Friday, July 20 , 2018, 6:10 am | Overcast 66º


UCSB’s Cheadle Center Receives Grant to Digitize Specimens

UC Santa Barbara doesn't have a natural history museum, but the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER) comes close. Among other things, CCBER houses the campus's plant and vertebrate collections, which include some 120,000 individual specimens preserved and maintained for teaching and scientific research.

Now, with a one-year Museums for America grant awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, CCBER scholars will digitize more than 70,000 specimens in the center's vascular plant collection. The funds will be used to improve databasing workflows, increase efficiency and speed, and complete the data entry of the remaining 80 percent of specimens that have yet to be digitized.

A center under UCSB's Office of Research, CCBER has a long and venerable history. In 1945, a faculty member started the herbarium, a collection of preserved plant specimens used for research and for teaching. Another faculty member founded the vertebrate collection, which consists of thousands of mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles. In 1995, both collections came together under the umbrella of the Museum of Systematics and Ecology (MSE), which morphed into CCBER a decade later when MSE fused with the ecological restoration program.

"Formally, under our umbrella we have three major areas," said Jennifer Thorsch, the Katherine Esau Director of CCBER. "We have the ecological restoration arm, we have our education arm and we have the collections arm."

The IMLS grant required matching funds.

"We have had a generous donation from William and Mary Cheadle, the son and daughter-in-law of the former UCSB chancellor," Thorsch said. "The campus also provided additional matching support. These contributions were instrumental to CCBER receiving the grant."

Under current staffing, funding and data-entry protocols, it would take more than seven years to complete the databasing of the remaining specimens.

"Our challenge is to make the data available in the most timely way," said Laurie Hannah, CCBER's librarian and digital resources coordinator.

As project manager, Hannah will oversee an imaging technician and complete the post-processing of images and data capture of label information from herbarium sheets for addition to the database.

The herbarium houses each specimen on an acid-free paper sheet called a voucher. Each voucher consists of the preserved plant, sometimes a seed packet, and metadata about where the plant was found and in what type of habitat, the date it was collected and who collected it.

"Currently the way it works is, if somebody wants to look at specimens, they either formally ask for a loan to be sent to them or they come in here and ask for them to be pulled out of the cabinets and look at them here," Hannah said.

Using Specify database software, CCBER staff will take a digital image of each specimen, extract the data from the label and translate it into a text file using optical character recognition so that the information can be added to the database.

"By making our data accessible, we not only will increase the use of our collections, which will be really valuable," Thorsch said, "but will also allow scientists to examine the collection online and decrease the number of specimens we need to send out on loan."

The digitization of the CCBER vascular plant collection will give UCSB faculty, students, CCBER staff, environmental consultants and the general public access to the valuable and historically significant collection, while at the same time contributing to a larger worldwide effort to digitize millions of biological specimens as quickly and efficiently as possible. The project will also provide opportunities for student interns to learn new skills, increase their interest in the work and potentially pursue employment or advanced degrees in museum studies or collection management.

"I think our education component is unique in terms of our museum curatorial internships for undergraduates," Thorsch said. "We're in the formal planning stages of offering a museum curatorial course.

"A much bigger vision for us is to work with other departments on campus that have collections and perhaps with other organizations, such as the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History or the Santa Barbara Art Museum, to see if there might be interest and enough motivation to develop an undergraduate minor in museum studies."

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >