Curation Upgrades

Virtual Types

A project to Digitize and Image the Types and Authentic specimens at the Herbarium of the Academy of Natural Sciences (PH).

The goal of this project was to image and database the types and authentic specimens housed in the herbarium of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia (PH), and to make these data freely available over the Internet. The project was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), with matching contributions from the Academy through the Hattersley Family Collections Care and Up-Grade Fund. The historical nature of the collection at PH provides justification for undertaking this work over and above the now well-established benefits that stem from on-line provision of such resources for systematic research. The Academy of Natural Sciences (ANSP), founded in 1812, is the oldest continuously operating natural history museum in the Americas and PH is the definitive collection of specimens for early North American botany (1780-1900). In large part because of the historical depth and breadth of our holdings, the types collection is large (ca. 37,000 specimens) and diverse. Further, because early collectors often did not collect multiple sheets, many of these specimens are not duplicated by holdings in other herbaria.

On-line availability of images and data from the type collection at PH will make readily available a unique resource for systematic research. Specimens that pre-date the 1950s are properly characterized as types and authentic material (i.e., one of perhaps several specimens studied by the author). Modern nomenclatural and revisionary work brings these names and specimens into conformity with modern standards for typification. This painstaking process begins with location of authentic specimens which can be very difficult using traditional bibliographic methods.

On-line availability of specimen data and images facilitates the work of researchers who lack access to a large research herbarium and to research-quality libraries. These challenges are especially keenly felt in developing countries and can impede the best efforts of scientists. Because the images and digital data will satisfy many requests for information about our specimens, we anticipate reduced wear-and-tear owing to less handling and fewer physical loans of the specimens themselves. This will also result in reduced risk of loss and damage associated with loaning of specimens.

The web-served data will be used extensively by scientists, and other institutions can freely use and contribute to the open-source tools created. We anticipate that the historical nature of our collection will result in use by many historians as well.

Types and Special Collections Room

The botany department recently upgraded the condition of storage for the special historical and type collections which number more than 40,000 sheets. The upgrade included an entirely refurbished room complete with climate control and a state of the art fire suppression unit (FM200). All new cabinets were acquired for the types and special collections. This upgrade was largely supported by the Save America's Treasures grant to conserve the Lewis and Clark specimens.

Herbarium Cabinets

As of the end of 2002, we have made a complete transformation at PH. The old wooden, open-fronted compactorized shelving system was demolished and replaced by a new system with far superior storage conditions for our herbarium specimens.

In addition to the very obvious ways in which the new system is infinitely superior to the old, installation of cabinets with doors permitted a design that includes rows that face out into the general space of the herbarium. These are accessible 24/7, regardless of what other rows are being used. This has resulted in a nearly two-fold increase in the number of rows of the herbarium that can be in use simultaneously. A second advantage was serendipitous: the light color of the cases and end panels, plus the fact that one can "park" the rows in any configuration (all cases have doors such that there is no need to press the rows tightly together to "seal"), has made the herbarium a much brighter and cheerier place to work.

Rehousing of the general herbarium at PH was made possible by grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museums Commission, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, with matching funds coming from the Academy's "Collections Care and Up-Grade Fund."