Private collections

Doug Yanega dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU
Wed Sep 25 16:45:53 CDT 2002

Sean Barry wrote:

>I think that "small" institutional
>collections, often somewhere between large teaching and very small
>research-sized assemblages, are at far greater risk of neglect and
>outright disposal, such as when scientific fashion changes, when
>interested curators retire, or when the space occupied by the collection
>becomes an issue. Note that many of those "small" collections are housed
>at very large institutions, which can result in very large
>institutionalized neglect.  I'd be more concerned about the permanent loss
>of that material than I would about a private collection in the hands of a
>real authority who understands its value and protects it at all costs.

I think that with this last bit above, we've now covered almost all
the significant points surrounding the issue. However, the difference
in opinion seems to come down to which subset of those points each
person here personally considers to be of greater value. Sean's
closing comment brings me to what I consider to be the most
important, and which - as is often the case in a "controversy" like
this, and not unlike Chris Thompson's note - doesn't actually draw a
distinction based on public vs. private.


Neither property is something that one type of collection can claim
as its exclusive province. There are personal collections which allow
access (as folks like James Adams noted), and there are institutions
that neglect things or get closed down (an increasing threat here in
the US these days). I have no problem with private collections *IF*
they are fully accessible to the taxonomic community, and *IF*
provisions are made that guarantee this access in perpetuity.
Obviously, though, even "a private collection in the hands of a real
authority who understands its value and protects it at all costs" is
ultimately worthless if they won't let anyone use it, or if they die
and their heirs take the collection and auction it off to, say, an
insect dealer. That being said, I don't think anyone here would
honestly argue that - ON AVERAGE - private collections are as good at
dealing with access and perpetuity as those at institutions. If
Lynn's idea helps to improve the general quality of private
collections, especially if it improves access and perpetuity (e.g.,
if membership in this coalition of private collections requires that
one sign a charter containing an explicit promise to loan out
material and to make legal provisions for the future of the
material), then I think we'd be foolish not to encourage the effort,
as we can only benefit from it.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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