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Kicking-off a crowd funding campaign on Monday!

We have some exciting news:  this coming Monday we’ll be launching a crowd funding campaign to support outreach and engagement of the Notes from Nature citizen science community.   This is a big step for us, and very important, as citizen scientists are the lifeblood of this and all citizen science projects.  We will use the funds generated through this campaign to hire student interns who will focus on writing about the Notes from Nature collections, research, and maintaining communications across the community.  This will allow us to build stronger connections between our citizen scientists and the researchers working with collections, particularly as we continue to add more exciting collections from around the country and world.

We hope that you’ll take a look at our campaign and consider contributing, share with your family and friends, or simply continue to support Notes from Nature through participation as a citizen scientist.   Please see our campaign here:

Be sure to watch the video on our campaign page, too!  We specifically highlight the Mountain Lake Biological Collection and several team members from the University of Virginia.

250,000 Transcriptions!

Since our launch several months ago, the Notes from Nature citizen science community has transcribed 250,000 specimen labels!  This is an incredible achievement, and shows promise for where this project can go.  We’re indebted to the citizen scientists out there who love this work and have taken it upon themselves to contribute to science in this way.

Some highlights:

  • Over 3,500 citizen scientists from around the globe participating
  • Over 8,800 plant specimens completed (completion requires at least three transcriptions to ensure quality through consensus)
  • Over 16,000 insect specimens completed (same requirement as plants)
  • Over 25 bird ledger pages completed – these are WAY more time intensive, and were only added days ago (same completion requirement as others)

We’ve learned a lot during this period, and are now in the process of figuring out where to go next, and how to involve bigger crowds of citizen scientists and more interesting collections from around the world.  Our recent call for new collections has garnered interest from curators across the US and Europe, and we hope more will be in contact soon.  It’s a very exciting time.

Thank you for all your support!

Get your collection into Notes from Nature

This is the moment that many have been waiting for, and that we’ve been trying to figure out how best to handle for several months.  We think we finally have a process in place to receive and evaluate the addition of new collections into Notes from Nature through a variety of pathways.  This process will hopefully allow appropriate consideration of including Notes from Nature on grant proposals, in contributing new collection specimen and receiving data back, and much more.  Now that we are nearly at 250,000 transcriptions in only the first several months, we are excited by the prospects of putting this prototype system to work for the remaining BILLION OR MORE specimen on hold in collections around the world.  We are eager to hear your ideas for adding new content, expanding functionality, and finding ways to continue this project as an engaging citizen science effort and to make it a sustainable community resource.

If you are a collection curator and would like to see your collection become part of Notes from Nature, please visit our About page and read the lower portion describing “How to become a participant in Notes from Nature”.  The most important part is to complete the Application for Inclusion form at the end, which is what we need to know to consider your proposals.

-Andrew Sallans

Crowd-sourcing of the Natural History Museum bird registers

The Natural History Museum (NHM) began life back in 1753 as part of the British Museum, which was founded in that year. In 1880, the natural history museum departments of the British Museum moved to new, purpose-built buildings in South Kensington, London, becoming known as the British Museum (Natural History) for over a hundred years before it officially adopted its present name towards the end of the 20th century. In 1970, the museum’s bird research collections were moved from London to its out-station in Tring, Hertfordshire, on the site of the former Rothschild Zoological Museum, where they and their associated curatorial staff currently reside.

The bird research collections of the NHM, now probably the largest of their type in the world, have gradually been accumulated since 1753, although relatively little still exists that dates from before 1800. A major step forward in the collections’ documentation occurred in 1837, when a much improved system was adopted that involved entering details of every individual specimen received in standard registers, with each specimen assigned a unique registration number that also appeared on the label attached to it. Since then data on over half a million bird skins, as well as many eggs, nests, skeletons and spirit specimens, were entered into the NHM bird registers up to the 1990s, when a digital registration system was adopted,.

It is this register information for the bird specimens received between 1837 and the 1990s that we now wish to capture by crowd-sourcing, using input from enthusiasts such as yourself. Once acquired, it will form the essential basis for follow-up work, to be conducted by curatorial staff and on-site volunteers, checking each entry against the relevant specimen and its label(s) to confirm and, in many cases, add to the data in what will become a comprehensive specimen data-base. Public availability of this will permit easy access by researchers and others to all information associated with all included specimens held.

Back in the mid-1800s, many of the huge numbers of specimens coming in to the museum were difficult for curators to identify (indeed, some were new to science) and they often had rather limited information accompanying them. This is reflected in the data recorded in the registers for this period, which is often scanty although always comprising a specimen registration number and, almost always, some attempt at identification. By the late 1800s and into the 1900s, more comprehensive data was normally being recorded in a more systematised manner that is clearer to transcribe. Our crowd-sourcing project therefore will begin with the later registers and work backwards. Hopefully the outcome will be that your own skills in transcribing increase in parallel with the challenges that the data present!

Robert Prys – Jones
The Natural History Museum

A look at some Notes from Nature stats

The Notes from Nature project has been running for almost two months already and we are still just excited as the day we launched. The community has been great and we have received some amazing support and feedback from many of you. We are actively working to expand our collection coverage and hope to keep you all entertained through all the beautiful summer evenings ahead of us. With that said, we thought it would be a nice moment to take a look at some of the trends of our community. This serves a both a peek behind the curtains as well as a sort of snapshot that we can return to in the future to see what has changed and how we improve over time.

We had the idea for this post since the day we flipped the switch and made the site live. We all knew that the first hours of the project being live were going to get some of the heaviest traffic we would experience. We wanted to do a little analysis of how that traffic came and left the site, we collected a small set of data over the first five days of the project in order to look at this. First things first, take a look at global the Notes from Nature contributors were over just the first five days (click to see in interactive map)!

Next, we thought it would be fun to take a look at how the site accumulated new users over the time after launch,

We see the expected, early gains in user numbers followed by a slower accumulation later in the week. After the really early spike in transcriptions that came with all the users, we saw a nice continuous growth of total transcription activity through the week.

We thought it would be pretty neat to look at the transcriptions coming in at different times of day from our two primary regions, North America and Europe.

The above graph’s X axes is in EST, so you can see a nice rhythm to the Notes from Nature transcription. We really like this graph and will love to see it play out over the course of a year or more! We built the above graphs with D3 and CartoDB, if you click on them you can see each one and take a look at the code used to create them.

So how is Notes from Nature doing more recently? Well, in the first five days we had around 5000 unique participants. In the past two weeks we have had just over 3200. Not bad! Projects like Notes from Nature usually get a lot of members early that don’t end up sticking around, but we have done well to keep them or create new ones over the small time period. Our biggest audiences are still overwhelmingly in the USA and UK.

Right now, we are averaging 1400 classifications per day! As we improve the interface and add new and interesting components to the mission, we think we can see a growth in this number, but we are really happy with it so far. We have completely finished, including replicate transcriptions, 12% of our records in only two months! We will have more records in the future, but hopefully we will have a bigger community working with us too. We are closing in on 200,000 transcription, which is going to be an amazing achievement. Thanks to all of you who are helping us do something amazing for biodiversity research, museum informatics, and science!

Notes from Nature Team Member: Aly Seeberger

Name: Aly Seeberger

Title: Graduate Student in Museum & Field Studies

Where do you work primarily? As a graduate assistant in the Zoology collections for the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

What you do in your day job? Anything and everything, from skinning and prepping specimens to cataloging and data entry. Once I carried a taxidermied egret across campus and someone asked me if it was alive.

What’s your role with NfN and what do you hope to gain from it?  If relevant, how will your research benefit?  My role with NfN is primarily “interested party”, but I have helped with some of the text development and beta testing for the program. I hope to integrate NfN and its users into my master’s thesis, with deals with citizen science participants’ motivations. This research will benefit the citizen science community at large by making it easier for institutions to identify and fulfill the needs of participating citizen scientists, and by satisfying these users so that their work with citizen science projects is as rewarding as it can be.

What’s the most exciting aspect of citizen science work from your point-of-view? There is essentially nothing about citizen science that I don’t find exciting, but I think for me the best part of these projects is the potential for exposure to “real science” in a way that few people get, especially those who don’t work in scientific disciplines. There is something about seeing a scan of a museum ledger, a piece of ancient papyrus or a ship’s log, that makes this data real in a way that I think really makes it meaningful. For us, museum records themselves may not be so thrilling, but even those are a glimpse into a behind-the-scenes part of the field that few people have access to, and that is a huge draw as well as a really interesting and rewarding experience.

Profile of Notes from Nature Team Member: Mike Denslow

Name: Mike Denslow

Title: Assistant Director for Scientific Research Collections

Where do you work primarily? The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)

What you do in your day job? I am responsible for the archiving of biological samples collected as part of NEON’s field activities. Archiving is the act of safely saving and making available samples for use in research. NEON is an ecological observatory that will have 60 field sites across the Unites States (including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico) where ecological information will be collected for at least the next 30 years. These samples represent a range of organisms from mammals and plants to soils and zooplankton, just to name a few.   Now-a-days archiving not only deals with physical specimens and their safe keeping but also the digital information that goes along with them. For this reason, I am also concerned with capturing information about these sample in a digital format and making sure that it accessible on the internet for interested people to find and easily utilize.

What’s your role with NfN and what do you hope to gain from it?  If relevant, how will your research benefit?   My primary role at Notes From Nature is to bring in photographs of plant collections from various plant museums (called herbaria). I am also responsible for providing feedback on the design of the web interface for the project.   I am interested in developing new ways to make more information from museum specimens available for people to discover and use. My hope is that people will also appreciate the importance of museums in the process. There is a wealth of existing information about biodiversity that is not currently available in easily usable formats. It is critical that new ways of getting this information are developed and Notes From Nature is one exciting way that this is being done.

What’s the most exciting aspect of citizen science work from your point-of-view?  I really enjoy seeing the things that people notice about museum specimens and the questions that get generated from these observations. The contributors to Notes From Nature find all kinds of interesting things both on the labels and the specimens themselves. I am really enjoying interacting with people on the Talk page and it is helping me see museum specimens in a whole new way.

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