Designing and building the European Loans and Visits System for natural science collections

Along with physical access to the natural science collections, “Virtual Access” (VA) is becoming more important as it can provide much wider access to the data stored in the collections. Within SYNTHESYS+ (a DiSSCo linked project) the Virtual Access program is aiming to remove the reliance on physical access by piloting a “Digitisation on Demand” service model. One of the first steps towards this is to create a portal for the VA proposal submission and review process. We have been busy working on this for a while and the Virtual Access Applications portal has been ready for use since Feb 20, 2020.

This portal is one of the components that will establish a new approach to accessing collections by bringing together institutions of different sizes and capabilities to digitise collections according to community demand. ELViS — the European Loans and Visits System (ELViS) (a deliverable of the SYNTHESYS+ project) will be the one-stop shop for this endeavour. The VA portal eventually become a component of ELViS and a core part of the DiSSCo service portfolio.

Bringing in disparate and heterogeneous datasets on institutions, people, collections and specimens, ELViS will provide a service that handles various stages of the research data life cycle. For example, collaborating on TA/VA ideas and proposal submission and review, facilitating digitisation initiatives, enabling comprehensive loans and visits management, tracking usage metrics, and providing various reporting, dashboard features. This is a complex and evolving process that requires long term vision, collaborations across different institutions and sustainable technical planning. Under the auspices of the SYNTHESYS+ project and within the DiSSCo framework, this vision will be materialised.

Below is a high level overview of the various components of ELViS. This shows the different service and software components that will facilitate the full research data lifecycle involving access to natural science collections in Europe. We are also committed to FAIR data and service interoperability within the context of European research infrastructure landscape and our design philosophy closely aligns with FAIR principles and FAIR Digital Objects initiative.

Overview of “European Loans and Visits System”

The last few weeks we — along with one of our SYNTHESYS+ partner Picturae — have been working on bringing the VA registration portal online. However, our discussions have been going on for a while. We conducted surveys, created user stories, organised workshops and meetings on requirement gathering and prioritisation. Various conversations and disparate ideas coalesced into design documents and reports for the wider community and a roadmap for the development team at Picturae. We regularly participate in face-to-face meetings and weekly virtual meetings to move along the iterative and collaborative development process. This is truly a community driven effort that is working towards various sustainable software and service solutions for natural science collections.

Along with the design and development activities, several of us are involved with the TDWG Collection Descriptions Interests Group to develop a Collection Descriptions metadata standard. This standard will be an important aspect in ELViS as collection related metadata is a core component. We are also participating in various workshops organised by GBIF, SYNTHESYS+ and RDA to better understand the global landscape.

We are excited about our development activities and collaborations so far and looking forward to upcoming activities and challenges. Watch this space and DiSSCo git repositories for future updates.

Published by Sharif Islam

Data Architect, DiSSCo

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