Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 2:30 PM
A WEB-CENTRIC APPROACH FOR SHARING PALEONTOLOGY COLLECTIONS DATA
Museum collections are the foundation of paleontology, but because many natural history museums have small budgets and huge collections, museum scientists are challenged to make these critical data current and available to the public. Advances in information technology have revolutionized how museums collect and share information, making distributed collaboration using multi-tier web applications a possible solution to this challenge. In the Department of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (LACMIP) we have developed such a database system using established web application protocols (http://ip.nhm.org/ipdatabase). This system presently contains information for over 30,000 fossil localities, 180,000 specimens (including over 10,000 type and figured specimens) as well as locality maps and specimen images when available. Users can view the database via a simple interface designed for any standards-compliant web browser. Registered users can also add information and update records as stratigraphic and taxonomic concepts change. The goal is to establish two-way communication between our database and a broad community of users wherein the museum shares its collections and information, and in return users contribute new data acquired in using the collections. The LACMIP system is designed so that information can be added but is never deleted, and contributors are credited by name. For example, specimen lots can be associated with multiple taxonomic determinations allowing for differences in taxonomic practice and opinion. As an initial step to building links with other systems, we have developed a simple interface whereby each locality, specimen lot, type specimen, and image in our system can be found at an easy-to-read web address. This alternate interface for browsing our database can be cited in online publications. Because our database can be structured as a collection of links, it can be searched using standard web search engines. As data exchange standards become accepted, such links can be used to create meta-databases that could become global networks of collections, taxonomic, stratigraphic, and publications databases.