Natural History Collections Club's Invertebrate Transcription Event

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 14:30 -- Elaine Tan

NHCC members hunkered down in the CCBER Library to transcribe data, powered by snacks, drinks, and music. 

On February 24th, the Natural History Collections Club (NHCC) met at the library at CCBER to take part in an event they called "Let'sDigBio". The event attracted participants from many different disciplines to get around 500 specimens from the existing UCSB Invertebrate Zoology Collection transcribed! This event was in the spirit of annual transcription events such as WeDigBio, where participants from all over the world across various natural history collections get together to transcribe data. Due to these efforts, millions of museum specimens are now available on the internet for researchers and the public to use from anywhere in the world. 

NHCC's digitization event attracted nine students from different disciplines, from Environmental Studies to Political Science to Art. Lunch, snacks, and drinks were provided to help them power through database entries to the background noise of music and chatter. Participants brought their own laptops, and were free to come and go during the 5-hour event. CCBER Director Katja Seltmann and Collections Staff Rachel Behm were also present and assisting with transcription as they sorted and entered invertebrate specimens into the database.

The event focused on the UCSB Invertebrate Zoology Collection (IZC), an invertebrate database mostly containing insects which is in the process of being imaged and uploaded to CCBER's in-house online collections database, Symbiota ( For many specimens, this image is all that is currently in the database. After a Symbiota account was created and approved for them, it was the task of the NHCC members that day to transcribe the data from the labels in the picture into a rather intimidating input form, so it could be searched by the information in the label text. 

Left: The homepage of Symbiota, CCBER's in-house online database system. Right: The input field for editing existing occurrence records. 

"Databasing" a specimen involves having a picture of both the specimen and the labels containing data associated with the invertebrate's collection event and identification. Collection event data includes method of collection, date and location of specimen when it was found, precise GPS coordinates if available, and collector. Specimens are not always identified, or are identified only broadly by the collector; once it is entered into the collections, staff can narrow down the identification to genus or species using identification guides and dichotomous keys. A unique QR barcode is added with the specimen's code in the database for ease of finding, no matter the level of identification or transcription done, as the specimen's code will remain live. 

There was quite a wide range of specimens. On top of having historical donations with the death of old entomologists, CCBER regularly receives student donations of specimens from UCSB's Invertebrate Zoology class (EEMB116). This led to one student transcribing label data from a cat flea (Ctenocephalides felisfound in 2016 in downtown Santa Barbara's Cat Hotel, at the same time a terrestrial isopod (familiy Porcellionidae) from Corsica in 1985 France was being databased (which I can only now search and link due to their data being transcribed in the event). 

In the end, 480 specimens were transcribed by volunteers that day, out of about 2100 that needed transcription. Behm entered and partially transcribed an additional 70 specimens during the event, bringing the total transcribed to 550. Behm has also previously spearheaded much of the imaging of the IZC. Currently, the online IZC stands at 3,929 total specimen records, 3,836 (98%) having images and 310 (8%) identified to species. 

CCBER staff and NHCC members winding down near the end of the event. 

Thanks to the NHCC organizers Vicky Chan and Grace Rosburg who helped create the event. To learn more about digitizing events like these held worldwide, check out!

Sunday, February 25, 2018 - 19:45