitization Working Group and its paleo-data subgroup, and the paleo-related subgroup of the DROID workflows working group, the latter of which will soon publish paleo digitization workflows to the iDigBio documentation page. This suite of activities clearly demonstrates ways in which domain-specific communities can take advantage of and leverage iDigBio resources and services to enhance professional interaction, address significant problems, organize professional communities, achieve consensus on a broad range of critical issues, and support disciplinewide digitization.