What is data publishing?

Data publishing is the act of making data available on the Internet, so that they can be accessed, downloaded, analysed and reused by anyone for research or other purposes.

The term is often used interchangeably with 'data sharing', but data publishing implies something more. It is a way of using common practices and standards to make sure that data really can be discovered and reused effectively, and that data owners and custodians get the recognition they deserve for making datasets public. 

Since GBIF was established in 2001, data publishing has been at the heart of our activities. This section explains why you should become part of our growing network of data publishers, and how you can go about it

What data does GBIF deal with?

GBIF deals with three types of biodiversity data:

  • Metadata (data about data)
  • Occurrences (observations, specimens etc)
  • Checklists (names)

Metadata are structured descriptions of datasets giving essential details such as the geographic and taxonomic scope of the data, methods of collection or observation, contact details and citation requirements. They help to give context to datasets and enable users to assess whether data are fit for use in a particular research project or application.

Occurrences are records that document a 'collection event' - evidence that a particular, named organism was found at a particular time and place. Also known as primary biodiversity data, occurrences document the 'what, where, when, how and by whom' of our exploration of the planet's species. An occurrence record can be based on an observation in the field, vouchered (labelled) specimen in a museum or herbarium, or other evidence. 

Checklists are lists of scientific names of organisms grouped into taxonomic hierarchies. They serve two main functions: first, they provide data that help to enrich information about particular species, for example by including them on national checklists, and on lists of invasive or threatened species; and they provide taxonomic 'backbones' around which species information can be organized. 

Why publish biodiversity data?

An important part of GBIF's mission is to promote a culture in which people see clear benefits from publishing biodiversity data, both for themselves and for society as a whole. The incentives can be summed up as follows:

  • By making your data discoverable and accessible through GBIF and similar information infrastructures, you will contribute to global knowledge about biodiversity, and thus to the solutions that will promote its conservation and sustainable use.
  • Data publishing enables datasets held all over the world to be integrated, revealing new opportunities for collaboration among data owners and researchers.
  • Publishing data enables individuals and institutions to be properly credited for their work to create and curate biodiversity data, by giving visibility to publishing institutions through good metadata authoring. This recognition can be further developed if you author a peer-reviewed data paper, giving scholarly recognition to the publication of biodiversity datasets.
  • Collection managers can trace usage and citations of digitized data published from their institutions and accessed through GBIF and similar infrastructures.
  • Some funding agencies now require researchers to make their data freely accessible at the end of a project as a condition of receiving public funds. 

See also