The team leader story

Read about the experiences of team leaders in establishing a volunteer digitisation project.

Paul Flemons, Australian Museum

Paul Flemons, Manager of Collection Informatics Unit, has been the key driver in delivering the innovative digitisation project with a large group of skilled volunteers at the Australian Museum (AM).

Paul, who has post graduate qualifications in Applied Science (Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems), specialised in the application of spatial analysis in conservation planning and land management before starting at the AM 13 years ago where he has combined the spatial analysis specialisation with biodiversity informatics. Paul has many interests and passions including parenting, cycling, dancing, bushwalking, gardening, and medium sized adventures, eg collecting insects whilst camel trekking in the Simpson Desert.

How did this project eventuate?
“The idea of having volunteers digitising collections is not new. Volunteers have been databasing specimen records for collection managers for many years.

“The initial concept that lead to this project  arose about three years ago when exploring how the AM might better leverage volunteers in a more systematic approach to digitising our collections. Several staff including John Tann and John Gollan were very helpful in assisting me to develop the concepts and test them.

“We developed the concept of imaging the specimens and labels first and when the possibility of Atlas of Living Australia (Atlas) funding became available we refined the concept into the kernel of what has now been implemented through the efforts of a fabulous team made up of Rhiannon, Leonie, and Michael in collaboration with Dave Britton and his entomology staff.”

What have been the challenges of getting the digitising project established at the Museum?
“There have been many challenges over the years but there are four key challenges I would like to mention:

  • Funding—in the current climate getting funding for digitising is very difficult; so securing funding to employ the coordinators was the impetus the project needed to get up and running. The Atlas’s funding was most appreciated.
  • Fear of the unknown—because this approach had never been tried before museum staff were nervous about potential damage  to specimens.
  • Closing the data loop—a big challenge with this approach is the transcription of the data labels and the importing of that data into our collection database, EMu. It has been a slow and methodical process but we now have a process for closing the loop.
  • Getting space and equipping the lab. Space in the museum is at a premium so getting hold of the large room we now have was great. The museum, from management , through to IT and  building services  has been great in helping us establish the lab.”

Where to from here?
“We are moving into a consolidation phase of the project by ensuring that the quality of the work is maintained at a high standard. We need to close the data loop effectively and efficiently and maximise data quality. We will continue to work with the Entomology collection but also extend to Malacology and Cultural Collections. To date, we have been working with dry collections and in the future, we will include wet collections which will require new techniques. We have sufficient funding until October 2012, after which we hope to secure ongoing funding for the project.”

Story by Leonie Prater