The impact of digital data on raising the profiles of natural history museums and ensuring that museum-based researchers remain at the forefront of science (workshop presented at ICOM NATHIST)
The first two decades of the 21st Century have seen a rapid rise in the creation, mobilization, and research use of digital museum data, especially in the natural and biodiversity sciences. This has thrust natural history museums and their collections into a renewed public spotlight that exposes and underscores their central role in the scientific enterprise. The advent of such digitization and data mobilization initiatives as the United States National Foundation’s Advancing the Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program (ADBC), Australia’s Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), Mexico’s National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), Brazil’s Centro de Referência em Informação (CRIA), Europe’s SYNTHESYS, and China’s National Specimen Information Infrastructure has led to a rapid rise in regional, national, and international digital data aggregators and has precipitated an exponential increase in the availability of digital data for scientific research as well as increased opportunities for museum constituencies to view and visit museums in new and adventurous ways. The international Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) now serves about 130 million museum specimen records, and in its short 6-year history, the iDigBio portal in the U.S., has amassed 105 million records representing over 300 million specimens with international scope. These digital resources raise the profiles and exposure of museums worldwide, expose collections to wider audiences, and ensure that museum-based researchers remain at the forefront of science.