NAHIMA – Natural science collections online
The management and use of scientific collections represents a significant challenge that can be overcome by modern technologies and database solutions such as easydb. An example of the successful use of this software is the ETH Library's NAHIMA (Natural History Collections Management digitally) project. As a virtual infrastructure, NAHIMA enables access to extensive scientific collections and offers researchers at ETH Zurich an efficient way to access reference specimens, discover plant and animal species, research biodiversity and carry out climate studies. With over 530,000 data sets and almost 462,000 media (as of May 2023) from various collections such as earth sciences, fungarium, xylotheca and entomology, NAHIMA provides a comprehensive database that centralizes collection management and at the same time serves as a window to the outside world.
The versatile use of NAHIMA for natural science collections
Until 2018, some of ETH Zurich's collections used their own solutions or worked with Filemaker. With the introduction of NAHIMA, the situation has changed fundamentally. The platform acts as a collection management tool for ETH's natural science collections. However, it also offers experts, students and the relevant community the opportunity to access and explore the collections. By integrating authority files, lists of values for taxonomies, people and institutions, and comparing them with the Red List of Endangered Species, the system enables comprehensive exchange of data and metadata via various interfaces and formats.
NAHIMA was implemented in five collections, each with different needs and usage priorities. The Xylothek, a collection of woodcuts, uses NAHIMA primarily as a platform to present the collection to the outside world. The Earth Sciences and Fungarium, on the other hand, use NAHIMA intensively for overall collection management. In Earth Sciences, locations are currently being recorded and completed projects are being implemented into the database. Another natural science collection is currently working on connecting its existing database to NAHIMA. Of the five collections, three are currently using NAHIMA to its full extent and are benefiting from the extensive functions and efficient management that this database solution offers.
View of the earth science collections
View of the Fungarium collection
- In use since: 2021
- Objects: 607,367 (as of 05/2023)
- Images: 533,006 (as of 05/2023)
- PDF Creator
- Development of a special add-on: IUCN plugin (connection to the IUCN Red List)
The unification of different collections: paving the way for improvements in the initial project phase
A challenging task at the beginning of the project was to combine five different collections with their specific needs and workflows into a harmonious catalog of requirements. Despite the initial challenges, this ambitious goal has provided valuable insights and paved the way for future improvements.
The requirements for the data management system included:
- Centralization: The ETH Library was looking for a centralized system that could be used by all participating collections. The goal was to efficiently share resources and create a unified collection management platform.
- External accessibility: It was important that the system could also be used by outsiders. The ability to provide a link allowing access to the collections was considered desirable.
- Presentation of the collections: The data management system should offer the opportunity to adequately present the collections to the outside world. It was intended to provide a platform on which experts, students and the relevant community could explore and use the collections.
The decision in favor of easydb was made based on a public tender process. In addition to the software assessment, the assessment of the integration partner, in this case the Programmfabrik , also played an important role. The skills and know-how of the implementation specialist therefore contributed to the decision. In the end, easydb best met the requirements of the tender and was therefore selected as a suitable solution.
How was the project implemented using easydb?
The project to introduce NAHIMA using easydb included building the database and migrating the five ETH collections. In addition, the PDF Creator has been integrated as an extension, which allows users to create custom layouts for generating PDF files. This makes it possible, for example, to create well-formatted labels, which are essential for collection work.
Specific adjustments and configurations were made as part of the project. The IUCN Red List plugin (plugin = extension) is currently (as of May 2023) being adapted to the needs of the collections. It is currently not in productive use. The IUCN Red List (Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature) is a globally recognized, comprehensive directory that assesses and categorizes the endangered status of various animal and plant species in order to draw attention to threatened species and take measures to protect them to promote.
Shortly before the application was put into operation, the employees received training on how to use easydb from a project manager from the Programmfabrik . The training courses were recorded, so employees can access the recordings and watch the training content again at any time.
The integration of easydb into the existing systems and workflows was achieved through the connection to the ETH library. The ETH Library will now take over the care and support of the collections if help is needed. This represents a new workflow as previously each collection had its own internal database. Through the introduction of easydb and NAHIMA, data management and collection management processes were centralized and optimized.
Increasing efficiency, productivity and data security through the use of easydb in the NAHIMA project
The use of easydb in the NAHIMA project has resulted in several improvements in the areas of efficiency, productivity and data security:
Centralized database : Storing data centrally in easydb makes accessing important information faster and easier. This saves time and resources that would otherwise be spent searching and consolidating data from different sources.
Independence from people : Since easydb is an offer from the ETH Library, the system and therefore all the knowledge remains intact, even if key people leave the project. This promotes the sustainability of the project and increases productivity.
Collections Visibility : Collections that had no visibility before Nahima benefit greatly from easydb as they are now open to external research and collaboration.
Ongoing support : The system is continuously maintained, ensuring the security and integrity of the data.
Reliable visibility : Collections can have confidence that their data is protected and viewable both internally and by external researchers. This is crucial for research activities and contributes to data security.
Employee and customer feedback on the use of easydb in NAHIMA: successes and initial challenges
The feedback from employees and customers on the use of easydb in the NAHIMA project is overall positive, but there were also initial challenges:
Community Engagement : The fact that both the individual collections and the ETH Library have undertaken marketing activities indicates a high level of engagement and positive expectation.
International cooperation : The interest of a US herbaria platform in integrating the NAHIMA data shows that the value and quality of the collection is recognized. This would bring a major benefit to the collections in the form of expanded reach.
Solution-oriented collaboration : The close and solution-oriented collaboration between the ETH Library and the collections has apparently led to positive feedback.
Initial skepticism : In the early stages, collections staff expressed concerns about the new system. Despite questions about feasibility and functions, the ETH Library always acted in a solution-oriented manner programmfabrik
Performance: In the NAHIMA project, an extensive and complex data model was implemented in combination with differentiated rights management. The resulting initial delay in loading the system will be continuously improved as the project progresses.
Conclusion and outlook: The successful role of easydb in the implementation and future development of the NAHIMA project
The NAHIMA project at ETH Zurich gained important insights, especially in the area of efficient management and use of scientific collections. The project has created a central database that facilitates access to a variety of scientific data sets. Researchers now have efficient access to reference specimens and can carry out a wide range of studies in the areas of biodiversity and climate. In addition, the system enables comprehensive data exchange through the integration of authority files and comparison with the Red List of Endangered Species.
The use of easydb in the project was rated positively overall. The software has not only made data management more efficient but also improved productivity and data security. Although there were challenges and skepticism at the beginning, these were overcome through close, solution-oriented collaboration between the ETH Library and the collections. Easydb has therefore made a significant contribution to the successful implementation of NAHIMA.
Continuation and expansion of the project are planned for the future. New functions such as a 3D viewer are to be added. Efforts are also being made to integrate more collections, particularly smaller ones with limited resources, into the system. The needs of the collections should be better recorded and the project adapted accordingly.
Links to the NAHIMA project
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