Special Collections Policy

Robin Panza panzar at CLP2.CLPGH.ORG
Thu Feb 16 09:54:19 CST 1995

We at Carnegie MNH are beginning to address the needs of "special" collections.
The assumption is that skins (or skin/skull), whole pickles, and skeletons are
"standard", and anything else is "special".  This includes anything that is
collected serendipitously (such as ecto- and endoparasites from specimens,
stomach contents, parts of animals) or has unusual needs (such as nests,
casts of tracks, frozen tissues, photographs).

We are trying to establish institutional policy, "a strategic plan governing
the future growth, maintenance, use and information management", to quote the
directive.  If anyone has a policy statement addressing these concerns, I would
greatly appreciate a copy (paper or electronic).  Also, if anyone has pointers
or warnings on the subject, I would appreciate hearing those.

Some of the questions we know we need to address are:

1) cataloguing (do we  catalogue the odd baculum as a skin/skull?  do
parasites get the same catalogue number as the specimen they came from?  if we
exchange the specimen, do the extra bits go with it, even if the receiving
institution does not maintain such a collection?  if we receive odd bits of
things we don't normally maintain, what do we do with them?  should bird lice
be kept like a pickled bird or sent to entomology? is a photographic "voucher"
or a few feathers really a specimen, to be catalogued and housed with the
other specimens?);

2) housing (obviously, nests, and frozen tissue can't be housed with the
associated specimen, but what about photographs?  what _particular_ needs do
these odd collections have?);

3) emphasis (what are our obligations regarding their preservation?  should we
be sending the odd bits off to an institution that already has such a
collection or should we re-allocate our [financial] resources to be able to
properly curate them [especially true for frozen tissues, the topic that
started the policy question]?  we have a policy on destructive analysis, aimed
primarily at "standard" specimens, but how do we apply it to a frozen tissue
collection that is just being born?); and

4) what we haven't thought of (what, exactly, are the special needs of each
special collection?  do we _have_ the resources to commit to such a collection?
should we be making a major commitment to _finding_ resources for such a

I am sure there are topics I haven't touched on.  I am sure there are topics
none of the committee has thought of yet.  Anyone with ideas, please let me

Robin Panza

Section of Birds
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
4400 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh  PA  15213

panzar at clp2.clpgh.org

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