IMLS-funded Cataloguing Project Enables National Shell Museum to Improve Intellectual Control over Its Collection

Read the full story from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

In early May 2016, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum reached the milestone of 100,000 catalogued lots in its mollusk (mostly “dry shells”) collection. This high-priority, IMLS-funded cataloguing project, which includes web dissemination of a searchable version of the catalogue, has been funded by two “Museums for America” grants, both in the Collections Stewardship category.

Natural history collections are “libraries” of the natural world and, as such, are vital to our understanding of nature and our planet. A big chunk of current scientific research on animals and plants relies on natural history collections. Among many other purposes, collections provide baseline data for animal and plant inventories and geographical surveys; the resulting knowledge about distributions of animal and plant species is instrumental in conservation studies and research on threats and extinctions caused by environmental changes.

IMLS funding has allowed the National Shell Museum to hire part-time data-entry staff to expand our collection catalogue, with assistance from collection volunteers. This ensures that the specialized natural history collection we hold in public trust is completely documented and that we have full intellectual control over the material and associated metadata. The National Shell Museum opened in November 1995; by the time it received its accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in March 2010, we had catalogued only 27,000 lots (out of an estimated 130,000). On that occasion, one of the “Areas of Improvement by Next Review” recommended by AAM’s Accreditation Commission was that the Museum should take action to “… further improve the documentation of collections.”

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