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Mass Digitization, Paleobiology Locality Ledgers, and Transcription

By Nathan Anderson on Thu, 07/01/2021 - 13:00

­­­From November 2019 to March 2020, the Smithsonian Mass Digitization Program, part of the Digitization Program Office of the OCIO, embarked on the second phase of digitization production capturing fossil collections in partnership with the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and with support from the Smithsonian National Collections Program. The project’s goal was to digitize 38,000 marine invertebrate fossils found in the eastern Pacific from the Cenozoic era. The bivalves, gastropods, and other invertebrates in this collection span the last 66 million years of the Earth’s history and are crucial to understanding how marine ecosystems responded to intense periods of environmental change. The transformation of hand written, analog specimen records to geo-referenced, interoperable online data presents a major challenge for mobilizing and increasing the accessibility of these collections. This project sought to develop and refine methods for imaging and data enrichment to help unlock this information for greater scientific use.


Figure 1: NMNH Paleobio digitization prior to March 2020 shutdown & example specimen photography.


After the pandemic halted our mass digitization imaging project, we pivoted our attention to the best use of our resources by enriching the collection’s digital records. For natural history collections, a large portion of the scientific value of the specimen is tied to its associated data and is best preserved in the form of a locality ledger. These ledgers range in creation date from as early as 1910, to as late the 1970s. They are standardized with some variations on how the information is presented, making them ideal candidates for structured transcription.