By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
This week as part of Beyond the Field Book Project section of our blog, we continue our series of interviews to learn more about who uses field books and for what kinds of research. Last month, I had the opportunity to interview Victor G. Springer, PhD, from the Division of Fishes. His interests are in the classification, distribution, and morphology (particularly osteology; gill-arch musculature) of fishes, with special interests in blennioid and a few other groups of fishes. He has been in his chosen field for over sixty years, and joined the Division of Fishes at National Museum of Natural History in 1961. Dr. Springer was kind enough share some of his process for recording field data and use of field books in his research.
What types of information do you find important to record in your field notes?
I record field data on water resistant paper sheets. I include specific locality data, ecological notes, date and method of collection, initial preservative, and sundry notes (e.g., indications if specimens were photographed), sometimes sight records of species not collected, date of collection, as well as other participants, if any, during the collecting. I also keep a daily diary at the end of day, with various other types of information, including sundry observations and quotidian remarks – sometimes very personal. When the fish are being packed for shipment, an ad hoc list of identifications may be included on the field data sheets or entered in the diary.
What role do the field notes you take play in your research processes?
The field data are now usually completely entered in the Division of Fishes catalog of specimens and on a label placed in the jar with the specimens. This data has been computerized for several years, but for my early collections the data was only recorded by hand in catalog books and might not have been completely included. For these early collections I go back to the field data sheets for missing information or to correct errors that might have been made when data were entered by hand in the catalog books.
Do you ever consult field notes that were done for another expedition, for example a historic expedition? If so, how do you use the information in those notes for your research?
When using specimens from the George Vanderbilt collections at Stanford University, jars of specimens only had the field collection number associated with them, and it was necessary to go to the detailed field data sheets to get the information. This has happened at the National Museum of Natural History only on rare occasion, but there is one outstanding example I remember. An ichthyologist named William Longley, made important collections during the early 1900s in various places in Indonesia and also in Florida. He never associated labels with his specimens, relying on his memory and field data sheets for the information he needed. When he died, his collections of mixed fish from mixed localities were given to us. These were sorted by us and generally identified – usually only to family, and whoever did this placed the same locality label in each jar of specimens: EAST INDIES. Using his diaries and field notes I was able to assign more accurate localities to those specimens of his that I used in my studies.
Thank you, Dr. Springer, for sharing with us about your work process and the use and value of field notes relating to your research. You can learn more about ichthyology field notes on our Blog.