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The Field Museum Needs Your Help This Weekend To Catalog And Share Its Massive Collection

The effort is part of WeDigBio, where members of the public get to review Field specimens and enter information about them into an online database.

Through Sunday, the Field Museum will work with the public and other institutions to enter handwritten or typed specimen label information into online databases.
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CHICAGO — Chicago has more than a few new scientists heading out to the Field Museum this weekend. 

The Field Museum is participating in WeDigBio through Sunday. It’s a global event held annually where members of the public go online to review old labels on museum specimens and digitize them to make that information easier to use and access. For this year’s effort, the Field Museum is asking for help cataloging information on the museum’s ferns, lichens, mosses and fishes. 

Volunteer scientists will receive a tour of the museum’s collections via Zoom in exchange for their help.

“We’re digitizing as much of our collection as possible and putting things online so that they’re accessible to scientists, researchers, the general public, students [and] educators all around the world,” said Matt von Konrat, head of the Field Museum’s plant collections and one of the scientists leading this year’s event.

Participation in WeDigBio is open to anyone who can read and has a working internet connection. Those who register for the event online will have three-hour time slots during which they will catalog information. 

Ayesha Qazi, a science teacher at Northside College Preparatory High School, has her students participating in the event for class credit. Some local universities also have students participating. 

Von Konrat said one of the areas that needs addressing is label data that comes with an object or specimen. The labels were often written or typed onto paper labels decades ago; in most cases, this information hasn’t been entered into online databases, making it difficult to access, he said.

“We’re all working together as a community to help unlock a lot of this scientific information and help us with this bottleneck of transcribing label information,” he said.

Credit: Provided
The Field Museum only displays around one percent of the specimens and objects it has in its collection, the majority of which sport labels that will catalogued this weekend.

Online volunteers go through the old handwritten or typed labels and use the information on them to enter specimen data, such as names, into online forms and submit them during the WeDigBio event. The Field then shares its specimens and their information with institutes around the world.

Some of the specimens were collected as far back in the 1700s, which has allowed scientists to study changes over time and learn about climate change and species diversity, von Konrat said.

“When we can get together as a community and share all this information, especially on a global scale, that is obviously a lot more useful to scientists,” von Konrat said.

While the Field Museum’s WeDigBio effort will mostly be online, there will be small teams at the museum doing cataloging work in person.

The public only sees about 1 percent of the specimens, objects and information the Field Museum has — so events like WeDioBio allow the public to engage with science in a different way, von Konrat said.

It’s also important to break down the barriers the scientific community can have, letting the public see not only the value of science but also that everyone can be a scientist if interested, he said.

“No. 1, it serves as a way to engage the general public and connect with the general public, the significance of scientific research collections,” von Konrat said. “And No. 2, it encourages people of all backgrounds — families and all age groups — that you don’t have to have a Ph.D in biology and everyone can participate in our science.”

Those interested in participating in this year’s WeDigBio event can still register online.

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