New GBIF task force to speed up access to natural history collection data

Group of experts will help collections set priorities for digitizing more than 2 billion specimens.

A team of international experts convened by GBIF intends to help accelerate the discovery of and access to information about the world’s undigitized specimen collections.

The task force on accelerating the discovery of bio-collections data will start by defining the essential information needed about various types of collections. This ‘metadata’ will describe the contents of each collection and help data holders to assess and prioritize their digitization activities.

“The world’s natural history collections are estimated to contain between 2.5 and 3 billion specimens, and at least 90 per cent of them are undigitized”, said Siro Masinde, programme officer for content mobilization at the GBIF Secretariat. “While these collections offer vast untapped sources of species information, their sheer scale represents a huge challenge in terms of digitization efforts. By improving and increasing access to metadata that effectively describe collections’ contents, institutions can set better priorities more quickly and make persuasive business cases for digitization.”

The task force, comprised of members from the United States, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Benin, France and Japan, will develop a strategy and an action plan through consultations with experts from other institutions, digitization initiatives and projects as well as potential funders. It also expects to share guidance on mobilizing metadata while documenting successful business models.

The task force is chaired by Leonard Krishtalka from the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas. The other members of the group are,

•    Barbara Thiers, New York Botanical Garden (United States)

•    Deborah Paul, iDigBio, Florida State University (United States)

•    Eduardo Dalcin, Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

•    Ian Owens, Natural History Museum, London (United Kingdom)

•    Jean Ganglo, University of Abomey-Calavi (Benin)

•    Marc Pignal, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (France)

•    Masanori Nakae, National Museum of Nature and Science (Japan)

Photo: Preserved museum specimen. By Greg Basco,