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Image of cake with botany specimen on it

The Digitization of the US National Herbarium - Done!

By Diane Zorich, Director, Digitization Program Office on Thu, 06/09/2022 - 08:56

June 8, 2022

The Digitization of the US National Herbarium - Done!

The Digitization Program Office and the Department of Botany at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) recently announced an important milestone:  completion of the digitization of the US National Herbarium collection, housed at NMNH. This project generated some eye-popping stats:

  • Over 3.8 million botanical specimen sheets were bar-coded, digitized, and transcribed.
  • Once the project moved into production, 3000 to 4000 specimens were digitized per day, generating upwards of 1.3 Tb of data transferred across Smithsonian systems on a daily basis….
  • The mass digitization workflows and technology used in this project significantly reduced the cost and time involved in digitizing, processing, and transcribing a specimen (from $3.32/specimen using traditional methods, to $1.85/specimen using mass digitization methods; and a time reduction of 555 seconds/specimen using traditional methods to 102 seconds/second with mass digitization methods.)
  • Over 80,000 new taxa were added to the Botany Department database. (Making the full  extent of the collection knowable for the first time.)
  • The entire collection – images and data – is open access. It can be used by anyone, for any purpose. You can explore the entire collection here.

Our announcement of this milestone generated worldwide interest on social media, with over 1000 scientists and interested members of the public “liking” or sharing this information. Many were also effusive in their praise.

  • “Incredible!  What a gift."
  • “A colossal effort. Making such an important collection available to users speaks of the altruism of science in these institutions….”
  • “Really amazing to see this completed!  Fantastic public resource for the entire biological sciences community….”
  • “Such an awesome achievement by the Smithsonian, inspiring to see as we begin a major digitisation project”

Such an effort called for a celebration, with speeches, sweets, and swag. Our thanks to the NMNH Botany Department for hosting this event, particularly Botany Chair Eric Schuettpelz and Botany Dept. Digitization Manager Sylvia Orli who, with former Chair Larry Dorr, were stalwart partners in a project that required tenacity and no small amount of fortitude. We also thank the dozens of individuals who worked on this project since 2015, particularly Ken Rahaim (DPO’s Collections Digitization Program Manager extraordinaire) and his incredible team, Bill Tompkins (of the Smithsonian National Collections Program), and our technology partner, Picturae. Finally, we offer our gratitude to the senior leadership of the National Museum of Natural History for their long-term support.

The DPO’s mission is to enable discovery through digitization. The US National Herbarium Collections is now digitized, and awaits your discoveries.

Scenes from the Celebration!

Sylvia Orli, Department of Botany, and purveyor of the “specimen sheet cake”.

Bar code cookies (courtesy of Sylvia Orli) and specimen post cards (courtesy of DPO)

Eric Schuettpelz, Sylvia Orli, and Ken Rahaim thanking the many individuals involved in the project, both past and present.