The role of ADBC in the larger digitization context: a beginning, not the end
The ADBC solicitation from NSF represents a tremendous opportunity to begin the process of digitizing our nation’s biodiversity and paleodiversity collections. We believe tremendous progress will be made over the multi-year time span of the ADBC program, leading to a very significant increase in digital and mobile holdings. Yet, we caution the community to not make the mistake of overestimating OR underestimating what ADBC can do. ADBC should been seen as a starting point for the enormous task of digitizing our natural heritage, not the sole solution. We argue below that the community must use ADBC to leverage other opportunities and work towards an inclusive view of supporting multiple collections communities.
ADBC came out of a community-led process that has its roots in a set of reports that assess the state of federally held collections. The Interagency Working Group on the Scientific Collections report determined a compelling need for “the creation of an online clearinghouse of information about Federal scientific collections”. A subsequent NSF Scientific Collections Survey concluded that a key need is “coordination and interoperability of data networks critical for effective use of collections in research.” Federal agency support led to two workshops held at NESCent to develop a strategic plan for a national digitization effort. This strategic plan led to ADBC, but the aims and objectives of the plan are much wider and more ambitious.
To be successful, a national digitization effort must do more than just capture collections data. It must generate tools to access and mobilize these data and build user communities around the data without simultaneously diverting critical resources from the care and maintenance of the collections themselves. ADBC will address some of these needs, but digitization of biological and paleontological collections will need to be pursued through Biological Research Collections grants and other systematics, survey, and biodiversity-based granting mechanisms. Existing and new projects funded in programs such as Advances in Biological Informatics and the burgeoning numbers of cyberinfrastructure programs will address the technological pieces of the puzzle needed to increase efficiency rates, data improvements, and data mobilization.
ADBC is not the only game in town at NSF for biological digitization, and NSF is not the only mechanism to support the larger mission of completing the digitizing task. The Institute for Museum and Library Science (IMLSmay support digitization efforts, as might other federal funding agencies (e.g., National Institute of Health, Department of the Interior via USGS, National Biological Information Infrastructure). Opportunities abound to use ADBC as a springboard to approach foundations that may want to support such efforts. Partnerships with private industry are also well worth considering.
Our conclusion is that we should be operating as a community, not only to develop the best set of proposals for ADBC but also to address the ultimate challenge: completing the digitization of all of our nation’s natural heritage in the next ten years. A Home Unifying Biocollections (HUB) and a set of Thematic Collections Networks (TCNs) is a start, but they will not be enough for success. We need to harness ADBC as a flash point to catalyze our efforts with other agencies and potential funders through which we can begin to assemble a broader view of the potential opportunities for our community. ADBC is a rare opportunity to leverage a strong federal focus on the digitization of biological collections and, most importantly, to mobilize the community to do it the right way.
We appreciate all the comments, thoughts, etc. that you can muster here. We want your feedback!
Rob Guralnick, University of Colorado Boulder
Christopher Norris, Yale University/SPNHC
David Bloom, VertNet