The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is widely recognized in the earth science community as possessing extensive collections of earth materials collected by research personnel over the course of its history. In 2006, a Geologic Collections Inventory was conducted within the USGS Geology Discipline to determine the extent and nature of its sample collections, and in 2008, a working group was convened by the USGS National Geologic and Geophysical Data Preservation Program to examine ways in which these collections could be coordinated, cataloged, and made available to researchers both inside and outside the USGS. The charge to this working group was to evaluate the proposition of creating a Geologic Collections Management System (GCMS), a centralized database that would (1) identify all existing USGS geologic collections, regardless of size, (2) create a virtual link among the collections, and (3) provide a way for scientists and other researchers to obtain access to the samples and data in which they are interested. Additionally, the group was instructed to develop criteria for evaluating current collections and to establish an operating plan and set of standard practices for handling, identifying, and managing future sample collections. Policies and procedures promoted by the GCMS would be based on extant best practices established by the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution. The resulting report—USGS Circular 1410, “The U.S. Geological Survey Geologic Collections Management System (GCMS): A Master Catalog and Collections Management Plan for U.S. Geological Survey Geologic Samples and Sample Collections”—has been developed for sample repositories to be a guide to establishing common practices in the collection, retention, and disposal of geologic research materials throughout the USGS.
While constructing this report, the GCMS’s potential customers and their needs were considered. Two critical definitions have been clarified: a repository is a facility for the long-term management of geologic collections, and a collection is a set of specimens that have been brought together on the basis of some common characteristic. Required sample metadata for newly collected samples, as well as for older collections, were also stipulated and are listed and explained in this report. Several basic policies are also recommended by the GCMS in order to standardize operations among the physical repositories where collections are currently housed. The GCMS Collection Management Plan provides a set of protocols and templates for the management of scientific collections, including access, storage, transfer, and disposal of physical geologic samples and data. This plan is flexible to allow each repository to adapt the practices best suited to its collections.
The general consideration for implementation of the GCMS is that all active USGS geologic sample repositories will form the core of GCMS and that participating science centers will develop procedures based on proposed GCMS methodologies. The GCMS is a collective resource for the entire USGS community and the users who discover the geologic materials kept in these repositories and seek to access them.