FAIR Digital Object and Natural Science Collections data

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01 October 2020 1995 reads

DiSSCo adopts the RDA Recommendations on Virtual Layers, Basic Vocabularies and Metadata Standards for Attribution of Physical and Digital Collections Stewardship.

The Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo) is a new world-class Research Infrastructure (RI) for natural science collections -- collections hosted in natural history museums, botanic gardens, universities and other research centres. 


The challenge

Approximately 3 billion specimens are stored by the world’s natural science collections. These objects have lifespans of decades and often, several hundreds of years, and provide essential resources for documenting and understanding our natural world. They  are increasingly used by researchers from a variety of disciplines. Despite increasing digitisation and accelerated pace of data collection, access to specimen data remains inefficient and inadequate to address complex research questions. The data derived from and linked to these specimens need to be easily findable, accessible, adhere to open standards so they are interoperable, and be marked up with enough additional information to make them widely reusable. 


The RDA outputs adopted: 

One of the key elements of DiSSCo’s data infrastructure design is the ‘Digital Specimen’ -- a FAIR Digital Object acting as a digital representation on the Internet for a specific physical specimen in a collection. The ideas for the Digital Object as an element in a data infrastructure was proposed in the output on virtual layer recommendations by the Data Fabric IG and in the basic vocabulary from the Data Foundation and Terminology WG


Through adopting FAIR Digital Objects for Digital Specimens the digital representations of physical specimens can be treated as atomic items that need individual identification to avoid ambiguity and to collect and anchor core information about the specimens in one place. A FAIR Digital Objects architecture also enables one to attribute work and track provenance in the curation and maintenance of the individual objects. We have chosen to adopt the output from the joint RDA/TWDG metadata attribution WG because recording actions of human and machine agents during data curation and processing phases is essential to FAIR implementation. The joint RDA/TDWG Attribution Metadata Working Group: Final Recommendations, which uses W3C’s PROV data model, makes it easy to implement this in the FAIR Digital Object context as it allows capturing attributions in a standard way to be part of the Digital Specimen data when different operations are performed in multiple contexts.


The impact of the adoption: 

When digitising natural science collections, a clear link must be made between the physical specimen itself and the information digitally representing the specimen. This representation needs to be uniquely identifiable and findable and also have some descriptive metadata to assist the discovery and verification of the object. DiSSCo expects that adopting the Digital Object Architecture recommended by RDA, and treating Digital Specimens as the core element in the architecture will lead to transformations in working practices of collections-based science. One of these transformations is the implementation of improved attribution and provenance tracking in all parts of the data management cycle for specimens, enabled by the adoption of the metadata standards for attribution of physical and digital collections stewardship recommendation. Sharif Islam and Wouter Addink, RDA Europe ambassador for the natural sciences (Naturalis)


Read the full Adoption Story here >>


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