Collection Management

Jen here – 

A graphic I made for Science-A-Thon this year explaining what a collection manager actually manages!

I recently started a new position as a Research Museum Collection Manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology (UMMP). I am in charge of taking care of the invertebrate fossil collection, which are housed at an off campus facility with all of the other natural history museum collections (anthropology, zoology, and the herbarium). My position involves a lot of moving parts. I took over for someone who had moved the collection twice in the past several years – which is an astronomical endeavor. I have started with working to get a lot of paperwork organized. Specifically the loan paperwork. Research museums loan out specimens to other institutions and borrow specimens from other institutions! Usually there is a lot of paperwork associated with this but not everything is always organized or clear. I’ve spent quite a bit of time working to make sure I know who has specimens of ours and trying to reach out to others to return specimens. I’m nowhere near done but I have a good handle on the last decade, which I consider a victory!

I have recently employed several undergraduate students to help me get a better handle on what is actually in our collection. All of the type and figured specimens are in our local database but they were entered from the card catalog rather than examining the specimens and specimen labels. So, we want to make sure all the information matches and update it if it doesn’t! We are also working to take images of the types to attach them to the specimen records. This is a huge task and I am happy to have some help. 

Here is a peak inside one of the cabinets! The drawers are filled with specimens and how we store them is important for the longevity of the fossils and materials!

I also have been organizing the collection, after the move there were lots of boxes and pallets with miscellaneous fossils and I’m working to figure out what is what. Some of this was easy, some of it involved going through some really nasty old news paper that was used as packing material decades or even a century ago. It’s really important that the collection stay clean because the specimens are housed in compactor shelving. Meaning that if you are trying to get to one area you may have to move other cabinets and it can be difficult to try to look in different time periods or collections at the same time.

Part of my job includes bringing people into the collection. This could be researchers to study the different animals in the collection or conduct geochemical analyses or even high school students looking to pursue a career in paleontology. Every week I have at least one visitor, which is great for the collection. Next week, two folks from the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department are coming to explore some of our Cenozoic material as they are interested in understanding the ancient climate along the eastern coast of the United States. To do this, they use shells from the collection to reconstruct what the environment may have been like!

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2 thoughts on “Collection Management

  1. Asa Kaplan January 6, 2020 / 10:38 am

    Jen, you rock. Any chance we could convince you to get every holotype 3d-scanned? 🙂 I’m not sure if the GB3D project (http://www.3d-fossils.ac.uk) is still alive but I thought it was brilliant while it lasted.

    • jenebauer January 6, 2020 / 1:22 pm

      Hi, Asa!

      Short answer is yes! UMMP has their own efforts in this regard: https://umorf.ummp.lsa.umich.edu/wp/ that has been largely spearheaded by my vertebrate counterpart, Adam. I have two undergraduate museum techs helping me right now systematically go through the types so we know where everything is, what is still on loan, what may be missing, etc. We haven’t made it super far yet, but we are also targeting interesting specimens for photogrammetry. Adam is going to teach me our set up soon and then we can get some invert models up there! I also want to find the hidden gems in the stratigraphic collection but… that’s another big endeavor!

      If we can secure funding for some additional help maybe we will have targeted efforts on specific ages or regions =] I’ll keep you in the loop as we move forward. We are hiring a new communications staff member and I hope to put out a biweekly newsletter with collection updates.

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