Project deliverable Open Access

Natural history collections and digital skills of citizens

Runnel Veljo; Hardy Helen; Sanghera Harpreet; Robinson Lucy; Shennan Victoria; Livermore Laurence; De Smedt Sofie

In the history of science, natural history collections have played a major role. Darwin’s famous Galapagos finches, for example, contributed to his theory of evolution, and remain preserved at the Natural History Museum, London, witnessing this development in how we understand the World. Today, museums hold not just preserved materials and paper records, but also vast amounts of information about specimens, their collection localities, collectors and methods of collection, as well as the analyses performed on them. Sophisticated databases and data management tools will drive research, education and policy making to the frontlines of development and growth in society.
Natural history museums carry some important functions for society: assembly, care and classification of collections; education; and research (Evans, 2014). With the support of modern technology, many of these functions are becoming increasingly interactive, with the potential to engage wider audiences in an information-hungry world. Digital solutions allow information to move quickly between collected specimens, researchers, policy makers, citizen scientists and learners. Data from over 190 million specimens and samples are already available through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility portal (“GBIF,” n.d.). Similarly, with the OpenUp initiative, multimedia content from 12 European countries (some 8.7 million records) was submitted to the Europeana portal(“Opening up the Natural History Heritage for Europeana,” n.d.). With this proliferation of data and tools, it is increasingly easy for citizens to actively contribute to the creation and extraction of collection and observation data, and for such data to be used in learning
The very first contacts with natural history museums are often at a young age, while visiting museums with parents or during formal or informal education programs. For a future citizen scientist, these first experiences often lay the foundations of understanding what a museum is and how its collections contribute to knowledge and science. They can also determine the likelihood of returning in future as a volunteer.
In ICEDIG task 5.1 we reviewed the relationships between collections, particularly digital collections; formal and informal education; museum-related citizen science; and the skills and knowledge that these can advance. This is a complex area – defining types of education alone is a subject for wide-ranging research – and we have not attempted to reproduce all of that research in this report. Other ICEDIG tasks are also covering crowdsourcing (e.g. costs and platforms for transcription) in greater detail. We have therefore focused primarily on case studies and reviews of practice that we hope will be of practical help to collections-holding institutions, with a particular focus on digital collections, culminating in an outline business model for future projects. While regional and cultural differences can have an impact on citizen science and education, we would suggest that generally the similarities – for example in what approaches are likely to engage people – are more important than the differences.

Files (2.0 MB)
6
7
views
downloads
All versions This version
Views 66
Downloads 77
Data volume 13.7 MB13.7 MB
Unique views 44
Unique downloads 55

Share

Cite as