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Upcoming Transcription Training Workshop

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Friday, December 20, 2019

What is natural history transcription? How does it help the natural sciences and specifically the ANHC? If you’ve been asking these questions or similar ones, then the Notes from Nature Training Workshop in January 2020 is meant for you.

Natural history transcription is the act of transcribing information from natural history specimens, herbarium specimens, or other physical records into a digital format. For example, a participant reads the label on an herbarium specimen and types the information into a database. The information is verified and then compiled into a searchable online database that can be accessed by scientists, historians, or individuals anywhere in the world.

One such transcription project is Notes from Nature (NfN), a project supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). NfN has organized digitization efforts into “expeditions” that individuals can choose to join. According to NfN, there are approximately 10 billion specimens housed in natural history museums around the world. Specimen labels usually include species information, location of the collection, and the date of the collection. However, most of these labels are handwritten or typed and are not available in a central location or searchable.

In addition to safely storing and safeguarding specimens, the information will now be readily available to people who cannot physically visit the place where the records are stored. As mentioned in the December 2018 ANHC Natural News article "ANHC Herbarium digitization underway" the digitization of herbarium records is revolutionizing our knowledge of the flora of the state and region. Before digitization, the only way to know what was in most collections was to travel to the collection site and physically go through its cabinets. Few institutions had databases (or even lists) of what was in their holdings, even though some of the larger collections have hundreds of thousands or even millions of specimens. It would take weeks to comb through that sort of volume, and all that handling can be damaging to the specimens.

The information from natural history specimens is vital to science, providing baseline data for where individual species have occurred over time, understanding historic ecosystem composition, and tracking changes in species numbers and locations over time. Transcription projects have the overall goal of digitizing all of the information from all collections throughout the world. The only way to do so is to transcribe one record at a time, bringing scientists closer to filling in the gaps in our knowledge of our world. Each transcribed record completes another part of that puzzle.

The ANHC has been co-hosting herbarium transcription events with partners at Arkansas State University, the University of Arkansas, and Arkansas Master Naturalists throughout the year in order to train more people in transcription. These events bring together herbarium curators, botanists, students, and other interested individuals and provide on-site training in transcription. After the events, volunteers are able to continue the effort from their own computer, continuing to contribute to the transcription project.

“Notes from Nature Training Workshop,” the next workshop co-hosted by the ANHC, University of Arkansas Herbarium, and Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists, is scheduled for Friday, January 3, 2020 at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Participants will learn to transcribe herbarium label data using the NfN web interface. A computer will be provided for each attendee during the workshop. No previous experience or special skills are needed to participate. There are two sessions available – from 9 a.m. to noon and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Space is limited and registration is required. Please email Jennifer Ogle at [email protected] to register. Participants will be sent detailed parking instructions and directions to the workshop location.


Top - Various herbarium specimens and tags arranged by Jennifer Ogle.

Middle - ANHC Herbarium volunteer and Central Arkansas Master Naturalist, Angela Corlett entering herbarium specimen data into a database. In March 2019 Angela was recognized by NfN for completing the one-millionth transcription.

Bottom - Arkansas State University (ASU) students and Northeast Arkansas Master Naturalists at the Life Science computer lab at ASU during the recent WeDigBio transcription event.


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