iDigBio and NANSH Host Small Herbarium Digitization Workshop at Botany 2014

Twenty-three participants representing 22 herbaria remained for an extra day in Boise following the close of Botany 2014 to participate in a small herbarium digitization workshop co-sponsored by iDigBio and the North American Network of Small Herbaria (NANSH). Twenty-four states, Canada, and the Philippines were represented. Collections ranged in size from 1,000 to 170,000 specimens, 13 of the 22 with fewer than 50,000 specimens, ensuring an excellent cross-section of challenges, goals, and experiences. The first and second priorities for most participants included databasing or selecting a database for their collection and imaging their collection. In a pre-workshop survey, most participants identified time, money, staff, and the anticipated learning curve as the major challenges to getting started in digitization, which provided an excellent framework for designing workshop content.

The inspiration for the workshop grew from discussions of the NANSH working group. The planning team included Libby Ellwood, Ed Gilbert, Emily Gillespie, Kari Harris, Erica Krimmel, Travis Marsico, Anna Monfils, Ashley Morris, Gil Nelson, and Pam Soltis. The primary goal was to provide the tools necessary for initiating or enhancing digitization in smaller collections, including strategies for transcribing label data, imaging specimens, and establishing a free account on the NANSH ( or other Symbiota portal for publishing data and images.

The workshop began with several presentations focused on documenting the importance of small herbaria, challenges to digitization, steps in getting started, using digitized data for research, crowd-sourcing as a tool for label transcription, and developing effective workflows  and workflow resources. Content then transitioned into technical aspects of databasing and the use of Symbiota as a database management system, led by Ed Gilbert, followed by workflows and equipment specificatioins for imaging specimens, presented by Kim Watson, data manager and imaging expert at the New York Botanical Garden. Ed emphasized the ease of getting data into a Symbiota portal and provided several strategies for populating a Symbiota database. Kim emphasized the importance of acquiring the best imaging equipment possible for one’s budget, even if the initial investment results in equipment below what one would prefer or below the standards for institutions with more resources or a larger budget. The important thing, Kim reiterated, is to just get started. Several of the introductory speakers emphasized that deans, department heads, or presidents will often find funding for camera equipment if approached.

During the afternoon, participants divided into groups of 3-4 and circulated among several stations for more personal digitization-related discussions and to see demonstrations of several tools and techniques. We were pleased that Alexa DiNicola of Boise State set up an Ortery lightbox for demonstration purposes and teamed up with Kim Watson to demonstrate light box imaging and associated imaging software.

All workshop materials and recordings of all sessions are archived on iDigBio’s workshop wiki at The workshop will be followed by two webinar series, one on techniques for using Symbiota, the other on techniques for digitally imaging herbarium specimens. To learn more about these webinars or other iDigBio digitization and small collections workshops, subscribe to the idigbiodigi-l and idigbioscnet-l listservs. Visit for subscription information, or visit the Small Collections Network website at Or, feel free to e-mail Gil Nelson (