The Smithsonian Institution Archives is in the full throws of internship season. Our office is burgeoning with bright and enthusiastic summer staff. We've worked hard to guide them so that they can learn and produce meaningful work during their few months here. The Field Book Project has two cataloging interns, who are getting an intensive course in what a field book is and have added substantially to the number of records in our registry.
As we've guided their work, it has made me review my experience and processes with cataloging and the goals of the project.
Every time I approach another item in a collection, I have to ask "is this a field book?" The Field Book Project defines it as a record of collecting events conducted for biodiversity research. The definition extends to describe format types and varying types of information. I find it important that discussions about the definition have always sought to include, not exclude.
The decision process for item inclusion continues to evolve, but we always return to the guiding principle and inspiration of the project. We catalog items that inform and contextualize a collecting event. We ask the following questions to determine an item's relevance, although none of these factors alone guides our decision.
- Was it created during field research?
- Does it give important location information about an expedition?
- Does it tell us what other wildlife was present at the time of collecting?
- Is there information about weather conditions?
- Do images document details about a collecting site's environment -- its terrain and area vegetation?
- Does it show other scientists present whose work would also give details about the day or environment?
Our project seeks not only to catalog these items, but also to increase access to them down the road. For this reason, item records provide metadata that will become the foundation for when field books can be digitized, making the field books more accessible to researchers. In cases where items include information beyond describing a collecting event, some basic description of that other information is recorded in the item record, to provide context for the entire material content. Thus, an item record provides a description of the item as a whole.
Items often include information that does not directly illuminate a collecting event. A field book might include family history information or comments about contemporary politics. This information is often noted in the record so that the metadata will more accruately describe the item and add context to the collecting event.
So what will this mean to a user? Combined with the wide range of information about a collecting event, we are recording details that may be of use to a researcher outside the natural history scope. It is not our primary purpose, but the requirements for future work have this pleasant side effect. These details are succinctly described, but the bread crumbs are there for a researcher to find the unexpected at the item level. These two aspects often inspire the blogs posted to the project website.
So what have we found? Keep up with our blog to find out. Watch for upcoming blogs as our interns share their finds.
"Mammalogy at the intersection of mercy and truth" Jenny Mathias and "Life in the Field" By Emily Hunter