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Index Herbariorum Upgrade: A Project to Improve Access to Information about the World’s Plant and Fungal Collections Assets

Barbara M. Thiers and Melissa Tulig

Scientists document the earth’s plant and fungal diversity through dried reference specimens maintained in collections known as herbaria. There are approximately 2,800 herbaria in the world today, associated with them are approximately 10,000 biodiversity specialists. Index Herbariorum, established in 1935, is a guide to the world’s herbaria and their staff. Accurate, comprehensive information about the holdings of the world’s herbaria make it easier for scientists to answer questions about the documentation of the world’s plant and fungal diversity, namely: How many species are represented in herbaria, and which areas of the earth are the best documented? Who are the experts in plant identification, and how can these be contacted? Facilitating access to and communication among herbaria will help to maintain the vitality and relevance of these institutions and ensure that they can continue to serve humankind. Index Herbariorum also serves as a model for how other natural history collections can create an inventory of their members and set up an effective collaborative network. An enhanced Index Herbariorum will empower countries such as the U.S. to better manage their collection repositories by providing insight into how collection resources and scientific expertise have developed over time, how they may change in the future. The project also offers a model for communication, coordination, and collaboration between museum institutions.

No other type of natural history collection has a resource that approaches Index Herbariorum in its longevity and comprehensiveness. The New York Botanical Garden has maintained this unique resource for the past 41 years. Originally published in book form, the index first became available as an on-line searchable database in 1997. Since then the database has been available as a read-only, online reference. Through this project, The New York Botanical Garden will make this already vital resource updateable by the user community, and more easily linked to other online databases. These changes will expand the accuracy, accessibility and sustainability of this resource and make it easier to maintain in the future. The activities that will be carried out to accomplish these goals include: (1) Adjusting the data structure of IH to bring it into compliance with the emerging Natural Collections Description standard and to increase the effectiveness of searching key data, and indicate the status of collection digitization efforts; (2) creating a new user interface that will allow users to input updates to the index that will be vetted then incorporated into the index; (3) seting up APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to the database so the data can be fed to other applications without human mediation; and (4) informing the user community about the new updating procedures, and mounting a campaign to update 80% of those entries that have not been updated since 2000.

More information:
Web site: Index Herbariorum