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published: April, 2002

Archives & Museum Informatics, 2002.
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0  License


The Data Locator: cross-database searching at The Natural History Museum, London
Mike Lowndes, The Natural History Museum, United Kingdom

Demonstration: Demonstrations 1

The Natural History Museum has about 80 million specimens in its collections, around 1 million of which are electronically databased. The Museum also undertakes internationally important research on these specimens, the habitats organisms are found in, and the geology of the earth (and space!). This research generates a large amount of non-specimen based data such as host-parasite relationships, population density, local and global biodiversity, world species lists and authoritative bibliographies.

Thus, the Museum is the source of a potentially vast amount of information about organisms and the natural environment. The Internet provides a route for making this scale of content available to anyone who needs it.

The Museum has responded to this potential by starting to put its research and collections databases online. The 'Fast Track to Data Access' project in the Dept. of Library and Information Services has aided scientists in putting 21 databases, containing around 250,000 records, online within 2 years. By June 2002 this will reach 28 databases, and over 400,000 records.

Each online database has its own search page and results format. Early on, we realised that scientists and enthusiasts may not want to have to search all of these databases separately, especially since some databases contain information about the same organism. There is also a growing awareness that the Internet can provide a unified view of all collections of information and thus, the data must be accessible by external search tools.

To improve accessibility to our data, we designed a simple cross-database searching system to search for common name, Genus and Species in life sciences, and rock/mineral/meteorite name and country in earth sciences, across all databases. The Data Locator groups its results around the scientific name of the organism or rock/mineral/meteorite.

The common name lookup function uses the National Biodiversity Network's Master Species Index, maintained by the Museum, to match a common name to scientific names before querying the Data Locator. This allows one to search for Museum data if the scientific name is not known.

The Data Locator will be demonstrated and its workings exposed. Extension into a fully-fledged summary/metadata system, and possible integration with international information gateways will be discussed.