As part of International Open Data Day, the Natural History Museum is opening up its digital collections and research data through its new Data Portal. An increasing number of governments and publicly-funded organisations are committed to making data available for unrestricted use - Open Data. NHM supports this principle and its data are of particular value to scientific research on biodiversity, looking at changes of species over time and in geographical distributions, and predicting future trends. This is something of particular interest in the face of human pressures on the natural environment and the need for effective policy responses for a sustainable future.
The Portal provides a digital access point to over 2.7 million specimens in the Museum’s collection, as well as thousands of other records and datasets that enthusiasts can browse, download and reuse. The Data Portal also holds a growing and varied collection of research datasets, including the Museum's wildlife sound archives, checklists of British species, and even assembly instructions for a Lego device to manipulate pinned insects.
The Museum’s Vince Smith and Ben Scott created the system. Vince Smith said, “Data on the collection is one of our greatest assets. We wanted to expose the Museum’s data to our peers in a way that allows them to easily discover and reuse it.”
“The Data Portal will provide an archive for the hundreds of research datasets generated by museum scientists each year”, said Vince. “It also allows the Museum to contribute to global science initiatives, such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, who are aggregating all known data on the occurrence of species worldwide.”
The collection could once only be accessed when academics took the opportunity to visit the Museum in person. It is now accessible to anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world. Ben Scott said: "There is huge value in exposing this data to the world - we are excited to see what people use it for."
The Museum has over 300 Science staff, generating almost 1,000 scientific papers every year - these papers are now being presented as dynamic lists on the new staff biographies, which will link in coming months to a new NHM Open Repository for published materials. The new Data Portal will provide a platform for scientists to share the datasets that have been created alongside their studies.
Vince Smith said: “We hope that the Museum's open approach will further understanding of the natural world, and foster innovation allowing other scientists to test and build upon existing Museum research.”
Open Data Day brings people together around the world to use open public data in innovative ways: creating new approaches to visual presentation; doing analysis and research; and exploring new data products. It is part of efforts to support and encourage open data policies all around the world to open up access and increase benefits to all. As part of Open Data Day on 21 February 2015, Ben Scott will be attending the London outpost, and helping people use Museum data in their hackathons.