Part diary, part scientific record, biological field notebooks often contain details necessary to understanding the location and environmental conditions existent during collecting events. Despite their clear value for (and recent use in) global change studies, the text-mining outputs from field notebooks have been idiosyncratic to specific research projects, and impossible to discover or re-use. Best practices and workflows for digitization, transcription, extraction, and integration with other sources are nascent or non-existent. In this paper, we demonstrate a workflow to generate structured outputs while also maintaining links to the original texts. The first step in this workflow was to place already digitized and transcribed field notebooks from the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History founder, Junius Henderson, on Wikisource, an open text transcription platform. Next, we created Wikisource templates to document places, dates, and taxa to facilitate annotation and wiki-linking. We then requested help from the public, through social media tools, to take advantage of volunteer efforts and energy. After three notebooks were fully annotated, content was converted into XML and annotations were extracted and cross-walked into Darwin Core compliant record sets. Finally, these recordsets were vetted, to provide valid taxon names, via a process we call “taxonomic referencing.” The result is identification and mobilization of 1,068 observations from three of Henderson’s thirteen notebooks and a publishable Darwin Core record set for use in other analyses. Although challenges remain, this work demonstrates a feasible approach to unlock observations from field notebooks that enhances their discovery and interoperability without losing the narrative context from which those observations are drawn.
“Compose your notes as if you were writing a letter to someone a century in the future.”
Perrine and Patton (2011)