Access to specimens in the past was slow, collection importance under-appreciated, and specimens under-utilized. Different catalogue methodologies in each collection led to difficulties in specimen access and data management.
We have addressed these issues with a combination of digitization of catalogs and online access of our database. Georeferencing collection localities also facilitates research.
All literature and catalogues are now housed at NPL on the Pickle Research Campus (PRC). Specimen catalog / specimen label / specimen location information is computer accessible.
All catalogs are also scanned and may be viewed for genuine research needs. Loan request forms are available, and may be submitted, via the Web.
Many of the specimens derive from sites no longer accessible, and are thus irreplaceable. For example, many of the early collections in Texas came from sites now covered by lakes or destroyed by urban development. Our collections of modern molluscs were made prior to industrial pollution and thus provide an unparalleled record against which to compare modern assemblages. Revisiting early type localities has helped to pinpoint those from which no additional specimens may be acquired and thus provide us with some mechanism for providing immediate conservation to specimen falling into that category.
Deterioration of specimens
Some specimens in the main collection are deteriorating because they are located in a non-climate controlled and dusty structure. Many of the specimens contain iron sulfide (pyrite) which reacts and ‘decays’ rapidly in the presence of oxygen and water. Some carbonates also will disintegrate due to changes of humidity and when subjected to contact with chemicals released by certain wooden drawers.
A grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funded the re-housing of a portion of the Cretaceous collection. Specimens were cleaned and transferred to steel cabinets to protect against humidity, bugs, and dust accumulation.
One NSF grant addressed the valuable type and figured collection, enabling us to better conserve those specimens, to image them and to georeference their collection localities. A second grant expanded the scope to include the important historic collections.
Insects, such as silverfish, destroy sample labels. Silverfish even eat uncovered thin-sections.
All materials that are susceptible to insect attack are moved to the more controlled part of the repository. Old labels are scanned and archived, their place being taken by computer generated labels within mylar sleeves. Ongoing monitoring with traps helps us keep an eye on a difficult problem.
Additions to the collections.
The collections grow slowly but steadily because of the field work efforts of its own staff, specimens contributed by other UT faculty and staff, thesis / dissertation collections made by members of the Jackson School of Geosciences, particularly the Department of Geological Sciences (DGS) graduate students and research collections from other Texas universities, and specimens donated by private individuals.
The Non-vertebrate Paleontology Lab also has a policy of accepting scientifically significant collections from non-UT individuals or institutions that are no longer in a position to care for them. These are referred to as ‘orphaned collections’.
Several sponsors have enabled increased field work and improved curation of incoming specimens.
These improvements will eventually be extended to the entire collection, a task requiring further support from Federal, State, and private funding agencies, industry, and the general public.
This work will enable us to keep this fine collection vibrant and active as well as preserving it for future research, and for you and your grandchildren to appreciate.