Accessioning a Donation: Part 1
Today marked our first full day of work to transfer a very generous donation to the ASUHIC from David Ceizyk (and family). The Ceizyk donation contains large amounts of material originally from the Collection of Ira Nadborne, a long-time collector whose collection is rumored to number around 2,000,000 specimens. This post is the first of a series which will show not only the progress of processing this donation, but also walk through the steps of accessioning; that is, bringing new material into a research collection. View Part 2 here.
1. The Nadborne material
Pictured above is perhaps a fifth of the material contained in this large collection. Many of the specimens are pinned into various boxes (Schmidt boxes, Cornell drawers, European style museum boxes, and a vast array of homemade cardboard storage boxes). A large number of specimens are also unmounted, and stored between sheets of paper in the boxes seen on the left of the aisle.
When we first arrived, I completely forgot about our task (transporting the material back to the ASU collection) and instead found myself rummaging through the collection. Just a few of the more spectacular specimens are pictured below.
Unfortunately not all boxes we uncovered were in the same shape as these two. Opening the box containing Eleodes Eschscholtz (the group I work on) quickly brought me back to reality, reminding me why we were here. These specimens and their associated data contain incredible value to our understanding of insect biology, phylogeny, distribution and ecology. And those of us who work with collections are charged with maintaining and preserving the wonderful diversity and biological data they represent.
The ‘dust’ below the specimens is from one of the worst fears of curators and one on the most devastating problems facing collections that are not continuously cared for: dermestids. Carpet beetles, from the family Dermestidae, thrive off of dried plant and animal matter, making a box of insect specimens the perfect feast. Finding a collection with signs of an infestation requires fast action: (1) immediate freezing to kill the pests, and (2) curation to remove the damage and dirt in order to maintain what is left and monitor for any new outbreaks.
2. Specimen transport preparation
Being drawn back to the reality of the enormous project ahead of us, we got to work. The first step was to prepare the specimens for transport. This requires examining every box. Any loose items – such as specimens that had fallen off their pins, soda bottle lids that once contained mothballs, and free pieces of paper – must be removed or secured so that they do not bounce around damaging other specimens. Many larger specimens also require brace pinning, so they do not wiggle free when jostled. We also had to transfer many specimens from half-full boxes together to conserve space for transportation. The collection was well sorted, with insects belonging to different orders and families placed in different boxes, even if there is free room in many of them. While this is precisely what most collections do, we had to be sure that we were able to move as much as we could fit into our pick-up truck.
Once the boxes were prepared, we had to load them into our truck. Our Tetris skills proved sufficient and we ended up using nearly every cubic inch we had to spare. We do not yet know how many specimens are within these boxes.. Stay tuned for future installments which will touch on cataloguing and documenting accessions. Some contain just a handful of large – beautifully spread – butterflies and moths, others contain perhaps hundreds of small beetles and flies.
With our load securely squared away, it was time to return to the Hasbrouck Insect Collection. And when we arrived, we immediately performed one of the most crucial steps…
3. Freezing incoming material
While it was evident that there was pest damage within this donation, it is standard practice in museums and collections around the world to freeze everything before putting it into the collection. Just because you might not see pest damage, that does not mean there are not pests contained within. All specimens and containers used in shipping were placed directly into our walk-in freezer without being taken through collection areas. They will remain here for at least three days (likely a full week for us since this is such a large volume of material with obvious pest activity) before being taken into the collection for further processing.
After a long day of work – and enduring a seriously cold freezer for desert folk – we are excited to begin our next phase of the journey next week when we can safely begin curating this vast amount of specimens into the rest of the Hasbrouck Insect Collection.
Stay tuned for more updates around the new year!