A large part of the work of GBIF and its Participant nodes is to help mobilize existing biodiversity data, gathered during three centuries of natural history exploration and often locked away out of public reach, undigitized in museum cabinets and printed materials, or offline in isolated hard drives and disks. Identifying such datasets and promoting their mobilization and publication is a major function of the Participant nodes that make up our network.
This is much more than a purely technical challenge. The GBIF community has made tremendous progress in overcoming some of the cultural and economic barriers to free and open access to biodiversity data, as shown by the new datasets and publishing institutions constantly being registered with the GBIF network. You can get a feel for the success of data mobilization by looking at the 'New Data' section of our bimonthly newsletter, GBits, and by browsing new data publishers and datasets entering this portal.
To some extent, data mobilization until now has been opportunistic, tending to rely on the 'low-hanging fruit' of datasets that are most readily available, so that the coverage of data accessible through GBIF is driven more by supply factors than by the needs of our users in research and policy. A major focus of the next phase of GBIF will be to move towards more demand-driven data publication, so that policy and research needs can help to set priorities for mobilizing new data and making them fit for use.