Eight of the 940 watercolor illustrations of fungi by Lewis David von Schweinitz in the Academy of Natural Sciences Archives.   Ewell Sale Stewart Library and Archives Coll. no. 437

Eight of the 940 watercolor illustrations of fungi by Lewis David von Schweinitz in the Academy of Natural Sciences Archives. Ewell Sale Stewart Library and Archives Coll. no. 437

It is quite probable that the facts of distribution, life history, and economic status may finally prove to be of more far-reaching value, than whatever information is obtainable exclusively from the specimens themselves.”

From: “The Methods and Uses of a Research Museum” by Joseph Grinnell (1915), Popular Science Monthly 77: 163–169.

Last week’s annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists provided a great opportunity for three CLIR recipients to meet about our proposed panel for the Hidden Collections Symposium in March. Christina Fidler, Museum Archivist, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley and Rusty Russell, Collection Manager, Botany, Smithsonian Institution and I were joined by Tim White who was unable to be there in person. Tim is Director of Collections and Operations at the Peabody Museum of Natural History and we all connected via Rusty’s mobile phone set to speaker, as we sat on the lawn outside the conference hotel.  What brought two archivists and two collection managers together?  Besides being CLIR natural science museum recipients, we share an enthusiasm for linking access to archives and scientific specimen and data collections.

So to translate the title of this post:  Joseph Grinnell who was the first Director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley foreshadowed the growing recognition within today’s natural science community of the value of all information found and gathered during a collecting event.  And incidentally, this week there have been a number of posts on the TDWG (Biodiversity Information Standards) list discussing an “event core” for documenting field work.  In 1908, Grinnell, way ahead of his time, developed and implemented a detailed protocol for recording field observations. These may include detailed accounts of individual species’ behaviors, annotated topographic maps, photographs of collecting sites, observations independent of specimens collected, interactions with local or indigenous populations, and other data, e.g. weather conditions, vegetation types, vocalizations, and various evidence of animal presence in a given locale.  See Christina Fidler’s post on the Field Book Project blog describing his method.

Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio) is part of the National Resource for Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) funded by the National Science Foundation. It is an aggregator that will allow data and images for millions of biological specimens to be made available electronically. This past March, iDigBio, Yale University, and the Field Book Project sponsored a workshop focused on digitizing original source materials associated with scientific collections with the idea that this material will be able to be integrated electronically.

GUIDs (globally unique identifiers) will be required to link digital files across aggregators and portals to integrate data from the past with data from the present, from many institutions, allowing for comparisons of species change over time and in relation to environmental changes.

So who says that archives are just about dusty old things from the past?

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