GBIF provides new home for the Global Registry of Scientific Collections

First phase of transfer sets stage for working with trusted sources and editors to curate linked open information about collections and institutions around the world

Stacks, Zoological Museum
From the collections of the Zoological Museum, Natural History Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen

The Global Registry of Scientific Collections (GRSciColl), a clearinghouse of information about the world’s scientific institutions and collections, has found a new home on GBIF.org.

The informatics team at the GBIF Secretariat has completed the first phase of work, migrating the most recent snapshot of GRSciColl into the newly updated GBIF registry to provide a public interface for searching by institution, collection and staff. While in some cases the data is current up to May 2018, in others, data exchange between GRSciColl and some key sources, such as the New York Botanical Garden’s Index Herbariorum (IH), has been missing for much longer.

During the next phase of work, GBIF will work with IH and other key directories to address these and other issues related to data quality by reestablishing links and, where possible, setting up dynamic connections that enable changes in one registry to be reflected in others.

In addition, validated users can once again get access to GRSciColl to edit, update and curate data in the registry. Members of the collections community who wish to contribute to this effort once again can email the GBIF Secretariat at scientific-collections@gbif.org for more information.

Along with addressing known issues with the current data, other tasks for the coming months will include restoring the functionality needed to support existing institutions’ Cool URIs and establishing guidelines for users who wish to report corrections via a dedicated mailing list.

Originally developed by the Consortium of the Barcode of Life (CBOL), GRSciColl serves as an indispensable resource of information about object-based collections, the institutions that host them and the professional staff responsible for curating and maintaining them. It also supplies collections with unique identifiers, improving wider digital interoperability by enabling publications, databases and data infrastructures to cite biological collections and their contents unambiguously. GBIF.org, for example, relies on GRSciColl to provide the InstitutionCodes and CollectionCodes elements used in the Darwin Core data standard.

“GRSciColl plays a critical role in biodiversity informatics by helping us understand the effort still needed to digitize valuable collections,” said Tim Robertson, head of informatics at the GBIF Secretariat. “While simply listing these collections may seem unassuming at first, GRSciColl gives GBIF.org the chance to work with others to develop and maintain a comprehensive, high-quality collections catalogue. We see it as an essential resource for improving linked open information about all the world’s biological specimens.”

“The Smithsonian Institution was privileged to have the opportunity to develop the original GRSciColl in collaboration with CBOL, Scientific Collections International, and the U.S. Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections and many other partners,” said Scott Miller, Deputy Under Secretary at the Smithsonian. “We are very pleased that GBIF will host the next phase of development of GRSciColl and provide a suitable international platform for this vital community resource.”

GBIF will also seek to develop additional improvements to support the GRSciColl community. Such enhancements will likely include improving links between collections and the specimen records available through GBIF.org. Collection entries may also serve as anchors for authorized users to register richer, standardized metadata documents for undigitized collections to GBIF, along lines proposed by TDWG Collection Descriptions Interest Group. GBIF will also explore the possibility of extending its DOI-based system of citation tracking to GRSciColl, offering institutions more detailed and traceable reports on the use of collections in research.

GRSciColl, like GBIF, was originially conceived under the auspices of the OECD Global Science Forum, and developed and hosted by the Smithsonian Institution. Its information comprises not just the natural history and biological realms but all scientific disciplines, including earth and space sciences, anthropology, archaeology and biomedicine, along with applied fields like agriculture, veterinary medicine and technology.

Much of the information it contains about natural history collections and herbaria—once independently known as the Global Registry of Biodiversity Repositories, or GRBio—builds upon individual and institutional contributions to earlier directories, including not only the Index Herbariorum, but also CBOL’s Biorepositories.org and the Biodiversity Collections Index developed by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.