Digital Herbaria in the 21st Century
Cyberinfrastructure finally caught up with the vision for biodiversity ‘big data’ online. Species are populations, and our knowledge of species is documented by preserved specimens. The IU Herbarium has 161,000+ specimens. Symbiota is a multi-institutional platform that accommodates specimen- and species-level images and information, and our regional instance for vascular plants is the Consortium of Midwest Herbaria data portal (http://midwestherbaria.org). To efficiently digitize the specimens, each was barcoded and photographed, with each image renamed as the barcode, and a skeletal database record created with the barcode, species name, and provenance (down to the level of U.S. counties). IU Libraries built the Imago digital repository (https://imago.indiana.edu), based on technology from the Samvera open source community, and quality-control pipelines to manage the digital resources being created by the IU Herbarium and other biological research collections. The high-resolution .tif images are stored in the Scholarly Data Archive, and equally good .jpg derivatives are married with the skeletal record information as they are ingested in Imago. Optical character recognition was used to capture specimen label information as .txt files, which were uploaded into Symbiota along with the Imago persistent URLs. The downstream workflow of label transcription and georeferencing was organized by the skeletal record information and conducted by a small army of student workers who simply needed access to the internet. The Imago pURLs also link DNA sequences in GenBank to the corresponding voucher specimens, and can be used in future digital publishing. IU hosts specimen images from other Indiana herbaria, and is providing technology transfer assistance to the University of Cape Town.
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