Profiling the pinned collection

As I mentioned a few days ago, we spent a week last spring — almost exactly a year ago, actually — profiling our holdings of pinned insects, using a system modified from McGinley (1989, 1993). This process, pulling out each drawer, evaluating the condition of its contents, and then publishing our conclusions, was one of our 2010 New Year’s resolutions. We did end up profiling the pinned material but failed to publicly avail the results! So here they are. Note that this process was done beforewe started imaging drawers and that during the GigaPanning process we are rectifying simple issues, like the incorporation of expansion space. Here are the categories we used, thanks to input from folks at the Texas A&M University Insect Collection:

  1. Level One – Curation or conservation problems such as rusting pins, museum pests, specimens rolling around on the bottoms of unit trays, unlabeled material. [Unfortunately we had 31 drawers in this abysmal state – mainly due to some unlabeled specimens.]
  2. Level Two – Unsorted material, inaccessible to research community, e.g., mixed orders and/or families in same drawer.
  3. Level Three – Material sorted to «loanable units», typically genera but often tribes, subfamilies or families.
  4. Level Four – Material identified to species, but not incorporated into collection. Includes loans that have been returned but not incorporated, special collections, etc.
  5. Level Five – Species-determined material that does not meet Museum standards for curation, e.g., lacking header cards for unit trays, hard bottom unit trays, or no expansion space. [no expansion space was a problem for many of our drawers!]
  6. Level Six – Curation complete: header cards for each taxon, drawer labeled, adequate space (15-25%) for additional new material within drawer.
  7. Level Seven – Digital cataloging complete at level of taxonomic name capture and number of specimens.
  8. Level Eight – Specimen-level data capture complete for identified species (i.e., each specimen barcoded) [This is the minimum level we aspire to have for all drawers in the collection.]

Why invest our precious time and resources into completing this exercise? Well, it’s one metric we can use to evaluate the health of our collection. Profiling also enables us to pinpoint problems that need to be addressed immediately and gives us explicit goals we can line up for the new year. Below is a histogram of our total holdings. Next year at this time we should see a large shift of those bars to the right—a measurable and hopefully substantial improvement!


  • McGinley, R.J. 1989. Entomological collection management—Are we really managing? Insect Collection News 2:19–24.
  • McGinley, R.J. 1993. Where’s the management in collections management? Planning for improved care, greater use, and growth of collections. Pp. 309–338 in Congreso Mundial Sobre Preservación y Conservación de Colecciones de Historia Natural. Vol. 3. Temas de Actualidad, Iniciativas y Direcciones Futuras sobre Preservación y Conservación de Colecciones de Historia Natural (C.L. Rose, S.L. Williams, and J. Gisbert, eds.). Dirección General de Bellas Artes y Archivos, Madrid. 439 pp.

THIS is how it’s done

Call me a nerd, but this Schmitt box full of Aphanogmus (Ceraphronidae) specimens we received on loan is an inspiration to all aspiring curators. Just look at the precision and uniformity. We wept at the beauty of its composition as we lifted the lid. And we bemoaned the long, slow disruption of our colleague’s artistic expression (sorry Stefan!), as the specimens were removed one-by-one for observation. Alas, science must supersede art in this case. It certainly was an admirable pinning job – one that we are unlikely to replicate so accurately.

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