This week’s Volunteer Spotlight is on Gene Hess. Gene is the “guru” of all things database at the Museum of Geology. Gene initially set up our database in 2012 and has been single-handedly maintaining it ever since.
Gene has an extensive background in museum studies. He obtained his undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware in Entomology and Applied Ecology in 1980. However, he began his museum experience even before that at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, working there from 1976 to 2007. He rose up the ranks from Collections Assistant, to Collections Manager, and for twelve years was Acting Chair of the Department of Ornithology.
Gene focused his efforts at DMNH on most of the vertebrate collections, including mammals, reptiles, and fish. His greatest efforts were devoted to the ornithology collections, encompassing 120,000 specimens and housing the second largest egg collection in North America. Gene developed the original dBase digital database for DMNH for the two largest collections, ornithology and malacology.
Gene put his time at DMNH to good use, culminating in the publication of Birds of Delaware, with co-authors Richard West, Maurice Barnhill, and Lorraine Fleming. Birds of Delaware is the result of almost fifteen years of work by Gene and co-authors. What began as a breeding atlas for Delaware birds became the foremost text on Delaware ornithology. The book encompasses a quarter million individual record points accumulated over three-hundred years (earliest records date to the 1600s).
Gene spends his time these days on more modest, but no less important, work at the Museum of Geology. In addition to developing and maintaining our Specify database, he does considerable curatorial work in our invertebrate and Recent vertebrate collections, and also supervises and trains students. Gene’s favorite aspect of his job is that he gets to work in a museum, something he’s always wanted to do. He says his greatest challenges are constantly working out database bugs, and knowing some of the most optimal ways of utilizing Specify, but rarely finding opportunity to communicate these tricks to museum staff and students.
When asked about his favorite fossil, Gene was hesitant as he’s spent most of his time working in the modern realm. After careful thought he enthusiastically declared Burgess Shale fossils to be “pretty cool”. High praise indeed from this soft-spoken yet dedicated professional.
Thanks, Gene, for all your efforts. We’d be lost in the digital world without you.