The DigiVol blog series features stories about our Volunteer Digitisation program that includes the DigiVol Lab and the Biodiversity Volunteer Portal (BVP).

Learn more about our growing community of citizen scientists at the Australian Museum

Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are considered to be notable citizen scientists in history. The Australian Museum through its DigiVol program is facilitating the development of citizen scientists of all ages, building a community that is making a significant contribution to collection management and biodiversity knowledge.

The Volunteer Digitisation program, which started in 2011, is an innovative and successful example of citizen science that engages the community by inviting them in to work on digitising the collections of the Australian Museum. DigiVol and BVP volunteers play a role that complements the work of Museum staff and research scientists.

DigiVol volunteers process image specimens and labels in the lab which are then transcribed by virtual volunteers on the BVP before being imported into the Museum database by staff and made available on websites to a wider audience. They add considerable value to the digitisation of our vast Collections as the Australian Museum has scarce resources to do this time consuming work.

DigiVol and BVP have a core group of committed volunteers who facilitate a broader appreciation and understanding of the Museum to the wider community. In turn, DigiVol provides valuable knowledge, skills and training in collections based activities for volunteers, including university students or those seeking work related employment who often request references from the Digitisation Officers.

Three of the Collections that have opened their doors to our citizen scientists are Archives and Records, Malacology and Entomology. In 2011, Dr David Britton, Entomology Collection Manager said that ‘Within the Collection, we use digital records for a number of things, including inventory, track 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.’

Vanessa Finney, Manager of Archives and Records commented that ‘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...The transcripts are widening access and creating a link with the world outside our collections.’

And the last word goes to two of our enthusiastic citizen scientists who commented that:

‘My skills are improving in taking good images. It can be a real challenge handling specimens when they are old and brittle. It is fun reading the labels to see where they have been collected and sometimes, we can relate to the collection location information and dates. It is interesting to find a collector that has collected the same species of moths for so many years… true dedication.’

‘Knowing that the archival material is so precious, it is a privilege to see the Museum registers up close and to have responsibility for handling them with care. I am learning new interesting facts about our environment.’