Modular Field Guides
Modular guides have a framework containing an indeterminate number of species units (typically pages, with two sides) in a standard format or using one or more templates. The framework may be a ring binder, with introductory text and dividers for, perhaps, major leaf types. Although species level identification is usually the main goal of a field guide, genus, family or other species groups could also be treated as the basic units, e.g. in a modular guide to plant families.
The main advantages of a modular guide are that the species content can be incrementally added, removed or improved to suit a particular users circumstances, or as work on producing species pages progresses.
The main access method in most modular guides is likely to be pictures browsing, within broadly defined sections or categories. There may be some other access method to reach the appropriate groups, e.g. a key to groups which is part of the framework of the guide, as it will always work no matter which species are included. There is potential to develop species units like the cards in a "species-per-card" punched card guide, but this will increase production costs. The challenge therefore is to design and refine by testing a good template and frame-work. Although this can be optimised later, it would be better to perfect the template at the start of a project.
Some pages of a modular guide could be tailor-made to suit user’s circumstances and therefore printed from a computer based on user input, before field work. These include context specific keys or flow charts and group indexes, so the group of a species can be found based on its name. For this reason, modular guides may work best for large organisations seeking to improve species identification in their ‘territory’ through successive approximation and collaboration.
The main challenge for modular field guides– a problem and an opportunity at the same time - is management of their publication and distribution. This approach is ideally suited to distribution of species for field guides via the internet. The classic model for publication of Music is to sell whole CDs in record shops. The Music industry increasingly sells individual tracks via the Internet. Maybe a similar approach is possible for field guides?
Various ideas around this theme
Opportunities and advantages
- Species can be made and used one unit (e.g. page or card) at a time, using a standard format. Planners can target first the common or most important species, or those from a currently important area. Other species are added as time goes by, perhaps making the most of the fickleness of funding.
- Different, collaborating projects can focus on different sets of species at the same time
- Projects can swap species to build a complete set Individuals can remove species which do not interest them
- Large organisations can promote species coverage by sub-contracting different species to the most suitable agencies.
- Individuals can make their own cardsMost species occur in many countries, so internationally there is vast scope for collaboration. WWF or IUCN could sponsor rare species; ITTO or FAO could sponsor economically important forest products. Individual NGOS could target rare species.
- Species new to science can be added as soon as the name is published. When names change, an individual card is updated.
- Local agencies, or franchisees, e.g. a Forestry Dept., herbarium or NGO, could be licensed to print out and laminate pages and to sell cards and locally tailored index cards and keys. Cards could be sold as sub-sets or one by one. Periodically, cards would be updated.
Problems with Modular formats
Books are the most popular format for field guides. with good reason. Annoying inefficiencies of sets of cards, or removable pages, which will have to be alleviated by research, or simply accepted as an acceptable compromise if modular guides are to be practical.
- The indexing of species (looking up a name to find the relevant page, when particular species may be present or not, depending on user selections)
- In a card format, some of the content for a species (e.g. the text, or usage details) has to be on the reverse on the main identification face, assuming the space is to be used efficiently and not left blank.
- Where several species are so similar that some sort of key, visual or otherwise, has to be included, all possible confusable species should be included. This can be circumvented by having key cards as a separate page unit, and tailored to the user in question
Portfolio Guides Project Concept
Funders for Biodiversity x Poverty alleviation: Please Note!
o We are contunually seeking funding for such an international collaborative project, based around a collaborative pantropical Modular Guide concept in the current Virtual Field herbarium web site.
o If you might be interested in collaborating or funding us, please let us know. (email William.Hawthorne AT Plants.Ox.Ac.uk)
o There’s plenty of scope for funders to promote international collaboration, everyone can have their logos on each species-card that they sponsor. Publicity and pride will be in precise proportion to sponsorship!