[Taxacom] Discarding herbarium specimens

Steve Manning sdmanning at asub.edu
Fri Sep 28 16:33:57 CDT 2007

Hello all,

Well it's Friday afternoon and I don't have anything better to do so 
thought I would see if anyone has any inputs on something that has 
been concerning me for some time: What, if any, is the consensus on 
appropriate policies for when to discard herbarium specimens?

This was stimulated by a student worker actually who took it upon 
himself to discard some specimens he thought were "worthless" or 
"trash" from our very small, limited herbarium which is used for 
teaching purposes only at this point.  I thought the appropriateness 
of that was questionable, not so much based on the quality of the 
specimens as just that people didn't do that once specimens are 
either dried awaiting mounting and identification or already mounted 
but perhaps lacking flowers or fruits.  I was going to tell him so, 
but then realized that I actually never had heard a discussion of 
policies on this issue, so didn't make a big issue of it especially 
as I had just assumed this would not happen so never had said not to 
do it.  But I would be more comfortable if we could articulate a 
definite policy in this area based on people's experiences 
elsewhere.  Most of the specimens are collected by inexperienced 
students during a once-a-semester General Botany exercise in which 
they go out grab things and then put them through the process of 
mounting and depositing in our herbarium cabinets, some with 
preliminary partial identifications.

Among the issues I see are:

(1) Who decides what stays and what goes (a) in general and (b) when 
space runs out in a herbarium owing to new collections?

(2) What are the bases for decisions on the above issue?  Personal 
preference on the part of the herbarium director or curator or 
someone else?  Objective criteria?  If the latter, what are those criteria?

(3) How many duplicates of single species (or other taxa) are usually 
kept and at what point would someone (and who?) say enough is enough, 
we are no longer accepting specimens of that species?  Or if the new 
ones are better than some of the older ones would this trigger 
discarding some earlier ones to make room?

(4) Does the collector of a specimen retain any rights to a say-so in 
this matter even if the specimen has been donated to a herbarium but 
the collector (or someone else), if contacted, may prefer to send it 
elsewhere than to have it trashed?  (a) if the collector works for 
the institution where the specimen is and (b) if elsewhere.

(5) Same question as (4) for specimens old enough that either the 
collector is dead or cannot be located?  Is there a specimen age old 
enough that people should not discard things just because of possible 
antique value or historical interest?

(6) Should anyone be allowed to throw out duplicates of type 
specimens, or other specimens of taxa only represented by few 
collections in a herbarium, under any circumstances?  Even if lacking 
reproductive structures and thus very hard to identify?

(7) Is there something like a clearing house for "second hand" 
specimens that might otherwise be discarded, comparable to eBay 
except (hopefully) limited to actual herbaria?  I realize that 
herbaria do exchanges all the time but how often do such exchanges 
involve specimens that have been around for a long time or are 
subject to discarding if not exchanged?  My general impression is 
that those tend to involve relatively recent collections.

(8) Are there major differences in typical policies on the above 
issues between herbaria at Universities used mainly for teaching 
versus those at museums and other institutions that are used mainly 
for research?

Thanks for any inputs on any of the above.  I'll probably think of 
something else after I send this, but the above are the major issues 
I can think of right now.


Dr. Steve Manning
Arkansas State University--Beebe
Mathematics and Science
Professor of Biology
P.O. Box 1000
Beebe, AR  72012
Phone: 501-882-8203
Fax: 501-882-4437

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