Announcing the Specify Collections Consortium

The Specify Software Project is transitioning from a grant-funded effort to a community-governed consortium of museums. After 20 years of financial support for Specify from U.S. National Science Foundation grants and from the University of Kansas, we are forming a collections infrastructure consortium of biological museums that will join forces to advance their own research informatics capabilities and shape the future of collections informatics worldwide. Our new non-profit business model will be based on engaging collections institutions as investors and collaborators.

Specify software products will remain open-source licensed and available without cost. During 2017-2018, we explored legal, organizational, and administrative options for embedding the operations of consortium within a university environment—the habitat within which the Specify Project has prospered and matured. As a result, we will operate the consortium’s technical activities at the University of Kansas using office and laboratory space in the Biodiversity Institute on the KU campus in Lawrence, Kansas.

From several months of research on the organization of university consortia, we are building on the experience of existing community engagement consortia operating in diverse academic domains such as: libraries, archives, Internet organizations, and science publishing. From our analysis, it is clear that a hybrid organization that functions as a business in terms of operations, but which is governed by its stakeholders as a consortium, is a proven and sustainable mechanism for multi-institutional collaboration and community infrastructure development.

Founding Member institutions will lead and govern the Consortium. They will contribute $40,000 annually to direct and steer the organization, and will benefit from immediate access to all of the project’s software and services. The technical relationship with the Founding Institutions will be reciprocal and collaborative. The Consortium development lab will work as an research IT extension of those institutions; its staff will engage and collaborate with museum and campus IT specialists, and their collections scientists. Founding Member institutions will leverage their resources by pooling them with others to accomplish shared objectives, namely to advance collections-based research with technology and capabilities that would otherwise be unaffordable due to the high, recurring cost of software innovation, maintenance, and support.

The Consortium’s goal is to increase the research utilization of museum collections, and to increase the ‘rate of return’ on the monumental investment university, government, and free-standing repositories have made in decades even centuries of biological inventory, species discovery, and curation. The Consortium’s technical priorities and software products will stream from rapid, continuous cycles of member feedback, requirements analysis, innovation, testing, and deployment. New and existing products will be managed to meet constantly evolving data management, analysis, synthesis needs of member institutions as well as data integration opportunities with broader collections, education, and science communities. The Consortium’s products and services will not be limited to natural history specimens of plants and animals. They will ultimately also support genetic research repositories, geological and ecological samples, and other types of biodiversity and earth science collections.

We are delighted to announce that three institutions have committed to be Founding Members of the consortium: the University of Michigan, the University of Florida, and the University of Kansas. Additional Founding Member institutions are being actively sought.

The Consortium will structure two additional entry points for institutional participation. Full Members will commit $5,000/year/collection, and Associate Institutional Members will contribute $1,000/year/collection with the benefits commensurate with membership level.  The lists below show the benefits of membership. From daily interactions with curators, collections managers and collections researchers over three decades, we know how challenging it will be for medium- and small-sized collections to identify these levels of financial resources on a recurring basis.  Many small- and medium-sized collections, and even some large museums using Specify today (comprising 500+ Specify collections) operate on spare and diminishing budgets, with small staffs, and frequently rely on the work of students and volunteers. We will explore financial mechanisms to support small collections which operate on highly-constrained budgets.

Our business/community-engagement model is not based on exclusively serving the largest, most well-endowed institutions. However, in order to sustain the level of technical investment needed to produce robust and agile collection data management software, and efficient technical support services, we launch this transition with a realistic revenue and expense model. We look to larger institutions with insight and vision who understand the leveraging that comes from collaborative investment, and who have interest in leading and inventing the future of collections informatics.

Details of membership and fee structure for the new Consortium are listed below. The features and benefits of membership will likely be adjusted based on feedback. We welcome your ideas and comments privately or in online Specify forum, or using the form provided below.

For agencies, governments, other organizations, special projects and national efforts, the Consortium will offer an alternative model for engagement and partnering that will be based on contracts for software support and services.

Consortium Membership Levels and Benefits

Founding Partner – $40,000/year/Institution (all institution collections)

For museums and consortia of vision who see the strategic and long-term research value of their collections and for guiding the future of collections informatics, Founding Members assume a stand-up, leadership role in Consortium governance and operations. As research collections community leaders with a seat on the governing board, Founding Members will engage their vision and grow the informatics future of the biological collections community.

With insight, commitment, and leadership, Founding Members leverage their collection informatics investment to positively impact hundreds of smaller yet significant collections around the world that contribute specimens and data to the collective knowledge of earth’s biological diversity.

Founding Member status ensures immediate access to Consortium technical staff, and a complete suite of technical support services for all the institution’s collection databases. Your institutional IT staff will benefit from direct access to Specify engineers for problem resolution, joint code development, proposal and project planning. Consortium intellectual and technical resources will ensure that your collection digitization initiatives are achievable, effective, and successful. For large institutions with multiple collections, investment in a Founding Membership realizes considerable cost savings over the expense of commercial software licenses, or the salaries of in-house programmers. Institutional benefits of Founding Memberships include:

  • Two permanent seats on the Board of Directors
  • A permanent seat on both the Science and Technology Advisory Committees
  • Active engagement in the prioritization new architectures, applications and capabilities
  • Two paid seats at the annual Specify Consortium Research Summit
  • Collaborative development of funding proposals for software innovation, collection data analysis, integration, or digitization initiatives.
  • Expedited technical issue resolution with direct access to Consortium engineers
  • Priority access to help desk staff and services, including remote login sessions
  • Technical collaboration for contributing code to the Specify source repository
  • Recognition in Consortium products as an institution of vision and community leadership
  • Personalized webinar-style training, as well as full access to all other training services
  • Unlimited number of installations, collections, and users
  • Access to consortium database hosting, administration, security, and backup services
  • Priority access to Consortium software platforms, tools, and updates

Full Member – $5,000/year/collection

For biological collections that prefer to be proactively engaged in shaping the priorities and technology directions of the Consortium, Full Membership offers a leadership opportunity. You will be at the table to participate in the critical discussions that will determine the cyberinfrastructure support capabilities for your collection, as well as more generally impact the direction of biological collections computing, worldwide.

Your IT staff will benefit from direct access to Consortium engineers for assistance and project development, extending the influence and reach of your own bioinformatics activities by leveraging the technical activities of the Consortium. Your collections researchers and IT staff will receive comprehensive software support, at considerable savings relative to the costs of commercial software licenses, or maintaining bespoke in-house software. Specific benefits for Full Members include:

  • A permanent seat on the Board of Directors
  • Priority for one seat on each of Consortium’s Science and Technology Advisory Committees
  • A paid seat at the annual Specify Consortium Research Summit
  • Collaborative proposal writing and new project planning
  • Direct access to Consortium engineers for technical issue resolution
  • Technical collaboration for contributing code to the Specify source repository
  • Immediate access to help desk support services, including remote login sessions
  • Personalized webinar-style training, as well as access to all other training services
  • Recognition in Consortium products as an institution of vision and community leadership
  • Access to Consortium database hosting, administration, security, and backup services
  • Preferred access to Consortium software updates
  • Unlimited number of software users

 

Solutions Member – $1250 – $3000/year/collection/strong>

For collections that want to utilize Consortium’s setup services in the first year to migrate legacy collection data into the Consortium data model and software, and those that require additional technical services for conversion, or for maintenance of their data in the Consortium’s database hosting service. When joining as a Solutions Member, we will work with you to define your collection’s digitization workflows and configure software to fit them. Benefits include:

  • Eligibility for a rotating seat on the Consortium Board of Directors
  • Access to rotating seats on the Specify Science and Technology Advisory Committees
  • A paid seat at the annual Specify Consortium Research Summit
  • Access to help desk support including remote login sessions
  • Customization of user interface forms, and print outputs: labels and reports
  • Legacy data conversion services, including custom scripts and data management
  • Access to Consortium database hosting, administration, security, and backup services
  • Full access to the online forum, help documents, and video tutorials
  • Access to all Consortium software tools, features, and updates
  • Unlimited number of software users

Associate Member – $1,000/year/collection

For institutions that want to continue to advance their collection data management and mobilization of collection information for scientific use, Associate Membership offer comprehensive support and opportunities for collaboration. Collections that are Associate Members get the comprehensive core software and technical support benefits of the Consortium, including:

  • Eligibility for rotating seats on the Specify Science and Technology Advisory Committees
  • A paid seat at the annual Specify Research Summit
  • Help desk support including remote login sessions
  • Access to the online forum, help documents, and video tutorials
  • Access to all Consortium software tools, features, and updates
  • Unlimited number of software users

Commitment/Feedback Form

Members of the Specify Collections Consortium support and sustain the software, maintenance, and support services of the Specify Software Project. A commitment to join the consortium prior to April 1 ensures continuous access to all technical support services. This completed form confirms the intent of the institution and/or collection named below to join the Specify Collections Consortium at the indicated level.

Commitment Level