[Taxacom] The role of ADBC (NSF national digitization solicitation) in the larger digitization context: a beginning, not the end

Robert Guralnick Robert.Guralnick at colorado.edu
Tue Sep 28 18:24:48 CDT 2010

Dear Taxacomers ----

As you know, NSF has released a solicitation to digitize the nation's
biological and paleontological collections (
http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2010/nsf10603/nsf10603.htm).   The ADBC solicitation
from NSF represents a tremendous opportunity to begin the process of
digitizing our nation's biodiversity and paleodiversity collections.  We
believe tremendous progress will be made over the multi-year time span of
the ADBC program, leading to a very significant increase in digital and
mobile holdings. Yet, we caution the community to not make the mistake of
overestimating OR underestimating what ADBC can do.  ADBC should been seen
as a starting point for the enormous task of digitizing our natural
heritage, not the sole solution. We argue below that the community must use
ADBC to leverage other opportunities and work towards an inclusive view of
supporting multiple collections communities.

ADBC came out of a community-led process that has its roots in a set of
reports that assess the state of federally held collections.  The
Interagency Working Group on the Scientific Collections report (
determined a compelling need for "the creation of an online clearinghouse of
information about Federal scientific collections".  A subsequent NSF
Scientific Collections Survey (
http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2009/nsf09044/nsf09044.pdf) concluded that a key
need is "coordination and interoperability of data networks critical for
effective use of collections in research."  Federal agency support led to
two workshops held at NESCent to develop a strategic plan (
http://digbiocol.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/digistratplanfinalv1.pdf) for a
national digitization effort. This strategic plan led to ADBC, but the aims
and objectives of the plan are much wider and more ambitious.

To be successful, a national digitization effort must do more than just
capture collections data.  It must generate tools to access and mobilize
these data and build user communities around the data without simultaneously
diverting critical resources from the care and maintenance of the
collections themselves.  ADBC will address some of these needs, but
digitization of biological and paleontological collections will need to be
pursued through Biological Research Collections grants and other
systematics, survey, and biodiversity-based granting mechanisms.  Existing
and new projects funded in programs such as Advances in Biological
Informatics and the burgeoning numbers of cyberinfrastructure programs will
address the technological pieces of the puzzle needed to increase efficiency
rates, data improvements, and data mobilization.

ADBC is not the only game in town at NSF for biological digitization, and
NSF is not the only mechanism to support the larger mission of completing
the digitizing task.  The Institute for Museum and Library Science (IMLS)
may support digitization efforts, as might other federal funding agencies
(e.g., National Institute of Health, Department of the Interior via USGS,
National Biological Information Infrastructure).  Opportunities abound to
use ADBC as a springboard to approach foundations that may want to support
such efforts.  Partnerships with private industry are also well worth

 Our conclusion is that we should be operating as a community, not only to
develop the best set of proposals for ADBC but also to address the ultimate
challenge: completing the digitization of all of our nation's natural
heritage in the next ten years. A Home Unifying Biocollections (HUB) and a
set of Thematic Collections Networks (TCNs) is a start, but they will not be
enough for success.  We need to harness ADBC as a flash point to catalyze
our efforts with other agencies and potential funders through which we can
begin to assemble a broader view of the potential opportunities for our
community.  ADBC is a rare opportunity to leverage a strong federal focus on
the digitization of biological collections and, most importantly, to
mobilize the community to do it the right way.

We appreciate all the comments, thoughts, etc. that you can muster here.  We
want your feedback!  Feel free to reply or go here for many more community
oriented posts at http://nsfadbc.wordpress.com.

Best regards,

Rob Guralnick, University of Colorado Boulder
Christopher Norris, Yale University/SPNHC
David Bloom, VertNet

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