A Digital Museum!

by Chris Angell

In September, we announced that the Joseph Moore Museum had received a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This $149,000 grant will fund student work in digitizing the museum’s vertebrate collections over the coming 3 years.

Many people don’t realize that only about five percent of the specimens owned by most museums are on display in the exhibits. The rest are preserved and stored as an archive that can be used by researchers of all kinds. The Joseph Moore Museum is no exception, with bird, mammal, reptile, insect, fossil, and archeological collections stored away in its collections room. With help from the new grant, museum employees are bringing our vertebrate (bird, mammal, and reptile) collections into the 21st Century: digitizing them with “metadata” (like date and location collected, weight, sex, etc.) so scientists can learn from our specimens no matter where in the world they live.

I asked Wallis Bland, a sophomore projected biology major working in the collections, to tell me a little about her experience digitizing our specimens:

What does digitizing the collections entail?
It means we go through each drawer one by one, and make sure every specimen has an much information as possible in our online collections. At some point these will all go up on the web so people can look through what specimens we have.

Why is digitization important?
It’s a second record for us. We have paper records of everything, but by doing digitizing it we can double check that everything is where it’s supposed to be. And when someone goes through the digital records they can now have exactly where each piece of a specimen is. If your looking for the skull or skin of a specific creature, you know exactly what drawer it’s in as well as who prepared it, the original collector, etc.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I really like being able to go through all the mammal specimens, especially foxes and rabbits. Basically I really like knowing what we have down in the collections and being able to take care of all of them. Also all the really soft animals make me happy!

What experience have you gained working in the collections? Are you interested in museums as a career?
I’ve become much better at being organized and writing notes in a way that other people can follow. Any decisions that I make regarding the specimens and the way they are cataloged needs to be written down, in case the decision was the wrong one and needs to be found and fixed. I am interested in working in museums, either teaching or working in museum libraries and archives, so this is the perfect position for me.

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