Saturday 28 March 2009

On Bees

I have recently been working on a potentially very interesting little project. The Index to the Pittioni Bee Collection may not sound like cutting edge entomology, but there is a lot of information locked up inside the three maroon boxes it resides in. Among this information is some important information on pollinators.

One of the problems is that the hundreds of record cards, many of them with 10s of individual records, are at the Natural History Museum, London. They are also hand-written in what is often illegible (at least to me) handwriting. Digitising these records is the obvious solution - but how to go about it?

First of all the cards were quickly scanned using a ScanSnap Scanner - a process that I managed in slightly over a morning.

Currently I am going through the cards, rotating a few where the ScanSnap orientated them incorrectly and removing any images of cards with no relevant data. This process is being done in a Scratchpad. The site is online, but the content is currently restricted. Once unwanted images have been removed we will make the images available for anybody to view - a relatively minor piece of what Rod Page would probably call silo-breaking.

We then plan to develop a method for transcribing the cards within the website. This will allow interested parties to develop the images into a fully searchable databse of the index, increasing its usefulness dramatically in the process. This would essentially be crowd-sourcing in a similiar to Amazon's Mechanical Turk - but with the only payment being a more useful resoruce for everybody.

Since starting this Paul Williams at the Natural History Museum (the Bumblebee man) alerted me to some webpages he has placed on the NHM website - there's some very interesting information in here, it's well worth a read.

I have also noticed a few articles about bees in the press, one tells the tale of a beekeeper murdering a rival over honey. The rest I will save for another post!


Eric Heupel said...

Excellent solution!
I know I would love to tackle a card or two (crazy I know) My son enjoyed the British National Archives exhibit on writing through the years and the issues they have to deal with in deciphering the written records of the past... Palaeography.

Ed said...

Thanks for the offer!

I'll post here when we've got that facility working.