Our intent with this blog is multi-faceted. Of foremost importance is outreach to those who are interested in our activities, such as alumni, friends, colleagues, and supporters. Western South Dakota is an isolated place and the museum can be difficult to keep tabs on, even for those in the region. Those separated by greater distances may find it impossible to keep up on our activities. A blog, of course, gives us a venue to share weekly activities and reach a much broader audience.
Additionally, most of our activities are behind the scenes. Museums are composed of two primary faces, the public face, which includes displays and outreach, and the collections face, which includes all the collected materials and associated archival information. In our case, our split involves a much greater portion of collections space and effort. This is the side of museums that the public rarely, if ever, sees, but this facet also encompasses the vast majority of work. In our case, our collections include invertebrate and vertebrate fossils, modern vertebrae material, minerals, fossil plants, and microfossils. We have limited staff and curatorial support, so we have our work cut out for us.
But this blog is also in support of very specific objectives as well. We’ve recently been lucky enough to receive major funding from two sources in support of collections management efforts. This week, I’ll outline the efforts and the organizations that graciously supported them.
The first funding source is the National Science Foundation (NSF) Biological Research Collections unit, specifically Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR). This three-year grant began in January of 2014 with sole purpose of cataloging and digitizing three new additions to our invertebrate paleontology collection. These additions include the career collection of Dr. Laurie Anderson, the dissertation collection of Dr. Christina Belanger, and an orphaned collection from the former University of South Dakota-Springfield. The Anderson collection includes Neogene shallow-marine assemblages from the New World tropics and subtropics; Holocene and modern death assemblages from the Gulf of Mexico; and samples of live-collected mollusks (now frozen) from the US Gulf Coast collected before and after the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill. The Belanger collection holds benthic foraminifera and invertebrate assemblages from the Astoria Formation (Miocene, Oregon), representing a time series spanning ~20-16 million years ago. The Springfield collection is primarily modern mollusks from the US coasts, Caribbean and Indo-West Pacific collected between 1951 and 1963. One of the purposes of this blog is to give a weekly documentation of the activities associated with curation and digitization of these collections.
The second funding source is the Museums for American grant through the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded in 2013. This is another three-year grant intended to facilitate digitization of collections associated with the Western Interior Seaway (WIS). The WIS was a shallow seaway extending through central North America from approximately 100-60 million years ago. The museum has been collecting fossils of ammonites, giant clams, fish, sharks, mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, and birds in the local sediments of the WIS for several decades. The goal of this project is to enter collections data into a digital database (Specify). Additionally, we are working on organizing and digitizing all of the archival materials associated with the collection of this material, including field notes, photographs, reports, specimen cards, locality cards, and any other ancillary materials.
Both funded projects include numerous student employees, both undergraduate and graduate. You will be hearing from many of them in the coming weeks as they submit weekly descriptions of their activities.
The ultimate goal of all this effort is to make the information associated with these collections readily accessible, which includes online access to our collections. This will help visiting researchers better plan for their visits by assessing the extent of our holdings before they arrive. Additionally, adding this information to many existing paleontological databases will ensure that the years of collecting, preparation, and curation will result in our data contributing to a growing global dataset, thereby adding information about past biodiversity and long term faunal change.