Harnessing the Power of Natural Science Collections

The UK’s museums and botanical gardens hold exceptional and diverse natural science collections ranging from insects to dinosaurs. The estimated size of this national collection is over 150 million objects.

These collections can be used to study millions of years of change to the earth and centuries of biodiversity, supporting research across a broad range of topics from human health and food security to ecology and conservation. Currently, most of this work is undertaken in person, requiring researchers to travel or for specimens to be shipped all over the world.

Digitisation is the process of converting physical information into a digital form. It has the potential to open up collections data to unlimited numbers of scientists, researchers and artists across the world, creating a sustainable, freely accessible resource. The digitisation process can be complex and will differ depending on the type of collections and the level of information that is available. Some UK organisations have already started to digitise collections, however the total scope of the task is enormous and requires significant investment.

A new programme, Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo UK), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, will begin to address the challenges of digitising UK collections. The first step is to understand the scale and nature of the collections of the UK digitisation community. The programme is already reaching out to collection holders to assess the type of collections, as specific methods are required to digitise different specimens.

Gallery Oldham’s natural history curator, Patricia, along with other natural history curators from Orkney in the north of the UK to Portsmouth in the south have taken part in the survey and recently have been submitting photographs for an on-line event next month. The event is for all UK natural history collection holders to be present to hear the outcomes of the scoping surveys completed last winter and discuss the next steps in the plans for a national digitisation programme. The images will be used in a short promotional film for the DiSSCo UK initiative, to promote this national digitisation programme.

Here are the images submitted by Gallery Oldham showing the diverse range of our collections:

Click here (opens in new tab) to take a look at natural science collection images submitted by other museums around the UK.

Gallery Oldham