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Stitching Together Open Collections Data

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
In TrendsWatch 2015 I cited last year’s CitStitch Hackathon as an example of natural history museums collaborating with the public to create open datasets about collections. So I was super happy to open an email from Robert Guralnick, asking if CFM could help spread the word about a bigger, better, badder version of that event. Rob is the Curator of Biodiversity Informatics at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History and is working with WeDigBio partners Paul Kimberly, the Digitization Manager for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and Libby Ellwood, Post Doctoral Researcher with iDigBio. Here is how you can get involved in their work:
Citizen Science and Open Data are both major trends in Museums. They meet in the middle when citizens can access recently digitized content and help museums do more with those data. One of those key tasks is transcribing imaged natural history collection labels, converting the imaged text into machine readable formats. In the past three years, a set of “online public engagement transcription centers” have emerged across the globe, often operating at a regional or national level, with foci often on different kinds of collections (e.g. herbarium specimens). These virtual centers continue a volunteer tradition that spans hundreds of years, but use new technology that further lower barriers for participation.
One great thing about a globally connected world is that the efforts of transcription centers have not been entirely independent. Two recent hackathons have brought together those working on transcription challenges to discuss integration and how to work more collectively. Borne from that crucible is an idea we are very excited about — a global transcription event or “blitz”. We have called this event WeDigBioand are working hard to pull off this major global event Oct. 22-25 of this year.
The more we can spread word about the event and get you involved, the better the outcome for our community. So, if you are interested in working with the public to increase awareness of citizen science helping unlock natural history biocollections data–simultaneously and interactively with other institutions around the world — can we ask for your help and support for this effort?
We are currently recruiting institutions that would like to collaborate on the first annual 4-day, global WeDigBio Event. This year’s event will focus on engaging the public in the transcription of specimen labels and ledgers through partnerships with online public engagement platforms, including the Smithsonian Transcription Center, Zooniverse’s Notes from Nature, Atlas of Living Australia’s DigiVol, Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland’s herbaria@home, Paris Herbarium’s Les Herbonautes, and others.
Participants can contribute from anywhere in the world, but collaborating institutions may also host onsite transcription parties similar to those described at The WeDigBio planning team is compiling checklists, press kits, educational games, post-event surveys and other resources to ensure successful onsite events. If you’re interested in hosting an event at your institution, or supporting WeDigBio in another way, answerthis short questionnaire. Upon completion of the form, you will be added to the WeDigBio mailing list, and you will receive links to resources and updates about the event. Additional information is also available at or by contacting Paul Kimberly (kimberlyp at, Libby Ellwood (eellwood at, Austin Mast (amast at, or Rob Guralnick (robgur at
Never has it been more important to invite the public into our biocollections—simultaneously accelerating specimen digitization and enhancing science literacy.

Tray of bumble bees at the Smithsonian Institution, 
National Museum of Natural History. 
Photo by Patricia Gentili-Poole.

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