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Messy databases: Recognizing transcribers as experts and engaging amateur naturalists in digitization

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Peer-reviewed

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Authors

Smith, Nathan Edward Charles  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4142-892X

Abstract

Amateur naturalists and natural history societies are abundant throughout the UK, and indeed throughout the globe, and have intimate relationships with the museum sector. Importantly, amateur naturalists and natural history societies often possess expertise in fields underserved by museums, such as taxonomy or the local history of natural history. The amateur naturalist, in the context of the museum, is simultaneously volunteer and expert and this dichotomy can lead to tension in the naturalist‐museum professional relationship. The rise of mass‐participation citizen science and digitization projects are likely to further enflame this tension as naturalists can feel marginalized as their identifier of “volunteer” subsumes that of “expert.” This paper recommends best practice when working with amateur naturalists and natural history societies. It examines the different value systems and priorities broadly held by museum professionals and naturalists, with a particular focus on digitization. This paper also suggests how the museum field can work toward more equitable knowledge building and sharing practices when working with naturalists and other expert‐volunteers. In particular, it puts forward the concept of messy databases as a way to meaningfully engage with volunteer‐experts.

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Publication status: Published

Keywords

extended specimen concept, natural history collections, amateur‐professional relationships, object biographies

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