By Emily Hunter and Rusty Russell, Field Book Project
Last summer, Field Book Project staff and interns began to catalog the hundreds of field books that are in the care of the Department of Botany. This summer, the Field Book Project has reached a significant milestone. As of this writing, the final collection of Botany field books is being cataloged -- at least for now. “At least for now” because while the current cache of Botany field books has been documented they, like all of the collections at the National Museum of Natural History, grow and diversify. Field books are still being “found”, and some day current staff will contribute their own field books. For now, the Field Book Project only catalogs the field notes of inactive collectors.
The numbers are far greater than the original estimates. To date the Field Book Project has cataloged 1,018 botanical field books created by 168 field biologists. Many of these field books have received special conservation attention from experts at the SI Archives, and now exist in a more controlled environment. We’ve created consistent records and access points that ultimately make the field books and their content more accessible to researchers. The short version? You will have an easier time finding and using these field books.
In 1980 former Botany Librarian Ruth Schallert prepared an inventory of field books being stored in the Botany Library. For more than two decades, this listing was the only electronically available field book resource on the NMNH website. In the course of cataloging, however, we have found that some of the field books were missing. Their current storage in the Natural History Library improves our ability to maintain and preserve the Botany field books. The task of digitally scanning field books has begun, and soon researchers will be able to locate field book items through the catalog by several access points (dates, creator, locality, and others) and be able to see and read the individual field book pages.
Field books are the original source of information for collecting activities and the resulting collections. They are, therefore, even more important than specimen labels. The impact of reaching this milestone in Botany is significant in terms of improved access to this critical data, all of which bodes well for research and collections programs in the Department.