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biotraNsC – Coming Soon to the NC Museum of Natural Sciences

November 4, 2015

WeDigBio2 At the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, we love to bring our visitors (whether on site or online) new opportunities to get involved in research as citizen scientists. As part of a grant we received earlier this year from the National Science Foundation, we’re working to bring you a new project, called biotraNsC, that will allow citizen scientists everywhere to get involved in the massive and important task of digitizing scientific collection records.

Why is this important?  Well, scientists have been collecting specimens for research collections for hundreds of years.  Until very recently, all of those records were handwritten on paper.  Handwritten collection logbooks and specimen labels are priceless, containing essential information about research specimens housed at museums worldwide.  However, we now live in a technological age.  Not only are handwritten logbooks and labels at risk from fire, water damage, rodents, mold, and other hazards that could destroy them, but we have an unprecedented opportunity to give everyone far greater access to research collections than ever before.  By transcribing and digitizing this precious data, we not only protect the irreplaceable information stored in handwritten records, but we allow researchers to do research without expensive travel. The public will also be allowed to interact digitally with collections that they have never been allowed access to before.

WeDigBio3This is what we plan to do with the biotraNsC project. Our Museum has over 130 years of records, but only part of our holdings have been brought into the modern age through digitization efforts.  The Museum has also recently acquired several large and historically important collections from other museums that need to be incorporated into our own.  We have the staff to physically sort, catalog, store, and maintain the specimens from these collections, but the logbooks and data labels are another matter entirely.  It would take years for these records to be digitized by staff alone – but YOU can help by participating in biotraNsC!  We’re building an online portal where you can create a free account and help us transcribe the massive backlog of logbooks and data labels, starting with the herpetology (reptile and amphibian) and ichthyology (fish) collections.  We hope to eventually offer similar opportunities for other collections in our holdings as well.

Because we are building our own digitization citizen science project, we recently jumped at the chance to be a part of a worldwide data transcription event called WeDigBio. Developed by staff at iDigBio, an organization dedicated to the advancement of digitization of scientific research collections, the event consisted of numerous satellite “transcription parties” hosted by museums and universities across the globe.

We held our satellite party during the Museum’s member’s open house on October 24. During our event, we showcased our upcoming project while also giving visitors a chance to participate in some of the current digitization citizen science projects available online.  Throughout the day, we had about 75 people help us transcribe data labels for crab, bumble bee, and other biological collections available through Notes from Nature and the Smithsonian Transcription Center.  Worldwide, the event engaged hundreds of citizen scientists who transcribed over 30,000 labels and other specimen information over the four-day event.

WeDigBio1We’re already excited about getting involved in WeDigBio again next year! If all goes well, we’ll be able to get people involved in our own project, biotraNsC, so that we can enlist volunteers worldwide to help us digitize North Carolina’s unique biological research collections.  With your help, the huge process of digitizing our collection information will become simple as hundreds to thousands of citizen scientists each do a small part individually to huge effect collectively.  We hope you’ll join us!

We’re hoping to offer biotraNsC online in late spring 2016. We’ll also have beta testing opportunities.  Keep and eye out here and on the Museum’s Google+ page for those and other behind the scenes opportunities to help us make biotraNsC great!

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