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The DigiVol crowdsourcing website is a world leader in using volunteers to transcribe data from natural history collections. There are number of expeditions you can embark on with themes that focus on our Entomology and Malacology Collections and the diaries of renowned personality and zoologist Edgar Waite just being a few.
Online volunteering with DigiVol is important and has created many opportunities for many people who are unable to travel or live too far away to participate in volunteering at the Museum. This volunteering opportunity can be completed anywhere and at any time and is ideal for dedicated, detail-oriented people who are willing to join the DigiVol online community of volunteers.
International institutes, such as the Smithsonian Institute, Kew Gardens, New York Botanical Gardens and many other Australian institutions, post expeditions on the DigiVol portal which are also transcribed by online volunteers all around the world. This can help us discover the hidden knowledge that is waiting to be found in our collective vast collections.
Volunteers, who are experienced transcribers on the DigiVol portal have said that it is a rewarding experience knowing that the information they capture becomes accessible to scientists, conservation agencies and government departments across the country who can then work together to better understand, manage and conserve our precious biodiversity.
The commitment of the DigiVol Online volunteer community is remarkable with some transcribers volunteering up to five hours a day.
Some of the additional benefits in volunteering with us include:
• ‘Behind the scenes’ tours and talks organised with Collection staff as a ‘thank you’ to volunteers
• Acknowledgement of significant transcription milestones on the DigiVol portal
• Collegiate social connection on the portal forum, Facebook and monthly newsletter.
Click here to register on DigiVol. We find volunteers demonstrate a meticulous attention to detail; skill in reading and deciphering old handwriting and are proficient at researching scientific names, people and places.
Registration is simple and fast, giving you quick access to begin your transcribing experience. Once registered, you will receive an acknowledgement email offering further support if required.
The Museum has created the hugely successful ‘DigiVol’- Digital Volunteer - program where volunteers from all over the globe can delve into the Australian Museum collection transcribing the data, so it is discoverable online for anyone to access anywhere in the world. This project has inspired other similar projects around the world Kim McKay, AO
About DigiVol volunteer digitisation
The Australian Museum collections are a rich source of scientific information. The data attached to objects in museum collections are as important as the objects themselves. This data is usually in the form of a label. Information on labels include where the object was collected, date of collection, collector name, and what the object is.
The project makes label data accessible without needing to go to the physical collection. Every time a worker handles objects to obtain data they increase the risk of damage to fragile and often irreplaceable objects.
Digitisation of objects in the collection also assists collection management in routine tasks such as inventory and loan preparation.
Some of the additional benefits in volunteering with us include:
• ‘Behind the scenes’ tours and talks organised with Collection staff as a ‘thank you’ to volunteers.
• A 3 year and 5 year DigiVol Certificate of Appreciation awards morning tea for volunteers. Collection Managers were our guest of honours at the National Volunteer Week morning teas.
• Theatre, dinners, lunches, holiday photo ‘show and tell”, information exchange and chat over morning tea
If you would like to become a DigiVol Volunteer Digitiser you can register your interest at any time by visiting Volunteer with us
How it began
DigiVol is the Australian Museum’s largest citizen science programs started in 2011 and is adding considerable value to the digitisation of the Museum’s vast collections.
DigiVol consists of two phases of volunteer engagement.The first is onsite at the Museum where volunteers image specimens and their labels in the digitisation lab. The second phase is online where volunteers capture scientific data through transcribing, georeferencing and researching text from the images captured in the first phase. This data is then imported into the Museum’s collection database and made available on scientific websites.
DigiVol’s three key aims are:
1. Build a skilled and respected volunteer group of citizen scientists.
2. Achieve a positive culture shift with Museum Collections management staff who are supportive of having skilled volunteers handle the valuable Collections which have historically been the domain of staff.
3. Increase access by the scientific and wider community to the Museums’ Collections and Archival records in digital form.
The DigiVol team and Collections staff work collaboratively at different stages, beginning with curation of a specimen or object through to importing specimen labels data into the Museum’s database. Many Collection staff acknowledge their appreciation of the critical role citizen scientists play in digitising the Museum’s very large Collections with limited resources.
The DigiVol team consists of:
Paul Flemons: DigiVol Manager
Leonie Prater: DigiVol Coordinator
Rhiannon Stephens: DigiVol Coordinator
Kerryn Parkinson: DigiVol Coordinator
The collection managers and technical staff are crucial to the project as they provide the expertise in handling the specimens and archival material and in defining digitising priorities.
DigiVol learning resources
DigiVol is a volunteer digitisation project at the Australian Museum that is helping to make our collections available to the world.
The DigiVol project has been running for more than 5 years now and has collected a range of resources.
These resources would be helpful to anyone who interested in the DigiVol project and who might be planning to set up a project similar.
Since 2011, the DigiVol team has been developing training tools, including instructional guidelines and videos for volunteers in the lab and online. These may be useful for organisations which are planning to set up a similar digitisation project.
The Digital Renaissance video was created and produced by a group of talented and enthusiastic DigiVol volunteers.
DigiVol’s five-step digitisation process
Collaboration between the DigiVol team and Collection staff to develop handling guidelines, workflow processes, operational logistics, data imports and quality assurance for the objects in their Collection to be digitised.
• Collection staff prepare and curate the objects ready for DigiVol.
• Museum Collection objects are transported to the DigiVol lab with trolleys.
The DigiVol lab operates 5 days a week with over 70 volunteers supervised by a paid coordinator.
• Volunteers take images of the Collection’s object and its associated labels.
• Volunteers record metadata relating to the image they have taken.
• Digitised archival material that has been imaged is also post processed in the DigiVol lab.
The DigiVol Coordinator records statistics and checks the quality of the volunteers work.
Images taken by the volunteers in the DigiVol lab are uploaded to the DigiVol website.
• The DigiVol website has thousands of registered volunteers with a part time Coordinator, and is available 24/7 with a computer and internet connection.
• Volunteers transcribe, geo-reference and research text from the images captured in the lab
• These transcriptions are then checked by volunteers to validate as part of the quality assurance stage.
• The transcribed data is then exported to the Digital Collections Unit.
The Australian Museum in partnership with the Atlas of Living Australia created the DigiVol portal (formerly the Biodiversity Volunteer Portal) which is a website where online volunteers assist the Museum by transcribing specimen labels, field notes and diaries. This can help us discover the hidden knowledge that is waiting to be found in our vast collections.
This form of volunteering is ideal for dedicated, detail-oriented people who are willing to join the community of volunteers who are helping with the daunting task of digitising the Museum’s large natural history collections. This can be completed anywhere and at any time which is convenient for you. This is a worthwhile project where your time and effort will be greatly appreciated.
Volunteers already on the site have said that they feel that it is a rewarding experience knowing that the information they capture becomes accessible to scientists, conservation agencies and government departments across the country who can then work together to better understand, manage and conserve our precious biodiversity.
The data that is gathered is incredibly valuable as it not only conserves our collections but allows us to understand the relationships between species, their distribution and assists in identifying species. Also, these digital records have the ability to preserve our collections for longer as it greatly reduces the need to handle them.
There are number of expeditions you can embark on with themes that focus on our Malacology, Entomology Collections and the diaries of renowned personality and zoologist Edgar Waite just being a few.
While our volunteer pool is continually increasing, we are always looking for an extra pair of hands to help. If you would like to contribute to this project please go to http://volunteer.ala.org.au/ and create an account in order to embark on an expedition from the comfort of your own home!
Data that is exported from the DigiVol website is cleaned and prepared to be imported.
• The data is imported to the AM database, EMu.
• Transcribed text from Archival records are processed and made accessible in a readable form and then imported to EMu and the AM website.
• Data is harvested from EMu to ALA and therefore various other websites.
Specimen data is harvested by the ALA from the AM EMu database. Other data sharing websites such as Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) will retrieve the data from the ALA and will make it more accessible to many people around the world.
Museum collections are one of the best time-machines we have for exploring the past, and we need your help in unlocking its treasures.
The Australian Museum has a large number of specimens that need to be electronically documented to assist scientists and others to learn more about the Earth’s biodiversity.
As a museum volunteer, you will not only gain valuable training, but be part of a social network where you will meet and work with other volunteers, museum staff and scientists.
More about DigiVol
Digitising the Museum's Archives
An interview with Vanessa Finney, Manager Archives and Records who talks about her experiences working with the Digitisation Project.
Vanessa Finney was an archivist in Archives and Records at the Museum prior to becoming its Manager four years ago. She has a Graduate Diploma in Archives and Records Administration which led to positions in a variety of small archives in Sydney.
Vanessa is a passionate archivist who has a strong interest in the Museum’s history and getting the valuable stories out to a wider audience so that they are better known and used. It is always a relief when she arrives safely on her bike to work!
What are the benefits of the project to Archives and Records at the Museum?
“The project has allowed us to digitise material that we would have been unable to do as we do not have the resources. To date, there has been a significant number and variety of archival documents digitised which has had the dual benefit of preserving fragile documents and providing potential digital access to our clients, including those who can’t come into the Archives in person. We like the fact that you are the project managers and we can concentrate on what we know best by selecting priority material for digitisation and having input into helping volunteers handle the valuable archival material.”
“Another key benefit has been having the Scott sisters’ diaries transcribed online by volunteers of the ALA Volunteer Portal project as it is something we haven’t done before. The transcripts are widening access and creating a link with the world outside our collections. These notebooks are not just heritage objects but a record of a scientific study of butterflies and moths. Your project is helping unlock their potential as scientific data. “
What are the challenges you have experienced with this project?
“A big challenge is providing material in a way that volunteers can be trained and supported to handle. An assessment of archival materials is made to determine what to send; what things do people want to access; how fragile are the materials and how are we going to get the information back into our data base. Taking the photo is the beginning of the digitisation process as we need to find a place to keep them forever and make them available as part of our heritage and natural history collections.”
What is the project’s usefulness to other museums?
“The online volunteer portal transcriptions by volunteers of handwritten, often difficult to read archival material can be used as a model for other Australian archives. Archives in Australia haven’t generally been doing this and need to be. These handwritten archives are an important part of national memory and national identity and should be accessible to modern online generations.”
DigiVol and Entomology
Dr Dave Britton's views on the project.
Dr Dave Britton, Collection Manager of Entomology has been the key player in providing digitisation staff and volunteers with the necessary knowledge, specimen handling skills and enthusiasm for the wonderful world of insects.
Dave, who has a PhD in Agricultural Entomology has lived on Australia’s East Coast and in Victoria working in the research field at different universities, specialising in entomology across a broad variety of disciplines. He started at the Museum in 2003 and his interests outside of work include parenting, mountain cycling, music, gardening, insect photography, and collecting around his home.
What are the benefits of the project to Entomology at the Museum?
“The Museum has a mandate to make information that is currently locked in the collection available to as many people as possible. We have been directly digitising the Collection for a long time before the project began, but the reality is that we do not have the staff resources to do as much as we would like. Within the Collection, we use digital records for a number of things, such as inventory, tracking internal specimen movements and external specimen loans. The digitisation project complements what we are doing already, and with a collection that contains over 4 million specimens it is helping get the information locked in there, out to our stakeholders.
What are the challenges you have experienced with the project?
“The principle one is having the specimens handled by volunteers who may not have any experience or skills to handle specimens that are often fragile. In itself, this creates a subset of what we can provide to the project … we have focused on the dry collection, which in turn is much smaller than the ethanol-preserved collection, so there is still a mountain of work to be done.
“Another challenge is providing sorted specimens with up to date and meaningful taxonomic information associated with them. Finding specimens that are physically suitable for handling by volunteers, and have good taxonomic data means that only a portion of the collection is currently suitable. What is required is added investment in planning and curation, which requires more money to pay qualified staff. I guess there is no such thing as a free lunch!”
“In terms of the data, there has been a lot of discussion about what do we do with the data when it is imported from the ALA on line volunteer portal project to our internal data base. With each stage, we are looking at it and refining our processes to make the system work for us.”
Will this project be useful for other Museums?
“Yes, I think so. There is a natural concern about handing specimens over to volunteers with no background in it. People who work with specimens are very fussy about the accuracy of information and there are examples elsewhere of shoddy information out there. Regular meetings to express any concerns helped sort out these issues on this project.”
DigiVol and Malacology
Dr Mandy Reid's experience with the DigiVol project.
Dr Mandy Reid, the current Collection Manager of Malacology (molluscs), first worked on polychaetes (marine worms) at the Australian Museum after completing a Bachelor of Science (Biology) at Macquarie University. Her early work at the museum fostered a love of scuba diving and exposed her to the amazing world of marine invertebrates. This led to a passion for cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish and octopuses) and postgraduate study researching the taxonomy of deep-sea Bottle-tailed Squid.
Later, Mandy switched to a completely different group and worked on terrestrial Velvet Worms for her PhD, but returned to her favourite sea creatures with subsequent employment at the Melbourne Museum working again with cephalopods. She is very happy to be back now at the Australian Museum.
Mandy is passionate about anything to do with marine life, which she enjoys professionally and is an interest that she also shares with her family.
What are the benefits of the DigiVol project to Malacology at the Museum?
‘Only about one-third of the Malacology Collection has been electronically data based as our resources are limited and it is one of the largest collections in the Museum. This project, with its group of skilled volunteers has helped us to make our collection information more widely available to the public, researchers and our stakeholders.’
‘DigiVol has taken a lot of worry from my shoulders because it has been handled so professionally and proficiently, requiring little input from already busy staff. I am really excited about the large number of specimen records that are now being added to our data base.’
What are the challenges you have experienced with the project?
‘As the Malacology collection is at different stages of curation (for all sorts of reasons and priority setting that has occurred over our 100+ years of history), some taxonomic groups are proving challenging for staff and volunteers. Getting data into a workable form in our data base is enormously helpful as it will make it so much easier to check and manipulate the data (such as updating taxonomy and so on) at a later stage. We are all learning together.’
Will this project be useful for other Museums?
‘Definitely, yes. All museums struggle with staff shortages and limited resources compared to the amount of work that needs to be done in maintaining our valuable collections and making the vast store of information held within them more widely available. Without the benefit of this project the thousands of records that have already been added by our DigiVol volunteer team would still be on our long ‘to do’ list’.