IDigBio Initiatives for Small Natural History Collections

By: Anna Monfils and Gil Nelson
iDigBio participates in several initiatives designed to serve, support and connect small natural history collections. These initiatives include collection-themed symposia and workshops and the establishment of two networks: the North American Network of Small Herbaria (NANSH) and the Small Collections Network (SCNet).
The recently established SCNet, with the help of iDigBio, has launched a new website dedicated to supporting smaller natural history collections, especially related to the processes of collections management and digitization. SCNet has also established a listserv and inaugurated a continuing webinar series using iDigBio’s web conferencing infrastructure. These webinars will serve as mini-symposia and allow network members to make virtual presentations to colleagues as well as post topics for network discussion. These two communication avenues will facilitate community-wide collaboration, sharing, camaraderie, and regular connectivity among collections professionals across disparate regions and collection types.
SCNet, CollectionsWeb, and iDigBio are co-sponsoring a workshop in April at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan devoted to recruiting, supporting, and retaining small collections within the biodiversity digitization enterprise. About 45 collections professionals and students have been invited to participate and the workshop is currently fully subscribed. The workshop will be preceded by a community survey designed to isolate and enumerate successes, challenges, and issues specifically related to initiating and sustaining digitization in small collections. This is a product-oriented activity through which SCNet hopes to create and disseminate a set of publishable best practices, chart a course for the future of the Network, and lay the initial groundwork for one or more national and international conferences or symposia focused on small collections. The week prior to the gathering at CMU, workshop coordinators Anna Monfils and Gil Nelson will address SCNet and digitization in small collections at the 2014 meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists (ASB) in Spartanburg, SC.
Monfils and Nelson will also share preliminary results from the CMU workshop at the 2014 conference of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), where SCNet and iDigBio are co-sponsoring a symposium focused on recruiting and retaining small collections. The symposium will be held the morning of 25 June and consist of invited papers devoted to one or more of several themes:

  • the importance of small collections to national repositories of biodiversity data,
  • the importance of small collections to biodiversity research,
  • data-driven research underscoring the pivotal contributions of small collections,
  • potential roles for the Small Collections Network (SCNet),
  • the role of intra- and interdisciplinary collaboration and sharing in sustaining small collections,
  • best and recommended practices for initiating and sustaining digitization in small collections,
  • current initiatives on behalf of small collections,
  • the role of larger collections in sustaining smaller collections, and
  • issues, challenges, and methods for resurrecting orphaned collections.

The symposium in 2014 will be followed by a larger and more inclusive gathering of SCNet at SPNHC 2015, to be held in Gainesville, Florida. Please see the call for abstracts for the 2014 symposium at Details for online submission of abstracts are included at the above link.
Much of the vision for SCNet emerged from discussions and plans of the NANSH working group, which itself emerged from an iDigBio-sponsored workshop and symposium organized by Ashley Morris of Middle Tennessee State University for the 2013 annual meeting of ASB, held in Charleston, West Virginia. NANSH, which falls within the SCNet umbrella, has launched a Symbiota data portal to provide an online outlet for smaller herbaria to manage, store, and disseminate specimen data and images. NANSH is currently supported by iDigBio and Symbiota and is part of the greater Symbiota network. Nodes are free to data contributors and data are easily exported to iDigBio from the portal. Please visit the site for more information.
The North American Network of Small Herbaria was a featured component of the Mobilizing Small Herbaria workshop co-sponsored by iDigBio and Florida State University’s Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium, held the week of December 9, 2013. This workshop brought together about 30 herbarium professionals for the express purpose of launching or enhancing small herbarium digitization programs in approximately 20 herbaria across the United States. The Symbiota node established for each attendee made it possible for all participants to return to their home institutions with a web presence and several methods for managing their data. The workshop placed heavy emphasis on digitization workflows as well as specifications for databasing and imaging herbarium collections. Ample hands-on opportunities were provided for experimenting with several databases and imaging stations. Depending on the availability of financial support, NANSH envisions facilitating future regional herbarium digitization workshops based on this model.
NANSH and iDigBio are also planning a one-day small herbarium digitization workshop July 31,immediately following the close of Botany 2014 in Boise, Idaho. Details of the workshop and a link to the online application have been announced via several outlets, including the SCNet website. Participation will be open to staff from any small herbarium interested in establishing or enhancing a digitization program. Major foci of the workshop, in addition to strategies for digitizing herbarium collections, will include guidance for establishing a data and image-sharing node in NANSH, ways to become involved in the NANSH working group, and strategies for growing SCNet.
IDigBio is pleased to support initiatives that focus on small natural history collections and encourages representatives from all smaller collections to become involved in these initiatives and help move them forward. Feel free to e-mail Anna Monfils or Gil Nelson for further information.