Accelerating the digitization of biodiversity research specimens through online public participation

Elizabeth R. Ellwood, Betty A. Dunckel, Paul Flemons, Robert Guralnick, Gil Nelson, Greg Newman, Sarah Newman, Deborah Paul, Greg Riccardi, Nelson Rios, Katja C. Seltmann, Austin R. Mast

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A goal of the biodiversity research community is to digitize the majority of the one billion specimens in US collections by 2020. Meeting this ambitious goal requires increased collaboration and technological innovation and broader engagement beyond the walls of universities and museums. Engaging the public in digitization promises to both serve the digitizing institutions and further the public understanding of biodiversity science. We discuss three broad areas accessible to public participants that will accelerate research progress: label and ledger transcription, georeferencing from locality descriptions, and specimen annotation from images. We illustrate each activity, compare useful tools, present best practices and standards, and identify gaps in our knowledge and areas for improvement. The field of public participation in digitization of biodiversity research specimens is in a growth phase with many emerging opportunities for scientists, educators, and the public, as well as broader communication with complementary projects in other areas (e.g., the digital humanities).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-396
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 30 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • citizen science
  • crowdsourcing
  • digital humanities
  • digitization of biodiversity research collections
  • public participation in scientific research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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