Library and Archives
The early death of Colonel Robert C. Tytler and the afterlife of his collectionA letter by Allan Octavian Hume and three by Bertram Bevan-Petman, all written between 1904 and 1911 to Ernst Hartert, bird curator of Rothschild’s Tring Museum, are present in the Rothschild Tring archive, now held by the Natural History Museum. These shed light on both the probable cause of the early death in 1872 of Colonel Robert C. Tytler, British army officer and naturalist in colonial India, and on the somewhat convoluted fate of his collection subsequently.
Improved standardization of transcribed digital specimen dataThere are more than 1.2 billion biological specimens in the world’s museums and herbaria. These objects are particularly important forms of biological sample and observation. They underpin biological taxonomy but the data they contain have many other uses in the biological and environmental sciences. Nevertheless, from their conception they are almost entirely documented on paper, either as labels attached to the specimens or in catalogues linked with catalogue numbers. In order to make the best use of these data and to improve the findability of these specimens, these data must be transcribed digitally and made to conform to standards, so that these data are also interoperable and reusable. Through various digitization projects, the authors have experimented with transcription by volunteers, expert technicians, scientists, commercial transcription services and automated systems. We have also been consumers of specimen data for taxonomical, biogeographical and ecological research. In this paper, we draw from our experiences to make specific recommendations to improve transcription data. The paper is split into two sections. We first address issues related to database implementation with relevance to data transcription, namely versioning, annotation, unknown and incomplete data and issues related to language. We then focus on particular data types that are relevant to biological collection specimens, namely nomenclature, dates, geography, collector numbers and uniquely identifying people. We make recommendations to standards organizations, software developers, data scientists and transcribers to improve these data with the specific aim of improving interoperability between collection datasets.
The Natural History Museum Data PortalThe Natural History Museum, London (NHM), generates and holds some of the largest global data sets relating to the biological and geological diversity of the natural world. A majority of these data were, until 2015, not widely accessible, and, even when published, were typically hard to find, poorly documented and in formats that impede discovery and integration. To better serve the bespoke needs of user communities outside and within the NHM, a dedicated data portal was developed to surface these data sets and provide a sustainable platform to encourage their citation and reuse. This paper describes the technical development of the data portal, from its inception to beta launch in December 2015, its first 2 years of operation, and future plans for the project. It outlines the development principles adopted for this prototypical project, which subsequently informed new digital project management methodologies at the NHM. The process of developing the data portal acted as a driver to implement policies necessary to encourage a culture of data sharing at the NHM.