The coronavirus lockdown has had a curious effect on the Australian Museum collections in Sydney.
- DigiVol was created in 2011 by the Australian Museum and Atlas Of Living Australia
- Institutions upload their collections and ask citizen scientists to help transcribe details
- Since the COVID-19 lockdown in March, two million transcriptions have been submitted
While the doors were shut and visitors were no longer able to see, say, a creepy crawly from 1929, the museum’s crowdsourcing website DigiVol exploded with volunteers.
DigiVol was developed by the museum in collaboration with the Atlas Of Living Australia to help it and other institutions worldwide digitise and analyse their collections.
Thousands of volunteers, or citizen scientists as they are sometimes called, have recorded information about collections ranging from specimen labels and scientific documents to images of animals captured by field cameras.
Since the website was launched in 2011, 4.4 million items from the museum and other institutions have been analysed by volunteers.
Two million of those have been submitted since March.
“People have more time on their hands with not being able to get out and about,” said Paul Flemons, creator and manager of DigiVol.
“It gives people something to do every day that is structured, particularly at this time during COVID-19.
“It’s something where they are interacting with other people and making a contribution.”
The highest number of transcriptions in a single month occurred in June, with more than 500,000 being completed.
Can you spot a dunnart?
In the first year of DigiVol, less than 100 citizen scientists took part.
Today, there is a global network of 7,522 volunteers aiding researchers and scientists with their work.
Expeditions or projects for which people can volunteer range from transcribing 1958 Finnish/Latin labels on botanical prints for the National History Museum of Utah, to one of the more popular activities — spotting animals in images captured by field cameras.
One such project is the Kangaroo Island Dunnart Survey, which asks volunteers to help record native and feral species in thousands of images.
Researchers are trying to understand survivor populations to aide the recovery effort following the summer bushfires.
“To see many of these animals, like marsupials which usually come out at night, is such an exciting thing,” Mr Flemons said.
“It’s a very rewarding thing to do.
“The number one importance is that they [citizens] are making a difference.”
More than a hobby
Volunteers like Ron Lovett have spent countless hours taking photographs of the Australian Museum’s specimens and transcribing information on the DigiVol website.
He is the longest serving volunteer and since 2011 has spent at least 10 hours a week working with the collections.
“What we do is aiding the scientist to do their work, and it means the specimens don’t have to be handled as much,” Mr Lovett said.
“All the notes and diaries taken by scientists back in the 1800s are there [online] now for people to study because they’ve been transcribed.”
Mr Lovett is one of the original 12 volunteers who signed up to digitise the museum’s collection nine years ago.
Eleven are still with the team, which now boasts 65 volunteers who go onsite to the museum each week to take photographs and upload them to DigiVol for analysis.
“I really enjoy it and I’ve really missed it because of the lockdown,” Mr Lovett said.