Introduction to Notes From Nature


Michael Denslow collecting plants in central Tennessee, USA.

Humans have been collecting specimens from the natural world for centuries. These specimens include samples of rocks, minerals, plants, fungi and animals. In fact, a lot of the knowledge that we have about the earth’s plants and animals is based on specimens that were collected in nature. These specimens are now housed in natural history museums. The world’s great exploration expeditions often included teams of scientists that documented the things that they saw along the way. For example, Lewis and Clark’s expedition of the western United States resulted in the discovery of hundreds of plants and animals that were new to science.

Today, there are an estimated 2 billion specimens housed in natural history collections around the world. This incredible resource provides us with baseline information about the biodiversity of the earth. In addition, the data resulting from these specimens has been used to address a wide range of society’s pressing issues such as public health and environmental change.

However, for this resource to be used to it full potential there must be better digital access to the collections. Most natural history collections are housed in museum cabinets, where they are not easily available to citizens and researchers. It is estimated that only about 1/3 of all natural history specimens are available digitally over the Internet! In effect, the other 2/3 of this biodiversity information is locked away from view. This is despite the fact that the natural history museum community is committed to providing access to this data.

The Notes from Nature project is about digitally unlocking this treasure trove of biodiversity data. Contributions from the public or informally trained people have always played an important role in the field of natural history. These citizen scientists, as they are now called, have made many important contributions, including collecting specimens and even describe new species. Today’s technology provides us with new ways for people to engage with natural history collections, and to help promote access to this biodiversity resource.

The Notes from Nature project has built a tool that enables citizen scientists to make a scientifically relevant contribution though the transcription of specimen label information. Please consider helping us unlock this important information by taking some notes from nature. Every transcription that is completed brings us closer to the goal of providing access to this critical resource.

Take Notes From Nature!



14 responses to “Introduction to Notes From Nature”

  1. Anti says :

    Not sure if any person who can make changes to the site will read this but here’s hoping:

    When you’re transcribing data, it’d be really helpful to let the “ENTER” key validate the field instead of having to use the mouse to click “OK.” It’s a small caveat but myself and others could rip through the data much quicker if it could all be done via keyboard.

    Cool site, great ideas.

  2. as above says :

    I tried your site – two problems – one when put a box around note – on more than one time it was too small to read – other occasions it was expanded – two i had a item with year over 200? – your date box does not go that far. it was from a potential air port site.

  3. petra albegger says :

    Hi folks, I tried your website and when I clicked and dragged a square around the specimen label I persistantly got a square of plant material in the opening window, not the label.

    Sorry, I have to say it doesn’t work for me.

  4. Iris Ailin-Pyzik says :

    I’m using Firefox, and I too get the plant material sometimes instead of the label I’ve drawn around, but if I do it a second time, I get what I wanted.

    I agree about the enter key. I’d also prefer to be able to enter the date from the keyboard instead of the drop-downs. Yes, I know how to navigate those from the keyboard. And is there some reason the fields couldn’t be bigger? Most especially the scientific name? You can’t view the whole thing except by using the cursor key to backtrack. And clicking the mouse to position the cursor doesn’t work.

    Also, I keep getting presented the same specimens, based on the data on the label. Especially, I keep getting the “try one” specimen, but this has happened with others also.

    I also used “discuss” to comment that on one specimen the printed label did not seem to match the handwritten note. I tagged it #error – but I don’t know how you want to handle that kind of thing. I may have also messed up one where there was no obvious scientific author. It would be helpful to be able to access a previous specimen during a session, if something like that were to occur to the transcriptionist.

  5. Robin P says :


    I have a similar problem to Petra. When drawing the box I too get a square of plant material. However a second attempt on the same record often shows correctly. Also a problem with new records. After completing 5 records I get one I’ve previously done and if I skip, it just shows the same record again and again. Finally had to stop as I’m not inclined to do the same record numerous times.

    Using Firefox 20.0.1 Win 7

    Robin P

  6. KC says :

    I have Windows XP and get nothing but a grey square when I try to call up the label.

  7. NoseyNick says :

    Doesn’t seem to work on firefox 20.0 – “[20:35:36.101] SecurityError:
    The operation is insecure. @” – although obviously having an error on line 1 of a 1-line JS file doesn’t help narrow it down much.

    Let me know if I can help debug.

  8. Emily says :

    Hi All, I had a similar problem with the window (am using firefox 20.0.1), where i would drag the box around the label and then would get a completely different part of the plant to come up. If i tried a couple of times, it usually ended up working. So, that was ok, but then I kept getting the same specimen over and over again. I thought maybe it was the same species but different photos, but it wasn’t. Same photos, same species. 5 times in a row. Great concept…will be happy to use when the kinks are worked out. Also, would be nice if I could go back to an item i might have missed. I accidentally didn’t add the county once and I had to click out of it and start over (although my answers were saved) to get to county again. if there had just been a back arrow, that would have been really helpful. Looking forward to working on this with you all!

  9. martin4 says :

    Trouble entering dates on CalBug. Like the site but is there a format you want the dates in tried several and none took so sorry had to leave blanks

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