Our DigiVol Staff

 Who is the DigiVol team?

Phyllotocus ruficollis

Phyllotocus ruficollis
Photographer: Anne Brophy © 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.

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 3 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 ALA 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 4 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 ALA’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 Entomology 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.”

Leonie Prater and Rhiannon Stephens have worked part time on the Digitisation Project since March 2011. The success of the initial trial digitisation project led to the employment of Leonie and Rhiannon who have recruited and trained a skilled group of volunteers to handle and digitise specimens and archival material in the Digitisation Laboratory.

Leonie, who was a volunteer on the trial project before working in this position has worked in a range of strategic planning and project management positions and has post graduate qualifications. Rhiannon, who has Applied Science qualifications worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens Herbarium on the Australian Virtual Herbarium project which she really enjoyed. In her spare time, Leonie likes to sail, travel, read, hike, go to theatre and listen to music while Rhiannon enjoys jewellery making, reading and going to the beach with her children.

What have been the key challenges in establishing the project?
“A key challenge was developing a strategic project framework and implementation plan which had realistic timeframes to furnish and equip an old storage lab into a fully functioning laboratory with five digitisation workstations and up to 10 trained and skilled volunteer digitisers.
There has been a strong emphasis on documentation of the project as it is seen to be cutting edge here in Australia. Other cultural institutions, which may not have the same level of infrastructure, staffing and volunteers can access and adapt the range of documentation, including volunteer induction and training tools to meet their requirements.
Providing a fun learning environment for volunteers is critical to ensure that volunteers remain interested and committed to spending a day a week on this project. Volunteers have been provided with a comprehensive induction and training session to become skilled and confident digitisers who handle valuable specimens and archival material.
We had to develop a good understanding of and appreciation of the culture and pressures that collections management and staff deal with on a daily basis as their support of this project is only one small part of their work”.

What have been your key achievements in the position?
“The project would not exist without having a skilled group of volunteers and over the last 6 months, it has been wonderful to see the lab gradually filled with people from different walks of life who are passionate about their work and receive acknowledgement for their contribution to the Museum.
An extension of ALA funding for the project was a significant achievement as it demonstrated that the funding body supported the key strategic directions of the project and its application to the wider communities”.

Rhiannon Stephens , Digitisation Project Officer
Last Updated: