The Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER) received a $100,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to digitize specimens in their vascular plant herbarium.
CCBER, located under the Office of Research, covers three main focus areas of research — education, ecosystem management and specimen collections. The year-long grant, entitled ‘Museums for America’, will digitize over 70,000 specimens in the CCBER’s vascular plant collection.
According to Jennifer Thorsch, director of the CCBER, the upcoming collections are similar to historical exhibits that would be found in any museum, “Our plant and vertebrate collections form a small natural history museum on campus,” Thorsch said.
The grant will make the center’s data and collections accessible to scientists worldwide, according to Thorsch, and she said that in past research efforts, it was difficult for researchers to find the specimens they needed. In order to do so, researchers had to personally contact the institutions about their inquiries, and institution staff would then search through its collections for the specimens of interest.
“Now, with all of our specimens in this database, scientists will be able to look on their own without necessarily interfacing with us,” Thorsch said.
With this new ability, future research endeavors will be easier and involved scientists can help continue similar future efforts, Thorsch said.
“Once [scientists] know what we have, they will be able to contact us and let us know we have specimens that they are interested in studying,” Thorsch said. “In addition, we will have images of those specimens, so many questions can potentially be answered by looking at the specimens and the information contained in the database.”
Funds from the Museums for America grant will go toward funding the institute in other ways — such as improving database workflows, increasing efficiency and completing data entry of about 80 percent of the specimens that have yet to be digitized.
Digitized data will be entered into Specify database software, at which point anyone will be able to access the information through a portal.
Digital resources coordinator Laurie Hannah said she hopes the digitizing process will aid both the UCSB community, as well as the larger scientific community in general.
“I hope this increases our audience, our presence in the online world and our usefulness on campus as well,” Hannah said. “Providing our specimen data online adds our data to a growing body of knowledge about plant distribution, vegetation change, climate change and many other possible areas of research.”
Herbarium assistant Veronica Ortega also said digitizing is a useful way to make the knowledge more reachable.
“It’ll be great. When I started working in data basing and understanding the usefulness of it, I was surprised how the information was actually being used,” Ortega said. “Having digital copies, info online — it’ll be easier online for everyone to access.”
Digitizing specimens also reduces the risk of them being lost, damaged or mishandled because the number of specimens needed to be shipped away will be greatly reduced, Thorsch said, since researchers can request a specific sample just by finding it individually in the database, rather than asking for a large number of specimens.
According to Thorsch, the grant to digitize the collections marks a major next step for the CCBER, as students and faculty at UCSB are privileged to have access to both the plant and animal collections.
“It’s a great step forward for our collections and the university to have our museum so vital and partnering with the larger institutions across the country, who are also data basing their collections,” Thorsch said. “Many higher institutions have given away and sold off their collections, so students at UCSB are lucky to still have a museum that they can use in their classes and for research purposes.”