Lake Towhee, PA

Citizen Science to expand the utility of collections

Check out our project on Zooniverse!

As part of our IMLS funded initiative to integrate three major orphaned fish collections into our collection, we’ve launched a project on zooniverse that empowers anyone to help.

These collections comprise over a hundred years of sampling across the Western Atlantic Ocean representing an unparalleled time series in some of the most rapidly changing marine environments in the United States.

We launched just one month ago, and in this time we have had tens of thousands of entries completed in replicate. This enables us to make data available that came with specimens that most natural history collections do not have the staffing to make available such as weather or temperature.

If you are one of the folks who helped with the transcription efforts so far, thank you!!

Number of transcriptions completed by day. Thank you to all who contributed!

I wanted to update everyone that the success of this project was recently disseminated at the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections meeting and is opening a new conversation about how natural history museums can serve the research community.

Often specimens come with additional field information that include climate data and other observations. As extremely limited resources force museums to focus their efforts on making data that central to the specimen (such as location) as well as access to the specimens themselves a priority, this data is all too often stored in filing cabinets or boxes and lost to history.

Snapshot from zooniverse showing the amount of records and type of data already completed.

With the aid of a global community of interested citizens this limitation disappears. Paper records can be scanned in a fraction of the time required for data entry. Scans can then be easily manipulated to extract single pages or convert between formats for zooniverse or other platforms (I’ll link a tutorial here shortly). This is a tremendous opportunity for museums to dig through their vaults and make this priceless information available.

In our case the records we have contain data on decades of systematically sampled temperatures both in and above the water, wind data, fisheries data, and much more. This snapshot for the Western Atlantic could be highly valuable to both climate models as well as forecasts of trends in fishing stocks that inform management decisions. We are very excited to be working with the over 1300 volunteers who have contributed so far to be making this valuable data available to anyone in the world.

I’ll be highlighting more here as we continue on the project, so stay tuned!

Dialogue & Discussion