Museum/herbarium collection digitisation on iNaturalist, yes or no?

It is important for herbaria and museums to digitise their collections. Do you think iNaturalist would like this here or if iNaturalist makes a good host? Please have a free discussion.

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I remember reading similar discussions before (at least about whether it’s allowed) and I think as long as the location and time of the observation correspond to where and when the sample was collected (rather than the coordinates of the museum and the time of digitisation), no one will have anything against it.

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I think it may be more accurately said, that so long as the criteria you describe are met, and it is done in low numbers it is considered OK.

The site management has been clear that iNaturalist is not the best option as a general data aggregator or storage place for large scale collections.

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I agree 100%. There are much better options for digitizing and managing collections information, such as creating or joining one of the Symbiota portals. Though centered on North American herbaria, Symbiota is not geographically or taxonomically limited.

One should also consider issues of data ownership. An individual not associated with the museum or herbarium should probably not take it upon themselves to add an iNaturalist observation for one of their specimens (unless one is the collector or has permission) – even (and perhaps especially) if based on digitized specimen data already publicly available online.

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Yeah, there are many advantages to having museum/herbaria specimens accessioned as such and in databases specifically for those (which would typically have a lot more info than is present on iNat). Maybe if there were an small abandoned collection that would not be digitized if there were no other option, iNat would make sense. But otherwise, some other option would likely be better.

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I recently read a paper proposing just this. I thought it was a good idea but some of you have pointed out issues I (and apparently the authors) did not consider. Here it is iNaturalist as a tool to expand the research value of museum specimens

I wish they would all be posted here. Yes it is a bit different than how inat usually works. However… if added they become part of the community and people can discuss and annotate them and they will be on the interactive range maps and species lists. None of that is true of any of the other portals I know of.

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Yeah, I had seen that paper too, and for supplementing specimen data for new collections I think their protocol has merit. But as a primary platform for retrospectively digitizing an entire collection, iNaturalist is not the best tool from a collection manager’s standpoint, in my opinion.

As @charlie says and I agree, it would be wonderful to have all of those data here too. And they sort of already are, insofar as most digitized collections data is on GBIF, and GBIF is an optional layer within iNaturalist maps (some or all, I haven’t checked lately).

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Yeah gbif can get displayed on the range maps as points but you can’t click through to the record or get any of the other data easily. And no comments or annotations

Ability to click through on GBIF points would definitely be a feature request I would support, but something sticks my mind that that was already brought up somewhere – I’ll have to do some digging. I know one can leave comments on individual Symbiota records, but it’s pretty much one-way communication from commenter to (eventually) collection curator.

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I’d also be on board if it’s for new specimens

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The core mission is to connect people with wild nature, digitizing existing collections does seem far from this emphasis on one individual interacting with nature in the wild. Given that group accounts are not officially sanctioned, and given the intended focus on an observer-identifier conversations about an observation, herbarium collection accounts would seem to be problematic. Herbarium/museum digitization projects perhaps belong in non-interactive accessible online databases akin to Plants of the World Online.

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That may be true from the standpoint of the person who made the collection but what about all the others who look at and discuss the observation or visit similar areas and use the observation to help make a species ID? If it’s an issue of data space/memory, i could understand but in terms of ‘connecting people with nature’, that’s what herbariums do.

but why would you want to restrict interaction? (given the option of a civil and intelligent conversation like the ones iNat can offer)?

I think it might make sense to have a different interface for things like that, and to avoid things like community ID and such since they are external collections and our ID won’t affect what it is tagged as in the herbarium, but it seems to me the ability to discuss these records, add them to projects, annotate them, add fields, etc etc etc can be incredibly powerful.

I realize it’s not the core mission of the site devs, so probably won’t happen,but i disagree that it’s contrary to the inat mission, either the official one or the ‘real’ one.

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There’s not much question in my mind that we should accept any herbarium specimens that come in on iNaturalist. That said, I’m coming at this from a herbarium background (where I had to figure out a process for specimen digitization) and there are a lot of limitations that iNaturalist has for managing herbarium data. So, if I were asked by a curator, I would quickly redirect them to Symbiota or a comparable database. I’m not really too picky when it comes to photos of specimens or living organisms (if it’s identifiable, it’s a good record), but I do know that it will be a lot better for the herbarium if they use a different database (better data structure, easier to download and retrieve data, and easier to manage the data). The only exceptions might be specimens that have not been annotated to genus and cannot be identified beyond that point by staff. Then, any means to get it identified would be good for the herbarium but in addition to adding to wherever the majority of the data is stored.

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I really wish they had a feature similar to identify on iNaturalist. The ability to go through and digitally add annotations quickly and efficiently would be amazing. That would also help focus ones efforts when visiting in person. I usually try to get through all the Chamaesyces when I visit a herbarium (I’m always worried I’ll miss something important that was misidentified as something else if I don’t since some of the best finds are those that were misidentified as common species), but it is extremely time-consuming and I usually can’t get through them all before I have to leave. A feature for digitally adding annotations for the obvious ones would make it easier to focus on the specimens I actually need to focus on.

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perhaps there are ways to just integrate those databases more. FOr instance one dedicated iNat page for each symbiota record (or the ability to generate one) where commentary and annotations etc could occur. Probably not the way the devs are heading but, i like the idea anyhow

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I agree that there are some nice features of iNat for data, but these should all be able to be implemented in collections software/databases as well. The databases I’ve worked with can store alternative media (like field photos), mapping isn’t too hard, etc.

I think that there are several potentially serious pitfalls (like IDs disagreeing btw iNat and the collection). I would also wonder how the issue of duplication is solved. If the collection itself is linked to GBIF (which most in my experience are), and iNat is linked as well, do two records show up for one organism observed? This would be even more problematic if the IDs happen to disagree (as referenced above). Also, what happens if the original observer deletes their account and then their observations are gone from iNat? Is a good chunk of the info/utility of that collection lost for good?

Caveat: most of the discussion here seems to be for herbaria and my experience is with animal collections, so maybe there are enough differences between those fields that these concerns aren’t relevant (or the herbaria databases don’t work in the same way that animal databases do).

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btw = by the way?

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sorry, “between”

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