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European natural history specimen information network

Objective

Executive Summary (Database Report)
Museums and Botanical Gardens in Europe house, collectively, a wealth of material in their natural history collections. The central aim of the European Natural History Specimen Information Network was to enable the development of a shared, interoperable infrastructure of natural history specimen databases in European institutions across the Internet. The network, which was developed by seven partner institutions, has provided the potential for much wider access to large amounts of specimen data trapped in museums and herbaria.

More detailed aims and achievements can be seen on the dedicated website (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/science/enhsin). User needs for access to specimen data were addressed by means of a questionnaire. Software enabling access to sample databases was written and a prototype system is demonstrated on the ENHSIN website providing distributed access to seven databases. Close contact with other international technical forums was forged. Intellectual property issues, which have the potential to impede the free flow of information across the Internet, were assessed against current and varied institutional policies of the network members. Management issues for ENHSIN were explored developed and the aims and achievements of the network were promoted through the website, presentations, and written articles. ENHSIN will be greatly expanded in scope through other EU-supported projects, notably BioCASE (http://www.biocase.org/) and ENBI (http://www.faunaeur.org/enbi/info.html).

Objectives:
The central aim of the European Natural History Specimen Information Network is to enable the development of a shared, interoperable infrastructure of natural history specimen databases in European institutions. Although exciting developments have been made in producing frameworks for connecting global species databases (Species 2000) and for providing access to the wider content of European natural history collections (BioCISE), there is, at present, no corresponding approach to facilitate access to specimen data. ENHSIN is intended to fill this lacuna. Museums and Botanical Gardens in Europe house, collectively, a wealth of material in their natural history collections and in associated literature and archival data. These resources form the basis for the region's work on taxonomy - the classification of animals, plants, micro-organisms, fossils, and minerals.

Europe is the cradle of taxonomy: its institutions house specimens collected from before the time of Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), the founder of the subject, to the present day. Powerful personal computers have already been used to store large quantities of data within collections-based institutes, whether in the form of specimen ("unit") data, or "metadata" - such as names and numbers of species represented in particular collections. Computerisation of such data is very advantageous. First, it provides a resource for more effective management of collections. Second, it enables the information to be used in diverse analyses, as, for example, in assessing patterns of species descriptions through time and space. Furthermore, two key developments in Information Technology provide the potential for much wider access to data currently largely trapped within institutions. These developments are the growth of the Internet and the invention of software enabling users to "interoperate" across databases in a range of institutions. They will help to satisfy the growing need for access to information about the planet's living and mineral resources. Seven European organizations are involved in the initial phase of the project. Their aim is to create an operational system for what is hoped to evolve into a pan-European network. The partners will address such issues as defining data standards and assessing intellectual property restrictions. They will select or develop the most effective interoperability software to enable access to specimen databases. The question of broad user needs is being assessed from the very start of the project.

Funding Scheme

THN - Thematic network contracts

Coordinator

THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Address
Cromwell Road The Natural History Museum
SW7 5BD London
United Kingdom

Participants (6)

CONSEJO SUPERIOR DE INVESTIGACIONES CIENTIFICAS
Spain
Address
2,José Gutiérrez Abascal 2
28006 Madrid
FREIE UNIVERSITAET BERLIN
Germany
Address
6-8,Koenigin-luise-strasse 6-8
14191 Berlin
MUSEUM NATIONAL D'HISTOIRE NATURELLE
France
Address
Rue Cuvier 43
75005 Paris
ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS KEW
United Kingdom
Address
Kew
TW9 3AE Richmond
UNIVERSITEIT VAN AMSTERDAM
Netherlands
Address
Zoölogisch Museum Mauritskade 61
1090 GT Amsterdam
UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN
Denmark
Address
15,Universitetsparken 15
2100 Koepenhagen