The Plant Information
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
October 1, 1999 – September 30, 2000 (combined report)
The Plant Information Center is a partnership
of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, the UNC Herbarium, the
UNC School of Information and Library Science, the McDougle
Middle School, and the Orange County Public Library. The current
phase is funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services
(October 1999 to September 2001).
The intent of the project is to connect the research
community and the general public (including school children)
to make greater use of primary research material and to nurture
the public interest and enthusiasm in the study of trees, plants,
and natural history. Four objectives include:
a successful cooperation between the university, the public
school system, and the public library;
2) Create and test an interactive Plant Information Center for
the general public, libraries, and public schools;
3) Develop educational experiences using primary research materials
from the herbarium for 6th grade students;
4) Test the usefulness of digital images of herbarium specimens
for plant identification and for inspiring the public and public
school children with the aims and methods of professional botanical
partners are working together to meet these objectives and to
incorporate PIC into Middle School curriculum activities that
involve plant identification and larger questions about man’s
relationship to the natural world. PIC’s long-term
goals include making museum specimens and expert knowledge more
widely available through the World Wide Web and promoting the
flow of scientific information to researchers, amateur botanists,
students (elementary through higher education), and other scientific
communities interested in botanical science.
Project goals and objectives are being met in
accordance with the timeline outlined in the Gantt chart listed
in our proposal with some deviation due to student hiring and
academic scheduling. Accomplishments to date are listed
At the core of PIC is a relational database created
to link specimens and metadata. The database was created
fall 2000. The database structure includes fifteen major
entities that identify specimen nomenclature, link specimens
to the classification authority (organization or individual),
identify the specimen collection locale, document taxonomic
changes in plant classification, and record digital processing
information pertinent to archival images of each specimen.
The database permits a user to query using a variety of criteria,
such as collector name, specimen genus, common name, locale
where specimen was collected and so forth. The database
also links to White Cards, additional information about each
species and the USDA database (see http://dbserv.ils.unc.edu/projects/botnet/asp/plantsearch.asp).
currently contains 500 images representing 50 taxa of gymnosperms
(pines, spruces, firs, cedars, cypress) found in the Southeast.
The Project team is currently pulling specimens for native North
Carolina angiosperms (approximately 275 taxa including oaks,
maples, beech, dogwood). Approximately 1/3 of the total
amount of specimens has been pulled. Most species require
2-3 specimens to capture fine detail about leave, flower and
fruit structures. Once the specimens are pulled, they are imaged
at 1497x1160 resolution and archived as TIFF files. We
are archiving on CDs (each file is saved on 2 different CDs).
Each image is displayed on the web as a JPEG file with a thumbnail.
After imaging, specimen data for each specimen is entered into
the ACCESS database.
database was created, preliminary evaluation began summer 2000.
A survey was sent out to the Advisory Board in July 2000 to
review the BOTNET searchable database. Out of the 25 surveys
sent, we only received 9 responses. Many faculty members
were out of town during the summer months. Instead of
compiling the data, comments and suggestions were reviewed and
changes were made to the search tool as deemed necessary.
The system for capturing images of herbarium
specimens in the UNC Herbarium employs a ProgRes 3012 digital
camera (Kontron Elektronik GmbH) mounted on a Bogen System 800
copy stand. To capture good images, the camera and lighting
had to be calibrated correctly. The camera, or Piezo,
calibration causes the camera to make minute adjustments to
the devices that control its light sensors in order to minimize
certain types of distortion in captured images. The computer
monitor was calibrated as well as the settings within Photoshop,
so that the images taken are sharp and accurate. We originally
had a problem adjusting the Photoshop gamma settings.
The video card in our Dell computer was bad, so we had to replace
it. A digital photography expert, one of our Advisory
Board members, helped us get on track.
An advisory board was created in February 2000.
The advisory board consists of 31 members. Fifteen of
the advisory board members represent local teachers, botanist,
librarians, technical experts, and gardeners. The
Plant Information Center Staff is also included. The group
met in February to discuss how each member can help with the
project. Small groups were created; each group was asked
to answer questions that would help us make decisions throughout
the year. Since then, we have called upon advisory board
members individually for help and consultation (i.e., digital
photographer, botanists, education specialists). An electronic
discussion board (listserv) was also created to discuss issues
and to update members about our progress.
Our original plan was to hold a 2-week workshop
summer 2000 with the local Middle School teachers (4 teachers
total). We met for a one-day intensive workshop to begin
design of lesson plans for our website. The teachers plan
to continue lesson plan design throughout the year and want
to meet Summer 2001.
PIC maintains a public website for students and
visitors: http://www.ibiblio.org/pic/, and a work and documentation
website for project staff: http://ils.unc.edu/daniel/PIC/PIC.html).
The public website was developed using the tools and components
available to date (October 2000). It was created in Dreamweaver
using frames. Several tools are still in the development stage
(glossary, dichotomous key, Ask the Expert tool, and Contributory
Module—see table below). As these tools are refined
and tested, they will be made web accessible. We felt
it important to post information along the way (recommended
by the McDougle Middle School teachers). Also, recommendations
from the usability test (see below) will be incorporated into
design and functionality to create a site friendly to students
When complete, the Plant Information Center will have seven
main components incorporated into the PIC website (http://www.ibiblio.org/pic).
Descriptions of each component are found in the following table.
1. Tree Identification Keys: PIC provides
access to a collection of web-based dichotomous and polyclave
plant keys that guide plant identification. A simple
dichotomous key (including pictures) is under development for
the native trees of North Carolina. An example of what we are
trying to accomplish can be found at URL: http://www.treelink.org/whattree/index.htm
BOTNET (Botanical Information Network), a virtual herbarium,
is ongoing and provides a major research base for PIC. BOTNET
was initially constructed with funds from the University of
North Carolina’s Technology Development Program.
searchable database: The database was developed in Microsoft
ACCESS. It permits a user to query using a variety of criteria,
such as collector name, specimen genus, common name, etc. Working
with database forms, data-imputers transcribe specimen metadata
from digitized copies of the original specimen labels.
Imputers are assisted by drop down menus and the UNC Herbarium
Code Book (2000). ). The creation of Active Server Pages
permits the database to be accessed from the World Wide Web
platform. Searching activities are supported by a series
of Standard Query Language (SQL) constructed queries, which
can easily be enhanced, modified, or developed as needed (completed).
: The glossary is a list if botanical terms with links to illustrations
to help understand botanical terms. We already have an
extensive list of terms, but need to add illustrations (under
Asked Questions: PIC recognizes the usefulness of
FAQs and has created an electronic bulletin board that has derived
its content from question/answer logs documenting patron inquiries
at the North Carolina Botanical Garden Library (NCBGL).The metadata
model for this component is a PIC-specific schema comprised
of three elements: general topic, question, and answer.
This schema, while simpler than the other schemas used in PIC
because of the small number of elements, is very powerful because
it supports knowledge discovery for visitors. FAQs are
organic and will continue to derive contents from the NCBGL
logs and correspondence gathered via the "Ask the Expert”
application that is discussed directly below.
the Expert: The "Ask the Expert" application facilitates
communication between PIC users and botanical experts.
This component, currently under development, will be stored
in an ACCESS database that is enhanced via JAVA programming.
A web-based form will permit users to submit botanical queries,
which will be distributed to and answered by NCBG staff.
The PIC-specific schema designed for this component is comprised
of metadata elements commonly found in correspondence and includes
to, carbon copy (CC), subject, date, time, and reply to (when
appropriate). Some of these metadata elements will be
author generated (e.g., subject), while others will be automatically
supplied at the time the message is created and sent (e.g.,
date and time). Access to this information will be provided
via SQL, and it will be incorporated into the FAQs when appropriate.
The long-term plan is to link this application to the FAQs so
that queries are first searched against the FAQs for an immediate
answer before being distributed to NCBG staff.
Contributory Module (Botanical Pride): The Interactive Contributory
Module will be designed so that PIC users can submit additional
resources to a community store. This module is under construction
and consists of an HTML form, an Extensible Markup Language
(XML) Document Type Definition (DTD) for a metadata schema,
and an XML database. The HTML form permits the contributor to
upload the resource with accompanying metadata. The metadata
schema used in this project is based on the Dublin Core Metadata
Element Set (http://purl.org/dc), an international and interdisciplinary
schema designed to facilitate resource discovery of electronic
resources on the World Wide Web. Once uploaded through
the HTML form, a CGI (Common Gateway Interface) script processes
the metadata and the resource for inclusion in the XML structured
database. This module will allow teachers
to build lesson plans by integrating specimens from PIC's central
database and resources from the XML database (under construction).
Other information that has been collected and
converted to html for our website is found below.
Information: Create a page that defines the following:
1) What is a herbarium, 2) What is the UNC herbarium, 3)
The importance of natural history museums.
Create a page that indicates the following: 1) What
is biological classification, 2) What are natural and artificial
classifications, 3) Define Kingdom, Division, Class, Order,
Family, Genus, Species and subcategories, 4) Report that
vascular tissue, seeds, flowers and fruits are successive
adaptations to land of the major groups: Ferns, Gymnosperms,
a specimen: Create a web page that explains 1) How
to observe a plant- what to notice in the field, what to
photograph or draw, with data sheet to print out and check
off, variation in trees in the field, and 2) How to make
a plant specimen-closely related to what to observe is how
to make a good specimen, complete with how to fill out a
September 29 –December 1, 2000, a science
Cluster was taught by Priscilla Dennison, McDougle Middle School
teacher, and Michelle Fox, PIC coordinator. The Cluster
was titled “Leaf it to me” and met every Friday
afternoon. Students were taught how to identify a specimen
using books, nature walks and the PIC website. The students
assisted in our usability study. Priscilla Dennison was
the only teacher we used to test our website this year.
We hope to incorporate more schools next fall.
A usability test was completed on a group of
8 Middle School students on October 27, 2000. The test
was designed to seek answers pertaining to top-level navigation
of the PIC website including:
a. Can users
identify the correct tool to use for a given task?
b. How efficiently can users locate information within a tool
to correctly answer the given question?
c. Can users find and interpret the site’s information
to correctly answer the given question?
focused on how well test subjects completed twelve benchmark
tasks associated with the system categories and the functions
present in each. No student answered every question during
the testing duration. It was determined that only half
of the test group was able to successfully identify and/or locate
the correct tool for each question, but overall most student
found the correct answer.
survey was administered. The test subjects did not find
the site intuitive. Several subjects found the BOTNET
Search page confusing. Presently, the website does not
provide adequate navigational aids for returning to the home
page or for moving directly to another tool. This was
due to a lack of time to finish the site before testing.
All recommendations from the study are being reviewed.
DUBLIC CORE FOR BOTANICAL SPECIMENS
Although not part of the formal PIC architecture,
the Dublin Core’s applicability for botanical documentation
was explored, particularly because of the schemas goal to support
resource sharing and interoperability. The Database Administrator
developed BotDC (Botanical-Dublin Core), an XML DTD, as part
of an independent research project. BotDC differs from
the Dublin Core in that it includes elements specific to the
identification of botanical resources, such as family, genus,
and species name. PIC would like to test the usefulness
of BotDC schema for specimen documentation by botanists and
18-21, 1999: Evelyn Daniel and Peter White visited
the Missouri Botanical Garden and discussed its Preserving
and Digitizing Collections Images Project to see how we
might collaborate in the future.
18, 2000: Evelyn Daniel attended and presented at
a conference on libraries and museums in the digital world
(titled Web-wise). The conference was sponsored by
the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the University
of Missouri-Columbia and held in Washington D.C. from March
10-11, 2000: Evelyn Daniel, Jane Greenberg and Michelle
Fox attended the conference titled Z39.50 in Museums: A
workshop for Florida’s Collections. Evelyn and
Jane presented PIC.
12-13, 2000: Jane Greenberg attended the NSF: Digital
Libraries Initiative 2nd Meeting at Moat House Hotel, Stratford
upon Avon, U.K. She presented at the IMLS session.
30– November 4, 2000: Jane Greenberg attended
and presented at the WebNet 2000 at San Antonio, Texas (see
Evelyn, Peter White, Jane Greenberg and James Massey, “The
Plant Information Center,” First Monday; Peer Reviewed
Journal on the Internet. Vol.5, No.6 (June 5th, 2000).
J., Daniel, E., Massey, J. and White, P. “The
Plant Information Center (PIC): A Web-based Learning
Center for Botanical Study,” WebNet 2000.