Thursday, 1 November 2012

And so what.......?

Ahead of a JISC Content Programme 2011-13 meeting in Bristol on 9th November 2012, we have been asked consider the “value” of our project –“and so what?”

British palaeontologists have been active since the early days of the subject, and the great range of rock types present in Britain has resulted in large collections of type fossils (the reference specimen(s) that define species and subspecies) in many of the museums across the country. The Museum of Practical Geology, Jermyn Street, London (1851 – 1935) was one of such museums.

 Museum of Practical Geology, Jermyn Street, London

The project has involved the location and digitising (high-resolution images, stereo-anaglyphs, 3D digital models and locality / taxonomic metadata) of type fossil specimens in the partner institution collections, and at numerous other museums around the country. We have produced thousands of good quality photographs of type specimens, and already many hundreds of 3D digital models. We have improved the quality of much of the specimen metadata and have imaged many of the specimen labels. Making this information available through the web to the world is the natural extension of the work that museums have always done.

The project will ensure that palaeontologists working anywhere in the world can easily and rapidly track down the type specimens they need to view. This will improve their efficiency and the quality of their research. In some cases, the images and digital models will be sufficient, thus reducing personal travel or risk to specimens while being accessed and loaned. Type specimens underpin taxonomy, and without a consistent, accurate taxonomy, studies of biodiversity are impossible. This is particularly important now that we are relating changes in biodiversity to changes in climate.

The images and models are also being used in the development of OERs, which will hopefully inspire not only the next generation of palaeontologists, but also the public at large. There could even be many parents, grateful that their children have collections of virtual fossils, rather than dusty rock-filled shoeboxes under their beds.....