Natural history museum collections contain a world of knowledge thatcan be used to support the needs of science and society. We need to develop the infrastructure, technology, and collaborative framework to make these collections electronically available to a worldwide audience.
These museums contain specimens and data collected over hundreds of years. Researchers can use these collections to understand the past and predict future environmental scenarios. At the moment, the collections are underutilized, because much of the data are not easily accessible except through expert curation. The challenge is to find the resources to make these collections available through the Internet.
How these collections can prove their worth was demonstrated a few years ago, when researchers used some specimens to identify a mystery disease that infected and killed people in New Mexico in the 1990s. By analyzing old rodent specimens in museum collections and reviewing ancient Indian stories, scientists...