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

JOCQUE Rudy rudy.jocque at africamuseum.be
Wed Sep 29 06:49:04 CDT 2010

Stephen comments remind me of the beginning of the computer era. You did not realize how they would change your life until you started to use them. And it is a big mistake to think that only specimens that have been identified (to species) have to be databased. Data on those that are known to family, or even order, can be very informative and are an essential part of these databases. 

We have medium sized collections (250 000 samples) of African invertebrates non-insects and everything has been databased and 4/5 georeferenced. We now wonder how we were able to work without that database. 

1.	You precisely know what you have. We have for instance 81 173 samples of arachnids and I know precisely how many specimens there are (325126) . I can tell you for instance in a few seconds what families we have from Kenya collected above 2000 m. Requests about the holdings for further study can be answered in seconds.
2.	It is extremely easy and time saving to export the data in any format you want; for publication or whatever other reason to distribute information. No more typing mistakes. 
3.	It is easy to make maps and see patterns once your locality database is georeferenced and infer from that expected distributions which can be important in planning fieldwork. 

By mapping distributions of large genera we recently realized that miombo vegetation in Africa has its own very specific fauna different from what is found in other woodland formations. Something we would never have realized if the bulk of the data had not been databased.

4.	It becomes quite simple to organize and follow up loans . 


Royal Museum for Central Africa
Department of African Zoology
Leuvensesteenweg 13
3080 Tervuren, Belgium
Tel.: +32 2 769 54 10 Fax : +32 2 769 56 95
A peer reviewed journal on Africa's fauna
              without page charges

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Stephen Thorpe
Sent: 29 September 2010 01:41
To: Robert Guralnick; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] The role of ADBC (NSF national digitizationsolicitation) in the larger digitization context: a beginning,not the end

when I first glanced at this post, I thought it was about something that I 
support, namely the digitization of taxonomic LITERATURE, but now I see it is 
just another collections databasing initiative, which I have some reservations 
about. In my experience (which may be somewhat parochial?) is that collections 
contain two things, (1) reliably identified material; and (2) the rest (which is 
usually most of it). Now, only (1) is useful, but it became (1) by way of being 
examined in the context of a taxonomic revision, the results of which were 
published. So, it seems to me that the reliable data is already published, and 
what isn't already published is unreliable. Hence, I cannot really see the point 
of collections databasing initiatives ...


From: Robert Guralnick <Robert.Guralnick at colorado.edu>
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Sent: Wed, 29 September, 2010 12:24:48 PM
Subject: [Taxacom] The role of ADBC (NSF national digitization solicitation) in 
the larger digitization context: a beginning, not the end

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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