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According to section 72 of the Universities Act (558/2009), “the Finnish Museum of Natural History is responsible for the preservation, accumulation and exhibition of the national natural history collections and for research and education relating to them.” (Luomus General Collections Policy 2015). Kotka is developed and maintained as part of Luomus' national responsibilities.

Luomus Collections Steering group and FinBIF digitisation working group help, support and guide the development of Kotka.

Goals

Generally: Kotka is a collection management system for natural history collections. Its objectives are to:

  • Streamline collection management (accelerate, boost)
  • Improve the accessibility and usability of collections and data on them for different purposes (taxonomic and other research, monitoring and improving collection management, sharing information)
  • Improve the quality of collections and data on them

For a person managing collections: Kotka is a tool, that helps to improve collection management and supports the organisation in meeting its goals

For a researcher: Kotka improves the quantity, quality and availability of collection/specimen data.

For a person digitising collections: Kotka is a place that archives the digitising results. It can be used to help in digitising (e.g. validations).


These goals are met by developing functionalities for different sections:

  • Collection and specimen data management
    • Validation, saving and editing
    • Search and statistics
    • Botanic gardens' living collection data management
    • Specimen sample data management (tissue and DNA)
    • Saving specimen images
  • Printing labels
  • Environmental sample's data management
  • Keeping record of and collecting statistics on loans, gifts and exchanges
  • Publishing data through FinBIF


The primary mission and content of the natural history collections of Luomus is to accumulate and preserve scientific specimens representing bio- and geodiversity for the purposes of basic research and academic teaching in these fields. The natural history collections also serve other purposes in society. The goal is to ensure the high scientific quality of the national collections and the related data as well as to provide optimal access for scientific research purposes. Collection management must be of high scientific quality and cost-efficient (Luomus General Collections Policy 2015).

Principles

Kotka is for primary data. Specimen information in Kotka is not updated anywhere else.

All Kotka users see all data, but can only edit their own organisation's data.

All data recorded to Kotka is stored permanently. Old versions of data can therefore be reverted to.

The data structure of Kotka is flexible and stresses rapid development and usefulness in different kind of situations. This is done at the expense of standards, uniformity and semantics.

Data entered to Kotka is available and usable as open data, unless particularly otherwise decided to for example conceal sensitive data. The justification for concealment has to be based on the Finnish legislation.

To use Kotka, A collaborative agreement is drawn up and data policy of the Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility is followed.

Kotka is developed using agile software development methods. New features are being planned, implemented and published regularly. The direction of the development is based on the needs of users and the goals of Kotka. Kotka's product owner does the decisions on the development. Simple solutions are stressed in the development.


Current features

There are features to record, validate, edit, search, collect statistics and export specimen data. Images and samples (tissue and DNA) can be added to specimens. Different kind of labels can be designed and printed for specimens. Loans, gifts and exchanges can be recorded, for individual specimens or in batches with the information on specimen amounts. Simple statistics can be made about these transactions. Kotka data is available as open data through the FinBIF laji.fi-portal.

In more detail, Kotka includes browser-based tools to:

  • Enter, edit and view data about
    • collections - metadata about biological collections
    • specimens - diverse data about museum specimens
    • datasets - used to tag and group specimens for different purposes
    • samples/preparations - data about DNA and tissue samples and vertebrate preparations
    • living collection accessions and events -  botanical gardens
    • organizations - contact details for transaction management
    • transactions - loans, donations and exchanges of museum specimens
    • ABS - tools to manage compliance with the Nagoya Protocol and other Access and Benefit sharing regulations
  • Import specimen data from Excel
  • Validate data
  • Search specimens, create statistics and reports
  • Search samples and garden branches
  • Export data to Excel and import back
  • Print & design different kind of labels: LabelDesigner
  • Help with loan management
  • Share data to FinBIF's data warehouse

Examples on how the current features of Kotka support the goals of collection management:

  • Support for storing specimens
    • Tools that help to get a general idea of the collections and their contents
    • Tools that help to keep record of the location and status of specimens
    • Take care of data back-ups
  • Improving specimen data quality
    • Tools that help quality control (validations, searches)
    • Offer a diverse data model for entering and saving data
  • Improving accessibility of data
    • Search and statistics tools to make data more easily findable. Possibility to make use of data in new ways
    • Bring specimen data to FinBIF systems and that way open it for external users, too
    • Produce labels that make it easier to locate specimens in the collections and make them easier to handle
    • Guide different types of collections to adapt their specimen data to a more uniform data model
  • Improving cost-efficiency
    • Make it faster to find specimens and their information in the collections, even if the specimens were placed close together and unsystematically.
    • Make it faster to save data by making data entry possible for everyone working with the collections
    • Offer tools for people outside museums to keep records in Kotka format and make specimen labels in advance, so that incorporating these specimen donations to collections is faster
    • Offer tools to help plan amassing collections and deaccessioning of specimens

Features under development (12/2019)

  • Publish garden/living collections data in laji.fi
  • Improve garden/living collections feature so that other botanical garden in Finland can start using Kotka for collection management
  • Improve Access and Benefit Sharing features, to help organisations comply with Nagoya protocol requirements etc.
  • Improve transactions to better serve different organisations' needs (besides ABS, also consumptive loans etc.)
  • Improve connection between Luomus mass digitisation and Kotka
  • Minor improvement based on user feedback (for search, web forms, LabelDesigner etc.)
  • Improve instructions and documentation

Challenges and difficult issues

How to make digitisation efficient so that that millions and millions of museum specimens are digitised accurately enough?

How to make collection management efficient so that recording specimens does not take too much time but relevant information is recorded in enough detail? Transactions, research, organisation of collections, collecting statistics about these to support operation.

How to balance between quality (level of detail and accuracy) and quantity (speed) of digitisation? Which one is stressed?

How to develop old modes of action and processes? How to identify processes that are still relevant and that can be modified to support achieving goals more efficiently?

How to improve cost-efficiency especially with decreasing funds?

How to guarantee future development of Kotka?

Practical examples of challenges

Labels

Previously labels have been the primary method for storing specimen data and this is the way they are often still seen. But when the data is in an information system, labels do not need to store information, but they have to 1) connect the specimen with it's information and 2) make it easy to find the relevant specimen among other specimens (in collections, batch of loaned specimens etc.). How to produce labels to support these new goals, without using time on the design and implementation from the old perspective? Which information is relevant to researchers and others utilising the collections? In what format? How to stop seeing Kotka as a tool or a typewriter the sole purpose of which is to produce labels?

Label Designer has already partly answered this challenge. Now collection managers are responsible for designing labels and can do it on their own without the need for developers' time and expertise.

Identifiers

The purpose of a unique identifier is to identify the specimen and connect it to the information in the database. A HTTP-URI is suitable for this purpose. It is often thought that an identifier has other purposes, too, and that by interpreting it you could for example get information on the owner of the specimen. How to avoid these assumptions being made and having these assumptions complicating the use of identifiers? Education, training, global change in modes of operation?

And how to advance or promote the use of HTTP-URI identifiers instead of or along with old types of identifiers, so that they would be also machine readable?

Level of detail in digitisation

Accurately digitised information that is not utilised, is unnecessary. How to digitise specimens so that:

1) users will find the specimens (requires transliteration)

2) A digital specimen is enough instead of a physical loan (requires different level of detail for different purposes and imaging labels)

3) information can be utilised as a mass, for example in statistical or spatial analyses (requires transliteration)

4) in other ways, how?

Duplicates

Management of duplicates and process of duplication of specimens could be digitalised. But is there an actual need for this, if fewer and fewer specimens are collected and previously collected specimens are waiting to be handled? And if there is less demand for duplicate specimens? How much should we invest time to this in Kotka development? Duplicate specimens + observation are another matter, on multiple scales. How are others handling these?

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