South Australian Museum joins global network to get collections online

22 October 2015

mawson.jpg

Scientific staff and ship's officers on the second BANZARE cruise, 1930-31

In a global first, the South Australian Museum is teaming with the Smithsonian, the New York Botanic Gardens, Chicago’s Field Museum, the Australian Museum and other natural history museums to bring more of their extensive collections online.

Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections (WeDigBio), a four-day global blitz of online crowdsourcing, aims to help transcribe biodiversity research collections and is being held from 22 to 25 October 2015.

This exciting global effort brings to the fore the vital role that museum collection managers and volunteers play in transcribing museum artefacts to online databases.

Digitisation Manager for the South Australian Museum, Alexis Tindall, said that during WeDigBio crowdsourcing sites that focus on the transcription of biological collections will link up, transcription activity will be tracked live around the world, and some participating organisations will host live in-house transcribing events.

“In the past, museums had very few options other than to allow the majority of their collections to remain relatively unseen,” said Ms Tindall.

“Digitisation gives the public and the research community access to the vast research collections cared for by museums around the world.”

By participating in events such as WeDigBio, institutions such as the South Australian Museum create awareness of their world-renowned collections and make them accessible to all.

The South Australian Museum has been using DigiVol to document its collections online over the last year, with great success. The effort of online volunteers has helped us get thousands more specimens online than we would have through staff effort alone.

“It is a significant challenge for institutions to get their enormous collections online, but it is a vital endeavor, as world-wide access to this data helps inform our understanding of how best to protect the Earth and its living species," said Ms Tindall.

During WeDigBio the Museum is asking online volunteers to help us bring the specimens and records from the 1929-1931 British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) led by Sir Douglas Mawson online.

“Mawson’s aims for the BANZARE expedition included studies of the weather, the oceans, geology, physics, biology, glaciology and bacteriology," said Ms Tindall.

“The weather reports generated by Mawson and other early Antarctic explorers continue to be used by meteorologists today to predict weather patterns and help understand climate change.

“As well as these scientific observations, the BANZARE expedition conducted extensive oceanographic work and marine biological sampling," said Ms Tindall.

 

BANZARE scientists

‘Sorting collection made at Crozets [Crozet Islands], in Wardroom.’ [L to R: Marr, JWS (hydrologist, plankton research), Ingram WW (medical officer and biologist), Mawson, Harvey Johnston]’ Photo by Hurley.

After the expedition, the huge numbers of specimens collected were examined by world-renowned specialists over the span of fifty years, and the results were described in the thirteen volumes of the BANZARE Scientific Reports

In preparation for WeDigBio the Museum's volunteer team has been photographing many marine invertebrate specimens from the BANZARE expedition," said Ms Tindall.

The team has also photographed a register of zoological specimens documented by Professor T Harvey Johnston, the senior biologist on that trip, for online volunteers to transcribe.

 Astrochlamys bruneus and Johnston's register

 L: BANZARE specimen; R: page from Johnston’s register

“All in all, we’ll get new records online for approximately 1000 cephalopods, lace corals and brittle stars from the expedition, as well as transcribing Johnston's register book, which will be very helpful for scientists,” said Ms Tindall.

Much like WeDigBio, the BANZARE expedition is notable for its collaborative nature. Initiated by Douglas Mawson and conducted over period of two summers, the BANZARE expeditions were supported by the three governments and private donors.

Specimens resulting from the expedition were subsequently dispersed to different museums around the world.

That means that digitisation of these internationally significant specimens has great potential to link up collections that have been spread across different countries and allow them to be seen and understood as a whole," said Ms Tindall.

To take part in WeDigBio for the South Australian Museum or get involved in online volunteering activities sign up at http://volunteer.ala.org.au. For more information about WeDigBio visit www.wedigbio.org.

 

For more information, or to arrange or an interview please contact:

Andrea Murphy
Manager, Communications and Marketing
South Australian Museum
North Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000
P: 08 8207 7385
E: andrea.murphy@samuseum.sa.gov.au

 

About the South Australian Museum

The Museum cares for a wealth of treasures with national and international significance – it is one of Australia’s most admired and trusted scientific and cultural institutions. The Museum’s world class collections have been amassed over more than 150 years and encompass everything from fossils of the first known life on Earth to pieces of Martian meteorites. The Museum’s collections are still growing and used each day in scientific and cultural research.

The South Australian Museum is Australia's most successful museum in terms of both competitive research funding and peer-reviewed publications. The Museum was awarded over $11 million in research grants in 2013–14 and its four research groups maintained a strong track record in biological sciences, mineral sciences, humanities and palaeontology. The Museum is a strong partner, with strategic relationships across the resources sector as well as with state and federal governments.