Approximately one third of the world’s three billion biodiversity research specimens can be found in collections in the United States. Ten percent of U.S. specimens have been digitized (e.g., databased, imaged, and/or georeferenced) and a goal of the biodiversity research community is to digitize most of the remaining specimens within a decade. These specimens include a variety of extant and extinct organisms that have been collected over the last two centuries. Digitization of specimens and supporting source materials (e.g., field collecting notebooks) has value in ecological research, especially in the context of providing a historical and current baseline of diversity and distributions against which to compare new samples and project changes to diversity and distribution into the future. However, meeting this ambitious goal requires increased collaboration, technological innovation, and broader engagement in digitization beyond the walls of biodiversity research collections. Engaging the public in digitization, rather than simply hiring more digitizers, promises to both serve the digitizing institutions and further public understanding of biodiversity science. Three broad areas that will accelerate research progress, and examples of each, will be presented: label transcription from digital specimen images, experimentation with volunteer georeferencing from collection locality descriptions, and specimen annotation from images.
Additionally, we will discuss the role of a global, interactive, citizen science transcription event, Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections (WeDigBio). WeDigBio has the potential to improve science literacy among participants, liberate biodiversity data for STEM research, and educate the public about the importance of biodiversity collections. The field of public participation in digitization of biodiversity research specimens is clearly in a growth phase with many emerging opportunities for ecologists, educators, and the public.