The Meise Botanic Garden digital herbarium

The Meise Botanic Garden herbarium is home to reference collections for flora from Belgium, Latin America and Central Africa. There are around 4 million items in the collections in total, which can be digitised with support from the Flemish government in two projects – ‘Digitale Ontsluiting Erfgoedcollecties’ (Digitally Unlocking Heritage Collections, abbreviated to ‘DOE!’ and ‘DOE!2’).

Impatiens purpureo-violacea Gilg. Afbeelding ©️ copyright Plantentuin Meise

Thanks to DOE! And DOE!2, anyone can look up the many unique items in the collection in digital form, which are being safely preserved for the future. Meemoo is taking care of this preservation, and Meise Botanic Garden is responsible for the digitisation.

Meise Botanic Garden gathers lots of information about plants, and digitisation makes it easier to share this knowledge worldwide. Unfortunately, however, just like analogue specimens, digital files are very fragile. The high-quality master files therefore need to be preserved in a sustainable way, which meemoo is responsible for in this case. Meise Botanic Garden takes care of its physical herbarium, and relies on meemoo for the digital equivalent. This isn’t the first time we’ve run a project like this; we’ve previously worked on preserving a similarly large, homogenous collection of scans in the meemoo archive system for our News from the Great War project.

As well as safeguarding the herbarium for future generations, the projects are also facilitating and accelerating the data being made available. Once the images have been digitised, Meise Botanic Garden makes its own copies of the master files, which can then simply be shared in digital form via Meise Botanic Garden’s virtual herbarium. Scientists from all over the world visit Meise regularly to consult the collection, but this digitisation means anyone with an interest in the herbarium can access it online, and its fragile items remain safely stored away.

The digitisation project is progressing rapidly. Following a successful first round, in 2017 we counted some 1.2 million digitised items from the Meise Botanic Garden collection in our archive system – the largest number of collection items in the meemoo archive system. A second project – DOE!2 – was launched in the spring of 2019 to digitise 1.5 million herbarium specimens. Meise Botanic Garden appointed Picturae as its external partner to take care of this digitisation. Together, they can convert up to 100,000 botanical specimens into a digital format every month.

The rest of the process is fully automatic: once an image has been converted into a digital format, Meise Botanic Garden uploads the file to the meemoo data centres from where it can be processed further. This automatic digital intake means we can register and save files efficiently on a large scale, and we’re currently processing up to 5000 files per day for Meise Botanic Garden. The project means the images from the herbarium are saved securely, so they can be easily consulted by current and future generations. The project is scheduled to end by the autumn of 2020. Over a million specimens will then have been added to the digital herbarium, bringing the total for the collection to over 3 million items.

Meemoo is collaborating with organisations recognised by the government in the fields of culture, media and government. These content partners can be categorised into a number of groups. If you fall outside the definition of our groups as a non-commercial organisation, you can still make use of our archiving services for a fee. Our collaboration with Meise Botanic Garden is a good example of this.

Do you have a question?
Contact Matthias Priem
Manager Archiving
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