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Connecting Content 

August 16, 2011

Connecting Content visits NightLife

This blog post was originally posted at From the Stacks: the Academy Library blog on July 21, 2011

Thursday night, July 14, was the Academy’s ‘Crafty’ themed NightLife which featured an array of booths from Bizarre Bazaar selling hand-made items from local artists. The Library and Archives had a chance to discuss Connecting Content, an IMLS grant-funded project, and to talk about collection theory, both historically and within contemporary situations. Of course, our visitors were enacting their own ‘collecting’ by selecting objects and purchasing them from the Bizarre Bazaar booths, perhaps adding these objects to what could be considered a collection at home on their walls, in their drawers, or even choosing to wear them.

There were two parts of this display. First, a table was set up next to the Project Lab that displayed Ole Worm’s (1588-1654) book Museum Wormianum, showing his “cabinet of curiosities” in Copenhagen, finches from the Galapagos Islands often referred to as “Darwin’s finches,” and a photograph of the 1905-06 Academy of Science Galapagos expedition team. Visitors approached this display and were given glimpses into why these people collected their specimens, with Project Manager Daina Dickman available to provide additional information. The second part to this display was the Collections Scanning Intern Stephanie Stewart-Bailey with a desk drawer full of ‘curiosities’ on loan from the Naturalist Center. She wandered around the museum floor having conversations with visitors and playing a guessing game of “what do you think this object is?” Through this display Stephanie hoped to introduce the idea to visitors that collecting occurs first due to curiosity.

This game fostered the idea that collectors found these animals and other such specimens, curious. The second step after noticing something was curious was to draw out further knowledge from them. Stephanie then showed the visitors the table with the Library and Archives display of examples of historic natural history collections.

By participating in NightLife, the Library and Archive’s Connecting Content project was shown directly to the public, initiating participatory discussions with visitors over collection theory and how some projects at the California Academy of Sciences deal with both historic and contemporary collecting methods.

–Stephanie Stewart-Bailey


Filed under: Fieldnotes,Interns,Specimens — ddickman @ 11:08 am

Connecting Content, Information Connections Research Update

This blog post was originally posted at From the Stacks: the Academy Library blog on July 18, 2011

Greetings from the nation’s capital! I have been working on the California Academy of Sciences Connecting Content project as the Information Connections Research Intern, based at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History. I have been conducting research for the past six weeks into the information connections between archival scientific field books, digitized scientific publications, and natural history specimen collections. I’d like to introduce the nature of the research I’m doing and report on some of my findings.

Field books containing specimen data and observations, publications resulting from formalized post-expedition research, and natural history specimen collection databases comprise an information relationship with multiple points of entry. The connective thread may be followed in any number of directions depending upon how the sources are cross-referenced. For example, a specimen number (“CAS 3156”) in a CAS Collection Database could be searched in JSTOR to see if it has been cited in a publication. Assuming it has been cited, one could proceed to search the collector’s field notebooks, to see if the same specimen is recorded in the field.

Galapagos Penguins. Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

I have discovered that beginning with the field book itself, surveying its format and contents for geographical location, dates, and presence of specimen numbers, followed by searching the relevant author or curator in JSTOR or the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) quickly narrows down whether there is a direct link between a scientific publication and an expedition field book. If such a link exists, then searching the relevant natural history specimen collection database for holdings which can be verified as the same specimens described in the original field book is the next step.

Of the different types of matches between these sources that arise through this research methodology, the three of greatest interest to the research goals of the project are the direct three-way match, the indirect three-way match, and the ambiguous possible three-way match. A direct three-way match describes an information relationship in which collected specimens are recorded with numbers in a field book, those same numbers, along with the same locations and dates, are cited in a digitized publication, and an institutional specimen collection database includes the same specimens, citing the original field book number.

To illustrate how that works, here is a selection from a yet to be digitized field book created by the 1905-06 Galápagos Expedition ornithologist, Gifford: “December 8 1905, Duncan (Pinzon) Island: Spheniscus mendiculus [1646]. I shot one in the forenoon which was swimming and diving about the little cove…”. The date, location and a specimen number are given in this primary collecting document. After a search of the BHL, a publication authored by Gifford titled The Birds of the Galapagos Islands describes the following encounter in his section on Spheniscus mendiculus, or Galápagos penguin, as having occurred on December 8 1905:

Giffords Publication

The specimen number has a prefix CAS, referring to its number in the California Academy of Sciences Ornithology Collections. One of the frequent complications in my information connections research is keeping track of individual collector numbering systems and the numbering systems of the institutions that later accession the specimens. Luckily, the collection databases at times do an excellent job of preserving the original collector specimen number along with its number in the scope of all CAS bird specimens.

CAS Ornithology Collections Screen Shot Gifford

Since Giffords’ number 1646 is traceable with geographic and location verification from the field book, to a publication, to a collection database, it represents the information relationship I have termed a direct three-way match. As you may guess, things do not often line up quite this nicely, and the indirect three-way matches, ambiguous possible matches, and nil matches are much more frequent occurrences. However, that the life of a collecting event on an expedition over 100 years ago is traceable via modern technological tools is an exciting development in the use of primary sources in the sciences, and as more of these field books are cataloged and digitized this rich connective information will be integrated smoothly into biodiversity research.

- Richard Fischer, Information Connections Research Intern


Filed under: Fieldnotes,Interns — ddickman @ 11:06 am

Welcome to Richard and Stephanie, our summer Connecting Content interns

This blog post was originally posted at From the Stacks: the Academy Library blog on June 13, 2011

We are very excited to welcome the new Summer Connecting Content interns to the California Academy of Sciences. Although we are sad to see our Fall intern Josh Roselle leave, he has produced a great foundation for our incoming interns to build on.

Our Information Connections intern is Richard Fischer. Although his internship is with the California Academy of Sciences he will be working at our partner site, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. and will be focused on establishing appropriate connections between digitized field books, natural history specimens and the published literature in the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Richard Fischer graduated from the Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, City University of New York, in May 2011 with a Master of Library Science degree and a Certificate in Archives and Preservation of Cultural Materials. While working on his degree, Richard interned at the Louis Armstrong House Museum Archives, the New-York Historical Society Library Manuscript Division, and the American Museum of Natural History Research Library Special Collections and Archives. He was a Queens College Libraries Special Collections Fellow for the 2010-2011 academic year. Richard holds a BA in English from Rutgers University.

Our Collections Scanning intern is Stephanie Stewart Bailey. She will be working at the California Academy of Sciences and focusing on digitizing fieldnotes and specimens from the 1906/06 Galapagos exhibition for our pilot project.

Stephanie is an interdisciplinary artist pursuing a master’s thesis in museum studies, integrating art with science. Interested in the reuse of museum space through the representation of the physical human body, she strives to make museums accessible to everyone by the means of artistic installations and spaces like the Project Lab at the Academy of Sciences. By holding an internship with the Connecting Content team, she hopes to make connections with dedicated science professionals to further investigate the natural world with hands on experience. She is also excited to investigate possible educational strategies by interpreting this project for the public, through the glass wall of the Project Lab.
With a fascination for the natural world, Stephanie collects specimen from birds to insects and fossils, to incorporate in her artistic process. She holds a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in photography and performance art and has worked at the Smithsonian and Göteborg Natural History Museums, and at the International Museum of Surgical Science, Chicago. She is currently a Museum Studies Graduate Student from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. You can see some of her recent thesis work in natural history museums at http://thebodyappropriate.tumblr.com/

Daina Dickman, Project Manager


Filed under: Interns — ddickman @ 11:04 am

Galapagos Islands 1905-1906 Digitization Project Update: Imaging Finch Specimens

This blog post was originally posted at From the Stacks: the Academy Library blog on May 12, 2011

I am almost at the end of my 16-week internship at the Academy Library, and I am excited to have started imaging finch specimens. This is part of the Connecting Content project, which has been made possible with grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This project involves digitizing and providing access to expedition field notes and avian specimens from a 1905-1906 expedition to the Galapagos Islands. At the end of the project the finch specimen images will be available through the Encyclopedia of Life.

During the first few months of the project I worked on digitizing the expedition field notes while we prepared for imaging the finches. A lot of planning and experimenting had to be done before we could begin, and I learned a lot along the way.

The finch collection from this expedition consists of over 4,000 specimens; this includes numerous species collected from many of the islands in the Galapagos Archipelago. Before beginning this project, the project staff had to figure out how we would select the 1,000 specimens that will be imaged as our sample from this collection.

Through our selection process we want to provide researchers and users with a balanced and deep collection, so we are imaging a proportional sample of each species, including an equal sampling of male and female specimens, from every island where they were collected.

One of the goals of this project is to provide researchers with the ability to view these images online and conduct research remotely, so it was important that we considered image quality, camera angles, and image uniformity. After discussions with staff scientists and researchers we are taking six images of each specimen, from different points of view. This includes shots of the ventral (belly), dorsal (back), lateral (side), and head/beak of the finches, as well as the front and back sides of the collection tags. The collection tags are important as they contain information such as the genus, species, collection date, specimen number, and the island where they were collected.

The bird specimens must be handled carefully. Although they are quite rigid, some parts of them may break or come off with rough or excessive handling, particularly their feathers and legs. Each specimen is gently placed on a uniform background with a ruler and a color bar before the photograph is taken. The color bar allows us, as well as the user, to gauge color representation and accuracy.

The camera that we are using for this part of the project is a Canon E05 5D with a 50mm lens. It creates highly detailed and crisp images. One can zoom in and view incredible detail, including individual strands of feathers, and even dandruff particles. The camera is attached to a custom-built mount, and is affectionately known as “the Big Kahuna.” This equipment was provided by Academy curator of Herpetology Bob Drewes. You can read about his ongoing work teaching about and studying the incredible biodiversity of Sao Tome and Principe on his blog.

It has been fun and a great learning experience to work on this project. Although my internship is coming to an end in a couple of weeks, I am certain you will be hearing more about the progress of this exciting project from the staff and other interns over the next couple of years.

Josh Roselle


Filed under: Digitization,Fieldnotes,Interns,Specimens — ddickman @ 11:02 am

Connecting Content: Galapagos Islands 1905-1906 Expedition Field Notes Digitization, Project Update

This blog post was originally posted at From the Stacks: the Academy Library blog on March 24, 2011

Since my last blog post I have finished scanning the field notes of Alban Stewart, the expedition botanist, and I have moved on to Washington Ochsner’s geology field notes. The pages are unbound and very brittle, so I have to be quite gentle with them and handle them as little as possible.

During the year the expedition was in the Galapagos, the scientists went to several islands multiple times. It seems that after the expedition these notes were reordered by island, so I check closely while scanning to make sure that the pages are not out of place.

Ochsner’s geology journal is divided into four sections:

The first, and largest section, is comprised of notes and general observations. It describes geological formations, strata, and rock composition. In this section he often describes a formation or an island’s origin, and explains how it may relate to other islands in the Galapagos chain. This section also contains interesting figures and maps to help visualize the descriptions. The maps and figures show rock strata and geological formations— such as lakes, cliffs, craters, and volcanic formations—with numbers or alpha-notations connecting features to the notes. These have been some of my favorite parts of the notes. I enjoy cartography, particularly old maps, and it is fascinating to read through Ochsner’s notes and connect them to his drawings.

Ochsner called the second section “occasional ideas.” These seem to be general thoughts that did not fit in with the notes on specific islands. It also contains citations for literature related to his observations.

The third section is a rock specimen catalog. This section contains a list of rock specimens Ochsner, and other members of the expedition, collected on the various islands. He assigned the specimens a unique catalog number and also a number relating to where they were found.

The final section consists of photograph metadata. This is descriptive information that corresponds to images taken during the expedition.

I am almost finished digitizing Ochsner’s field notes, and, after receiving further training with the imaging hardware and software, I will probably begin taking high resolution digital images of finch specimens. It should be lots of fun!

Josh Roselle


Filed under: Digitization,Fieldnotes,Interns — ddickman @ 10:59 am

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