Missouri Botanical Garden Open Conference Systems, TDWG 2014 ANNUAL CONFERENCE

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“Making Links in the BHL: primary source material as a window to a scientist’s methods”
Constance Rinaldo

Building: Elmia Congress Centre, Jönköping
Room: Rum 10
Date: 2014-10-28 02:45 PM – 03:00 PM
Last modified: 2014-10-03


Field notes are the raw observations of a scientist and may contain anything from descriptions of how he or she felt on a particular day to detailed scientific observations: these records are primary source data at its most raw and unevaluated.  As part of an Institute for Museum and Library Services National Leadership grant, Connecting Content, the Ernst Mayr Library digitized 2000 pages of  William Brewster’s field notes from 1865-1919.  Brewster was a well-published ornithologist who died in 1919.  Along with digitized specimens, published literature and other archival materials related to Brewster, these materials document his research cycle. The handwritten field notes must be transcribed manually before they can be searched because optical character recognition (OCR) produces gibberish. Another IMLS grant, Purposeful Gaming was designed to collect and improve transcriptions of these handwritten notes by providing multiple transcriptions and development of a game that could be used to crowd source reconciliation of multiple outputs for difficult to read handwritten notes and other non-standard materials.

The digitized field notes were deposited in the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) and can be linked with other data sources such as current data in the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL).  Linking the field notes and EOL data show how open science projects can be used to connect content from multiple sources to advance scientific and educational pursuits. Brewster’s field notes, once transcribed, make it possible to track species changes by comparing his checklists from 1892 to current checklists.  By linking these varied data sources and tools, the data life cycle can be completed and the value of comparing current data and primary source material in the BHL demonstrated. The tools used for the Brewster case study include iNaturalist and EOL field guides. Open science resources, tools and applications are accelerating the rate at which historical and current biodiversity information can be mobilized, customized and turned into participatory activities.  The presentation of these notes enhances contemporary studies and makes the entire research cycle of this scientist’s work available for analysis by historians of science, scientists, social scientists and humanists or anyone interested in the process of discovery, by creating a richer and more interactive history of science resource.