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 institutions with vision and insight that want to lead and direct consortium priorities, products, and community outcomes, the consortium offers a partner-level relationship. Together, we will innovate open source software in a collaboration between consortium developers and institutional technologists and collections researchers. That innovation will enhance and extend the consortium’s software to the benefit of all member institutions.

  • Permanent seat on the Board of Directors
  • Permanent seats on the Science and Technology Advisory Committees
  • Active involvement in the prioritization and architecture of new capabilities and feature enhancements
  • Assistance with the development of funding proposals for software innovation,computational analysis, and digitization projects
  • Expedited access to support team for technical issue resolution
  • Immediate access to help desk support and services
  • Access to consortium engineers for contributing new capabilities and code to the consortium’s open source repository
  • Recognition in the consortium’s software products, website, and publications as a lead investor in the collections community
  • Personalized webinar-style training, as well as full access to all other training services
  • Considerable cost saving relative to commercial software licenses, or writing custom in-house software
  • Access to custom engineering, data management, and technical support services
  • Unlimited number of installations and unlimited number of users
  • Access to consortium database hosting, administration, security, and backup services
  • Immediate access to all software updates

 

Full Member – $5,000/year/collection

At many institutions biological discipline collections are budgeted individually, or are stand-alone without overarching institutional support. For collection directors with technology vision and the passion to participate in the consortium. Full Membership brings access to seats on the consortium board and committees, and access to the consortium’s staff and products.

  • Permanent seat on the Board of Directors
  • Permanent seat on the Specify Science and Technology Advisory Committees
  • Access to support team for technical issue resolution
  • Assistance from consortium engineers for contributing new capabilities and code to the consortium’s open source repository
  • Immediate access to help desk support and services
  • Personalized webinar-style training, as well as access to all other training services
  • Access to custom engineering, data management, and technical support services
  • Considerable cost savings relative to commercial software licenses, or writing custom in-house software
  • Unlimited number of consortium software users in your collection
  • Recognition in consortium software, website, and  publications as a leader in the collections community
  • Access to consortium database hosting, administration, security, and backup services
  • Immediate access to software updates

 

Associate Member – $1,000/year/collection

An institution’s engagement at the Associate level sustains the consortium, protects the investments in your collection and guarantees access to software and support services.

  • Access to rotating seats on the Specify Science and Technology Advisory Committees
  • Access to paid seats at annual consortium meeting
  • Full access to the online forum, help documents and videos
  • Access to support services, including personalized webinar-style training
  • Access to all Specify features and software upgrades for the current platform
  • Unlimited number of software users in your collection
  • Access to help desk support and services
  • Access to all software updates

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