The accelerated loss of biodiversity, the "Biodiversity Crisis", is one of the leading environmental and social issues of the 21st century. Although natural biological diversity is fundamentally important to a healthy and sustainable planet, responses to the crisis have suffered from incomplete information and inadequate policies for sustainable use of natural resources. Information relevant to addressing the impact of declining biodiversity is housed within the nation's natural history and related biosystematic collections, but is inaccessible to most researchers and policy makers. The National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections (Integrated Digitized Biocollections; iDigBio) was established to develop an integrated national infrastructure for digitization of existing biodiversity collections in the U.S. The iDigBio project team and infrastructure provides leadership, facilitates communication, and coordinates digitization and educational activities at TCNs (thematic collections networks) and many other biocollections throughout the U.S. Through iDigBio, data for millions of biological specimens are being made publically available in electronic format via customized cloud computing. Diverse data, such as taxonomy, geographic location, 2- and 3-dimensional images, vocalizations, and molecular resources, are tied to the specimens themselves. These data promote integrative biodiversity research on living and fossil species and provide an immense baseline for assessing the impacts of climate change, invasive species, and other environmental issues. The iDigBio project is thus changing the culture of the biocollections community to make digitization become a standard practice through new technologies, techniques, training, and standards of operation.
The iDigBio project serves several target audiences and stakeholders, including the biological research community, young biologists entering the profession, non-federal agencies, and the general public. These audiences are being engaged through diverse activities, including workshops, small focus groups, training sessions, symposia at professional meetings, on-line webinars, and related e-learning opportunities developed via the iDigBio web-site. University students are learning about, and are engaged in, this national digitization effort via courses, seminars, mentoring, online resources, and individual research. Graduate student assistantships and young faculty sabbaticals supported by iDigBio are broadening representation and diversifying the professional workforce. The iDigBio web-site, newsletter, and exhibits communicate advances, discoveries and opportunities to the public. The goals, activities, outputs, and outcomes of iDigBio are being evaluated by the Center for Informal Science Education at UF. Although primarily focused on the target audiences described above, the outputs and outcomes of iDigBio will also be available to federal agencies and international stakeholders. The long-term vision for iDigBio is a highly coordinated biocollections digitization community to serve the needs of diverse stakeholders, from the professional systematist to the general public, and communicate the importance of this national resource to advance research and education in the 21st century.