We have a massive digital challenge. How do we transform museum collections of millions of diverse specimens, each with complex information in many forms, into digital resources – images and data – to be used by modern science and shared across the world?
The collections have been at the centre of scientific knowledge for 300 years – how do we take them into science’s future? In the words of Rod Page from Glasgow University: how do we transform a 19th Century technology into a 21st Century technology? This is the question we have been looking at in a Cisco Pitstop at the London Digital Catapult Centre over two days in February 2016.
Cisco and the Digital Catapult see the size and scale of the challenge and engaged with the Museum to look at how it can be addressed. Their understanding of the broader digital landscape, and excellent networks, mean that in the Pitstop they have brought together a diverse set of the best and most innovative companies at the forefront of modern digital processes to look at steps needed to solve this grand challenge.
Museums have been thinking, collaborating and developing ways of tackling this challenge for years, but technology and ideas are still evolving and, as the Museum’s Vince Smith said:
…although we’ve made progress, it will take us four centuries to digitise our 80 million specimens – longer than it has taken to collect them!
Science needs this information and rapid acceleration is the goal, developing new solutions and collaborations, innovation and change. For so many millions of specimens, how do we capture, store, link, use and share? How do we ensure quality and long-term access?
The Museum wants to digitise 20 million specimens in 5 years through the Digital Collections Programme. Beyond that there is commitment to develop wider initiatives to move to 100 million, 500 million, and one billion, collaborating with many collections and tech innovators across the world.
The way to do this is bring together new ideas and imagination, to access the best expertise and to create a compelling set of challenges for collaboration.
We’ve heard dynamic presentations, looked in wonder at collections, networked, discussed, debated, agreed, challenged, captured ideas on yellow stickies, puzzled over problems and are having our thinking captured by an artist.
The Cisco Pitstop has brought together researchers, data scientists and collections managers from the Museum in discussion with digital innovators, collections experts and data users from: Cisco; SciFabric; Singular Intelligence; Sparrho; Warwick Analytics; Wikidata; Xerox; Zegami; Zeutschel; Springer Nature; The British Library; University of Cambridge; University of Glasgow; University of Sussex; National Biodiversity Network; Pantar; Pensoft; Picturae; Restore; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh; Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and others.
As I write, we’re only part of the way into the discussion, More to follow! #CiscoPitstop