National specimen digitization effort

Imagine if you were put in charge of a giant warehouse full of money, and you had to devise a plan to earmark and distribute the funds in such a way that enables the digitization of ALL (or very nearly all) specimens in natural history collections in the USA:


What would that plan look like? Well, Brian Wiegmann and I were invited last month to a meeting at NESCent (Brian co-organized the meeting), where our charge was exactly that: devise a large-scale, national plan to digitize natural history collections over a 10-year period. The money doesn’t exist yet (nor do we know how much is required or how much we’ll get as a community), but the need for these data is very real.

The first summary of the plan is now out for comments, and there is an active campaign to rally the collections communities behind the idea. Feedback can be provided as a group email to the original participants (wg-digitization – AT –, as individual emails to one or more participants listed on the meeting website, or as comments on the blog post summary.

What would your strategy be? Which components of the specimen digitization process should be prioritized – technology, data standards, crowd-sourcing, imaging, labor force, technology transfer, training, or _____? How would you involve federal agencies and international organizations? Note that the new program likely will not fund infrastructure (new cabinets, etc.), nor will it fund the collection of new specimens.

It’ll be fun to hear input from experts with diverse approaches and different issues (botanists vs. entomologists, database specialists vs. ecologists). As the director of an active natural history collection engaged in specimen-level databasing I’m very excited that this initiative is being pushed. We’re anxious for your input!