The Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) is a five-year national initiative funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to support the development of a new, sustainable community of practice that will ensure that all U.S. biodiversity collections are digitally available for research, education, informed decision-making, and other scholarly and creative activities.
BCoN is the official Web site for the project and has been designed to support the development of a new networked, user community. This site has also been designed to allow all interested parties to review and comment on documents and programs developed by the project. So, we hope that you will create a profile and contribute to this national initiative.
It has been widely reported (Manyika et al., 2011; Davenport et al., 2012; Mayer-Schönberger & Cukier, 2013) that society is on the threshold of a new era of “Big Data” in which new technologies will be used to mine and rapidly analyze data on a vast scale. Such technologies are yielding impressive results that inform scientific, commercial, public health, and policy decisions (e.g., Onnela et al., 2007; Ginsberg et al., 2009; Reshef et al., 2011; Hanken 2013). The biocollections community has yet to fully realize the implications and benefits of this emergent field of data analysis. Biocollections in the United States are the result of nearly 250 years of scientific investigations, discovery, and inventories of living and fossil species from around the world. Scientists have amassed, annotated, and curated more than one billion specimens in more than 1600 institutions across the United States (AIBS, 2013). These specimens and their associated data are heavily used for research and education. But if the totality of the collections’ data could be accessed and mined online, the benefits to the environment, public health, food safety, commerce, and national security communities will be transformative.
In recent years, the scientific community has developed a national strategy for a Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance (2010) to establish a framework for leveraging the wealth of resources represented by the nation’s biocollections through digitization of specimens and associated metadata, creating a massive, distributed tool for addressing grand challenges across a wide range of scientific endeavor. The creation of the National Science Foundation, Biological Sciences Directorate program “Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections (ADBC)” in 2010 addressed certain aspects of this strategy, including (1) the creation of a national coordinating center (iDigBio) for data produced through digitization efforts supported by ADBC or other NSF programs such as Collections Support for Biological Research and (2) a mechanism for funding digitization focused around specific research questions. However, this program is designed to get the specimens digitized and does not address many issues critical to the creation of an all-inclusive and sustainable national infrastructure for digitization and data access.
In September 2012, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) convened a meeting of biocollections digitization stakeholders to create an Implementation Plan for NIBA. The biocollections community identified and included in the plan six goals necessary for the successful implementation of a NIBA.
Goal 1: Establish an organizational and governance structure that will provide the national leadership and decision-making mechanism required to implement the national strategy.
Goal 2: Advance engineering of the U.S. biodiversity collections cyberinfrastructure to support efficient workflows, innovative research, effective policy, and educational engagement.
Goal 3: Enhance training of existing collections staff and create the next generation of biodiversity information managers.
Goal 4: Increase buy-in and participation from a broader range of stakeholders.
Goal 5: Establish an enduring and sustainable knowledge base.
Goal 6: Infuse specimen-based learning and exploration into formal and informal science education.
This plan now needs to be assessed as to its utility for sustainability and use by a broad community of researchers and applied uses such as land management, conservation, agriculture, and public health; none of whom are currently working together to reach this goal of a long term resource for digitized collections data. The final resource will foster the development of a new national community dedicated to collections digitization and the creation and maintenance of the sustainable infrastructure necessary to support delivery and use of these data.