Faculty Research & Creative Activity

Natural History Collections: Connecting With Faculty and Content

Stacey Knight-Davis, Eastern Illinois University


For well over a century, American biologists have built collection of plants, animals, fungi, insects, and other natural materials. Often, these collections serve as a record of the unique biodiversity of the local area and provide a record of change over time. Many taxonomic, genetic, and environmental discoveries lay waiting in the drawers and cupboards in which these specimens are stored. / / Uploading images of natural history specimens to Digital Commons allows them to be easily discovered in with a web search, leading the user back to the home collection. As an example, a search for 'big leaf magnolia Illinois' in Google returns a specimen from Eastern Illinois University's Whiteside collection as the first result. Making all specimens this easily discoverable raises the profile of the institution and highlights the value of its collections. / / If your repository is looking to recruit new content, seek out natural history curators within your institution. Working with biologists to develop procedures to accession new specimens into the repository at acquisition is an alternative to a large retrospective efforts. Staring with a small collection of specimens used for teaching is another way to reach out to students and faculty. Stakeholders in natural history collections are generally very interested in finding way to make their collections more visible and useful. / / Imaging the Stover-Ebinger Herbarium at EIU will be the next large natural history project. This collection was started in 1899 and includes over 70,000 species. This will be the first project where items are digitized in the Booth Library scanning center with a digital camera instead of a flatbed scanner. Some digital metadata does exist that can be migrated. While the project will take many semesters to complete, the benefits to students at EIU and researchers around the world will justify the time spent imaging specimens.