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Missouri Botanical Garden aims to improve access to digital texts through online gaming

The Missouri Botanical Garden was recently awarded a $449,641 grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to test new means of using crowd sourcing and gaming to support the enhancement of texts from the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). Grant funding begins in December 2013 and ends in December 2015. The Garden will partner with Harvard University, Cornell University and the New York Botanical Garden on the project.

The BHL is an international consortium of the leading natural history libraries that have collaborated to digitize records of the world's biological diversity. It is the single largest open-licensed source of biodiversity literature in the world with more than 40 million pages of scanned texts available online at http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org.

Digital libraries such as the BHL are hampered by poor output from Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software that makes it difficult for users to easily search texts. The BHL contains a variety of literature including books and journals dating back to the 1400s. Historic literature is particularly problematic for OCR software because of the variation in fonts, typesetting and layouts. There is currently no OCR engine to accurately recognize most types from the 15th to mid-19th centuries included in the collection. BHL's horticultural catalogs and field notebooks also present challenges to OCR software because of their multi-columned layouts and use of handwritten notes. Garden staffers saw a pressing need to identify possible solutions for this problem.

The project, "Purposeful Gaming and BHL" will demonstrate whether or not online games are a successful tool for analyzing and improving digital outputs. Users will be presented words that are difficult for software to recognize as tasks in a game.

"Digital gaming as entertainment has been around for several decades but only recently has it been used for more practical purposes," said Trish Rose-Sandler, data project coordinator in the Center for Biodiversity Informatics at the Missouri Botanical Garden and data analyst for the Biodiversity Heritage Library. "Combined with crowdsourcing, it can be a very efficient way to harness large numbers of users to complete a task."

Benefits from the project include both improved access to content in the largest open-access repository in biodiversity, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the demonstration of novel and more cost-effective approaches to generating searchable texts within the broader digital library community.

Teams from all four institutions will work with a professional software developer to design the gaming application needed for the project. Rose-Sandler will be responsible for the overall coordination of the project. Learn more about project details at http://biodivlib.wikispaces.com/Purposeful+Gaming.

Provided by Missouri Botanical Garden