Scientific Collections

Frequently Asked Questions

The questions and answers posted here are designed to help you plan for, evaluate, and manage your scientific collections.

  1. Does the USGS have a museum?
    The USGS does not maintain a museum for the purpose of housing and curating scientific specimens. The bureau relies on special arrangements with university museums to house its scientific specimen collections that are accessioned as museum property. However, the USGS interprets its history through exhibits and displays that are distributed among several of its facilities:
    * USGS National Center, Reston, Virginia
    * USGS offices, Building 810, Denver Federal Center, Lakewood, Colorado
    * USGS National Geospatial Technical Operations Center (NGTOC), Rolla, Missouri
    * USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center (EROS), Sioux Falls, South Dakota
     

  2. Do I need to write metadata for each USGS working collection?
    Collection metadata records only need to be developed for working collections that will be retained or transferred. Collections information that can be used to develop a collection metadata record will be captured in the Collection Plan and can be amended over time if necessary. Registration of a collection in the National Digital Catalog requires development of a collection metadata record.
     

  3. Where can I find an example of a collection metadata record? For examples in the USGS National Digital Catalog see the USGS Denver Paleontology Collection metadata record describing an individual scientific collection, or the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center Samples Repository metadata record describing multiple working collections maintained within a USGS samples repository. For examples in the GRSciColl / Registry of U.S. Federal Scientific Collections see the USGS Core Research Center Core and Cuttings Collection metadata record or the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center West Coast Sample Collections metadata record.

    What kinds of fields are included in a collection metadata record?
    Examples of some fields that could be included in a collection metadata record are: name of the collection, name of institution/program that owns the collection, location where collection is housed, dates covered by the collection, description of collection contents, type of content, preservation type, contact for the collection, URL of collection website.
    USGS is in the process of developing guidance on what a USGS collection metadata record should include. That information will be included here at a later point. [Should list the minimum fields required or at least preferred by USGS for describing a retained collection, a transferred collection, and museum property]
     

  4. What is the difference between a collection metadata record and a dataset metadata record?
    A collection metadata record describes physical specimens. A dataset metadata record describes the contents of a dataset, irrespective of whether or not the dataset contains data resulting from the use of specimens in a collection. Some information from a collection metadata record may also be used for some fields of a dataset metadata record. However, these two types of metadata records are not one and the same. They are different because they are meant to describe two different things. One is used to share information about a physical collection, while the other is used to share information about data. The required fields are different for a dataset metadata record (examples of dataset metadata standards: FGDC-CSDGM StandardISO 19115-1:2014 geographic information metadata, Ecological Metadata Language EML; see the Digital Curation Conference list of metadata standards for examples of other metadata standards used in sharing digital data and information) than what is required for a scientific collection metadata record (examples of collection metadata records: National Digital Catalog fields for scientific collections, GRSciColl registry of scientific collections fields).
     
  5. Where can I find examples of a data release based on data from a working collection?
    See O’Neel et al. (2018) for a USGS example of a dataset metadata record with multiple release versions that resulted from use of a collection.
     

  6. Who can I ask for help?
    Contact the USGS Collections Steering Committee (gs_usgs_collections_steering_committee@usgs.gov) or a collections or data manager within your Center or office may be able to help answer questions about preparing and publishing datasets and metadata records.
     

  7. What if I’m leaving the USGS and want to document my collections and data? 
    Fill out the data exit form for USGS employees to capture information on data and collections that you might be leaving behind (See Resources). 
     

  8. What is the process for offering a collection/specimens to the Smithsonian Institution? Is there a form for offering a collection/specimens to the Smithsonian Institution?
    Who or what department/group do I contact at the Smithsonian to initiate offering of a collection/specimens to the Smithsonian Institution?
    The process involves internal USGS reporting for disposing of excess property by using a Standard Form (SF) 120 and by making advance arrangements with a Custodian of Collection at the NMNH or a Chair of department. To access a directory of staff at the Smithsonian that work on collections see: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/research 
    An example of how to donate a collection to the Smithsonin is provided here for invertebrate collections as explained on their website entitled, “Donate Collections,” which can be found at: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/research/invertebrate-zoology/collections-...
    The website states: “The Museum discourages unsolicited shipments. If you are considering making a donation, please contact the collections manager of the appropriate museum department.” If you’re dealing with invertebrate zoological specimens, you can select a custodian from a list of departments at: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/research/invertebrate-zoology/collections-access/specimen-loans/custodian-collection.
    Otherwise, we recommend starting with the NMNH Chief of Collections, Providing NMNH with advance notice of your desire allows NMNH to exercise their right-of-first refusal and politely decline your offer. If NMNH accepts your offer, the museum would like you to provide an itemized Deed of Gift that can be downloaded from their website: (https://naturalhistory.si.edu/sites/default/files/media/file/izdeedofgift.pdf).
     

  9. Don’t all collections have the potential to be of further use someday? Why can’t we keep everything?
    Collections may have the potential for further use. Once a collection has met the needs of the USGS mission and are no longer needed, it may be of value to the NMNH or other repositories.
    The Sundry Civil Act of March 3, 1879 (20 U.S.C. 59), as amended, directs that “All collections of rocks, minerals, soils, fossils, and objects of natural history, archaeology, and ethnology, made by the National Ocean Survey, the [United States] Geological Survey, or by any other parties for the Government of the United States, when no longer needed for investigations in progress shall be deposited in the National Museum [Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History].”
    Many of the working collections that have accumulated across the USGS were never intended to be preserved for the long-term. It is important to recognize collections with potential long-term value and make sure they are managed in appropriate repositories. These working collections are federally funded assets with potential scientific value. It is important these collections are accessible to the larger research community. Non-USGS repositories may be more appropriate venues for accessibility, curating and managing of these collections.
     

  10. Can I give my collection to my collaborators at a University (or other institution)?
    After evaluating the collection (see Evaluate), there are two potential outcomes for giving that collection to another institution. When a working collection is no longer needed to meet the USGS mission, it may be donated or transferred. USGS items that may be donated include those that do not meet the 5-point standard, or do not have iconic, historic or scientific value to the USGS (see Donate). Donation is a different process from transfer of a collection.
    If the collection is to be transferred, the first step will be to offer the collection to the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution, in accordance with 20 U.S.C. § 59. If the NMNH declines, consider transferring to an appropriate repository for that collection type (see Transfer).  
     

  11. What does it mean for a sample to be completely consumed or destroyed?
    During the use of a collection in scientific research activities, there is a possibility that some or all of the collected material in the collection may be consumed or destroyed. For example, freshwater invertebrates collected for a biomass study are destroyed when specimens are dried and combusted to determine ash free dry weight. If all the collected material in a collection is consumed during use of the collection and no physical samples remain, the Use stage of the working collection will be the final stage of the life cycle. If collection materials persist following research, disposition of remaining samples should follow steps established in the Collection Plan or can be evaluated for subsequent steps (see Evaluate).
     

  12. What are the two types of USGS physical scientific collections and what is the distinction between them?
    The two types of physical collections are working collections and museum collections. As defined in IM CSS 2019-01, USGS working collections are samples and specimens that are used for education and ongoing research investigations. When a working collection is no longer needed for ongoing investigations, the USGS will evaluate the collection to determine its value to the mission of the Bureau, the broader scientific community, or the educational community. Disposition of working collections must be approved by the appropriate authority as described in the IM. USGS Museum collections consist of items described by a Scope of Collections statement that typically define items of historic significance and/or great scientific value that will continue to meet the mission of USGS in perpetuity. Should a working collection become USGS museum property, it is managed in accordance with requirements in Departmental Manual (DM) chapter 411 DM 1 and other DM Museum Property related directives. Working collections may be transferred to federal and non-federal repositories and museums as described in Guide to Planning for and Managing Scientific Working Collections in the U.S. Geological Survey.
     

  13. What are the requirements when considering disposition of USGS collection samples and specimens?
    When work on a collection is completed or an evaluation of a collection determines that it or a subset of it is no longer necessary to meet the USGS mission, the collection may be transferred or destroyed, based on the condition, value, and usage of the collection. Disposition of working collections must be approved by the appropriate authority as described in this policy (refer to section 6 of IM CSS 2019-01). For example, disposition of samples from tribal or Federal lands must be determined in consultation with the responsible Tribe and/or land management agency. Disposition may also need to be in accordance with any special permit or collection agreement requirements and in accordance with USGS policy on obtaining permission to access to private lands and guidance provided at https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-usgs-policy-about-coming-private-property-conduct-research. In the case of transfer, ownership will be offered first to the National Museum (Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History) and, if declined, to another qualified repository (refer to the Guide to Planning for and Managing Scientific Working Collections in the U.S. Geological Survey) to be made publicly available. Archiving collections data and associated documents must conform with USGS data management and records management requirements.