Just before the memorial day weekend Mark and I had the pleasure of attending the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections(SPNHC) conference. A national conference (and a few international folks too) held here in San Francisco this year. We gave an oral presentation and a demo camp presentation. Both were well received and afforded us the opportunity to speak to folks from various institutions. We have done a lot of work with fine arts institutions, but only a few proof of concept projects with natural history collections. It was a real treat to have a chance to go to some talks and panel discussions and also a collections tour at CalAcademy. I have always thought natural history museums were interesting and important and cool, but this conference really brought home to me just how important these collections really are as a scientific record of our planet. Collections large and small are critical to helping us answer questions about the natural world both now and in the future. A great example I saw on the collections tour were finches collected in 1905 – 1906 from the Galapagos, where the preserved skins allowed current researchers to do DNA analysis to answer new questions. Since DNA analysis didn’t exist when the specimens were collected, this clearly wasn’t something they were trying to enable. And yet, if we do a good job at collecting and preserving things (objects, data, specimens, etc.) then they just get richer and more valuable over time. That is one of our goals at CHI, to make data increase in value over time by collecting high quality imaging data and good records of how it was collected and what was done to it.
It was a great experience to be at SPNHC, and we hope to attend next year when it is hosted by the Peabody Museum at Yale.
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