[repost] Collection manager's comment

Tue Sep 19 13:42:37 CDT 1995

"Not In Heaven" wrote the following in e-mail to me.  I have inserted
paragraph breaks and edited it as indicated to conceal details of the
specific collection.  [this is a repost, as a line beginning "From ..."
in my previous post was treated by soem reader's mail programs as the
end of the message.]

        Una Smith                       una.smith at yale.edu

Department of Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT  06520-8104

"Not In Heaven" wrote:

> Please keep this anonymous if you put it on the net:
> I am the collection manager at a well-respected museum and have been
> employed here for a considerable period of time.  I manage a large
> collection.  We presently have 35,000 uncataloged backlogged specimens
> in the collection (with [numbers] attached, in fine condition, ready
> for loans except for [labeling] and cataloging, already identified).
> My work/study and hourly minimum wage students and I (maximum of three
> students, usually two, each working around ten hours a week) have
> cataloged 45,000 specimens over the last ten years (identified the
> specimen, [taken steps to preserve] the specimen, tagged the specimen,
> transferred locality data to the catalog, put the specimen in [a
> container], added a [container] label, placed the [container] in the
> collection).
> We have a worldwide collection of immense value to society. The budget
> of the museum is 98 percent salaries for full-time permanent staff.
> Essentially, overhead must come from grants and endowments.  The curator
> and myself have applied for two NSF Research Collections in Systematics
> and Ecology grants to get rid of this backlog, computerize the collection,
> compact the collection, and improve large specimen storage.  These
> proposals have not been funded.  Discussion of why this is the case is
> a story in itself.  Thus, I spend well over half my time on cataloging
> and administrative paperwork and telephone calls, as well as managing
> a very large reprint and book collection.
> There is precious little time for what you have called curation and what
> I would call part of curation - mapping species ranges, working on
> taxonomic and systematic problems, personal field collecting, and research
> writing.  The secret to solving the cataloging problem, of course, is
> having the money to hire sufficient lower wage help to do the cataloging,
> but not have the wages so low that you cannot retain a trained workforce.
> This is definitely not an impossibility.  Other collections in this museum
> have been very well funded by NSF for collection improvements, receiving
> hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a few have large endowments as well.
> I do not anticipate improvement in this situation any time soon for our
> collection.  Cataloging specimens must be done, for managing millions of
> objects is a natural history museum's business.  The mechanics of
> cataloging will always be boring, repetitive, intellectually unchallenging
> work, except for the initial identification, especially for people who
> are overtrained.  If a natural history museum ever gets to a position
> where it is well endowed, it has reached a heavenly height indeed.

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