A great shout-out to our volunteers!

An article was just published which highlights the wonderful work that our volunteers have been doing.

It is called Citizen Volunteers Pitch in on Digitization Backlog and is in the journal BioScience. Once again a sincere thanks for the enormous efforts of our volunteers!

5 responses to “A great shout-out to our volunteers!”

  1. Helen Bennett says :

    Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall! Still nice to hear that we’ve been recognised, but it’d be even nicer to be able to read the details… are there highlights that could be shown under fair use?

  2. Rob says :

    I am going to ask the author if we can post it on Notes from Nature.

  3. Mr. Kevvy says :

    re: “I am going to ask the author if we can post it on Notes from Nature.”

    May not be allowed: http://www.oxfordjournals.org/our_journals/bioscience/for_authors/

    “It is a condition of publication for all Oxford Journals that authors grant an exclusive license to Oxford University Press or the sponsoring Society.”

  4. Rob says :

    Citizen Volunteers Pitch in on Digitization Backlog

    A ground beetle from Tierra del Fuego
    collected by Charles Darwin; six Asian
    fairy-bluebirds gathered by British
    Raj officer Allan Octavian Hume;
    and the tiny blossoms of poisonous
    white snakeroot, one of nearly 800,000
    plants preserved by Louisiana botany
    professor R. Dale Thomas—these are
    among the biological specimens housed
    in museums around the world. “They’re
    a treasure trove,” says Robert Guralnick,
    associate curator of biodiversity informatics
    at the University of Florida. “But
    they’re locked away and difficult to
    access unless you have an in.”

    Guralnick and other experts are part
    of the massive ongoing effort to digitize
    the records of natural history collections
    (see, e.g., doi:10.1093/biosci/
    biv005 and doi:10.1093/biosci/bit006).
    With an estimated two billion museum
    specimens around the world, the task
    is daunting and expensive. That is
    where Notes from Nature (NfN), an
    online citizen science project, comes
    in. Anyone with Internet access can
    log in and transcribe records from
    natural history samples found at more
    than 200 institutions. “Realizing that
    we could use citizen scientists to help
    with this huge backlog was an ‘a-ha’
    moment,” Gurlanick says. “We knew
    there were people out there who would
    think these objects were cool and
    would be up for the challenge.”
    So far, more than 7000 people have
    transcribed some one million specimens
    since the project went live in
    April 2013.

    NfN was the brainchild of three consortia:
    the Natural History Museum of
    London, which wants to digitize ornithology
    ledgers; the Calbug project,
    which is focusing on pinned insect
    collections from nine California institutions;
    and the Southeastern Regional
    Network of Expertise and Collections
    (SERNEC) project, which hopes to
    digitize plant specimens from 222 herbaria.
    In 2012, each submitted a proposal
    to the Citizen Science Alliance,
    a collaboration of scientists, software
    developers, and educators who are
    behind Zooniverse, a leading Web
    site for citizen science projects. “[The
    CSA] came to us and said, ‘Hey we
    got a handful of these proposals for
    museum specimens. How about you
    guys work together?’” says Michael
    Denslow, project manager with
    SERNEC and chair of the NfN steering

    Over the next year, Denslow,
    Guralnick, and other NfN steering
    committee members developed
    the user interface (with help from
    Zooniverse and Vizzuality). Volunteers
    can transcribe specimens from four
    categories: plants, macrofungi, insects,
    and birds. They view scanned photos
    of actual specimens with identification
    tags attached or ledger pages
    with detailed data about particular
    specimens and type in basic information,
    such as species name and where
    and when the specimen was found.
    “It’s not always easy,” says Guralnick.
    “Sometimes, you’re dealing with crazy
    eighteenth-century flourishy handwriting
    where you’re trying to figure
    out, is that an R or an N?” To ensure
    accuracy, he says, each item is transcribed
    four times, usually by four
    different volunteers.

    Volunteers come from all over the
    world, although most of the regulars
    hail from the United States and Great
    Britain. To keep interest in the project
    strong, steering committee members
    contribute to a blog aimed at informing
    volunteers. The posts range from
    announcing National Moth Week to
    sharing an infographic showing the
    time difference between plant and
    insect transcription (the former takes,
    on average, 61 seconds longer) and
    including short profiles on volunteers
    such as Britain’s Jonathan Moore, who
    says, “I love reading the careful notes
    and imagining the collector in the
    middle of nowhere, in the sun or rain,
    finding their plant and taking their
    samples and data.”

    A number of the volunteers are
    scientists, which does not surprise
    Guralnick, who himself does some
    of the transcription. “I care about the
    data,” he says. “It enhances the work
    I do professionally as a researcher.”
    Guralnick strongly believes that
    digitizing the records will help with
    research by, among other
    things, creating better models of species
    distribution, which, he says, is
    urgently needed in the face of climate
    change and increasing species

    Denslow says that they plan to scale
    up the project to include a greater
    number of specimen types and also to
    include those that must be transcribed
    in languages other than English. He
    says that one satisfying thing about the
    project is that it appears to be creating
    greater interest in the museum objects.
    “We’re finding that as museums put
    more data out there online, they are
    getting more requests to see and use
    the actual specimen itself,” he says.
    “At the end of the day, this is about
    an actual physical flower sitting on a
    shelf. You just scratch the surface by
    looking at it online. Then you need to
    come to the museum and measure it,
    analyze its DNA, and all those other

    Nancy Averett is a freelance journalist who enjoys
    writing about science, social issues, and athletes.
    Her work has appeared in Audubon, Runner’s
    World, Bicycling, Pacific Standard, and Inc.

  5. Helen Bennett says :

    Thank you so much!

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