releasing rare species localities

Michael.Chamberland 23274MJC at MSU.EDU
Tue Dec 10 17:21:00 CST 1996

> From:         Charlie and Marg Baker <cmbaker at TELEPORT.COM>
> On the surface, asking that people request specific information sounds
> infinitely reasonable. However, when we started compiling information for
> our first book, we exhausted all references available through
> interlibrary loan. We then wrote innumerable letters seeking help with
> synonymy or species habitat information.
> We never received a single reply from any institution or professional
> taxonomist, not one.
> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Well, I cannot speak for the institutions you corresponded with, and I
do not know the content or scope of your request.  But I may assume there
was something off-putting or unreasonable (unbeknownst to you) in the
nature of the request.  See below.

> Since publication of our first volume, we've always received a response
> and usually genuine cooperation. We are certainly delighted to receive
> help now, but it disturbs me that we weren't 'worth' helping before. We
> haven't changed and neither has the reason why we need information. So,

If you find you are being helped now, I do not understand the nature of
your discontent.  You were able to complete what you were working on without
the help you requested?  And has the publication then gained you respect?
Before a researcher is offered funds or material support, they generally
must provide a research proposal.  The research proposal gives an indication
of the quality of work they are likely to do.  Amateur or professional--it's
a matter of the quality of your work, not official title or educational
background.  Is it hard to get started, make a name for yourself?  Sure!
Where isn't it?

> requiring requests seem reasonable, but our experience with requests has
> tainted what would otherwise be enthusiastic agreement.
>      What will happen if herbarium staff is busy?
>      Will an Email request for additional information be ignored if the
> staff doesn't recognize the name or if a message doesn't originate from
> an .edu site?
>      What criteria might the herbaria staff use to determine whether any
> particular request deserves to receive additional information?

Herbarium staff are appointed to maintain the herbarium, especially
mounting, repairing and filing specimens, shipping outgoing loans and
and receiving incoming loans, sending and receiving exchange specimens,
identifying plants, etc.  Often a small portion of time is alloted for
answering requests from the public (this all depends on the job description
and is determined by the curator).  Many herbaria are under-staffed and
face difficulty maintaining the minimum support needed to care for the
collections.  Aid to the public may be limited to plant identifications.

If you were requesting details of synonomy or habitat locations, meeting
these requests often requires a good deal of work, or even new research
to fulfill (especially if you asked before databases like Index Kewensis
were available).  Herbaria often will not meet such requests even from
other institutions.  Instead, institutions will request the specimens on
loan so that the researcher may inspect the label data directly, and also to
check the identification of the specimen which vouchers the locality data.

Herbaria usually will loan specimens only to other institutions and not to
individuals.  You may be able to request a loan, if you develop a relationship
with a herbarium in your area.  You may need to be enrolled as a student
if it's a university herbarium; maybe not.  Details must be worked out with
the curator, and it is up to his or her discretion.  The institution can
request the specimens for your work, and house them in their facility.

Remember that botanists are people too, and you'll find all personality
types.  Too often I find hobbyists addressing "experts" with a contrived
inferiority complex; "I'm just a poor amateur, would your great authority
please answer my humble inquiries?"  That's not a good way to start a working
relationship with most people.

Unfortunatly, most university herbaria do not have an "outreach program" and
cannot function as extension services or offer tutoring, even if such services
are offered to the public through other branches of the university.

Fortunately, another group of institutions does offer outreach to the
public--botanical gardens.  Botanical gardens and plant hobbyists have a
great deal in common, with their similar interests in growing, collecting
and displaying plants.  I believe it would be helpful if hobbyists would
become more involved with botanical gardens and arboreta, and see them as
their best resource.  I also think it would help if more botanists became
involved with botanical gardens and assisted their education role.

Michael Chamberland

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