Volunteering in Citizen Science at Collections Club

During my lunch breaks at the museum, myself and a colleague volunteer in the Division of Insects recurating some of the collections. Recurating means we take inventory of a specific species like our long-horn beetles or our lace bugs, and then we have a researcher look over our inventory and update our list with any new information. From there, we enter the updated information into a database shared with scientists around the globe, so that they can have access to our digital collection. We print our new, organized cards for the insect's unit trays, and alphabetize the specimens for future scientists to find them easily.

Being that it is a lot of hours to count all of the specimens (sometimes as many as 100 small insects in a single unit tray!) the museum simply doesn't have the staff to digitize all of it's collection. Being a volunteer on lunch breaks and weekends is one way that I can help contribute to something I feel very passionate about.

Recently, I learned about a Collections Club, where volunteers get together and over the span of a weekend tackle some tasks that the Botany division needs help with. My colleagues and I participated in Collections Club this summer and were tasked with repacketing plant specimens and transcribing field notes from an Anthropology expedition in the early 1900's!

The Collections Club is part of a larger program called WeDigBio. It's a global effort to digital the vast collections of natural history museums so that researchers and scientists everywhere can have access to the information. One of my favorite things about WeDigBio is how it allows for Citizen Science, getting the general public interested in the collections of natural history museums, and engaged with how these collections are contributing to the world around us.

At Collections Club, we spent a lot of time working through plant specimens collected in the 1970's, still wrapped up in their dated newspaper and cartoons. We transferred the specimens to new, uniform museum packets, for neat storage, and ensured that the labels were appropriate for each specimen.

We even worked with some of the museum's older collection of botany specimens, and repacketed them into the contemporary, uniform pockets. Going through the old packets, we found some specimens dating as far back as 1915 and 1939! The script handwriting was especially beautiful, and we took great care to make sure that both the specimens and their original notes made it into the new packets intact.

The last thing we did was spend a little bit of time transcribing field notes from an old Anthropological expedition. It was definitely hard to read the handwriting, scribbled into the notebook in the field. But it was interesting to read the descriptions of the climate and environment where they were exploring. The notebooks are like little time capsules, almost poetic like a non-fiction book. Transcribing the shorthand notes is not something that a computer can do, which is why volunteers and Citizen Science is more important that ever before.


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