VMNH Hosts Carlisle Students for Senior Project in Geological Collections Preservation
International exchange students Gary Wu and Josh Lian spent the 50 hours of their senior project for Carlisle working with me in the geological collections at VMNH on a project I have been working on since I first arrived at VMNH in 2012. The ultimate goal of the project is to number all of the specimens in the permanent mineral collection with the new numbering system, at the same time checking the collections against the data in EGEMS to be sure each specimen has an associated record with the correct number.
In order to accomplish this project, there are three main parts. The first part is to simply document what is in the collection currently. To do this, I showed Gary and Josh how to read specimen labels and extract important information such as the various numbers associated with the specimens. This data is all typed up into an excel sheet and in the second step, it is checked against the data in EGEMS. Sometimes, when going one-by-one through the mineral specimens, numbers are duplicated or specimens are in old non acid-free boxes. I showed Gary and Josh how to handle these issues and gain a better appreciation for their work.
The second part of the project is the cross-checking. This is very important since it isn’t possible to update the database without knowledge of what data is missing. Also, as the collection has been used over the years, between being taken from their drawer and never properly returned, specimens have gone into “limbo”. When this inventory is complete, there will be a list of all of the specimens missing from the drawers, making it easy for the next person to simply check them off as they are found and returned. In this part of the project, Gary and Josh used the database system I developed called EGEMS to search for sub-sets of the collection and, by process of elimination, figure out what specimens need new records, or new numbers. Also, since many of the old labels do not have the new catalog number, it is important to extract these from the database so in the final part of the project the specimen labels can be updated.
Numbering the physical specimens is the last step. After I printed the catalog numbers determined from the first two parts of the project, Gary and Josh worked to cut and glue the numbers onto the bases of the specimens. Similar to a dog without its collar, without affixed numbers, it is hard to know where the specimens belong. If ever a specimen is taken from its box, having a number means when the person is finished using the specimen, they will know exactly where to return it to.
A well-managed collection is the key to improved usability, access, and preservation for collections. This project will ensure that the specimens in the collections can be easily located for future use in education, exhibits, and research and, when finished with the specimens, they can easily be returned to their rightful homes.