USGS scientists collect a range of organic and inorganic sample and specimen types in the conduct of USGS scientific investigations, which constitute scientific working collections.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducts objective scientific research about ecosystems, land resources, energy and minerals, natural hazards, and water resources to inform effective decision making and planning. USGS scientists collect a range of organic and inorganic material during scientific investigations, which constitute scientific working collections.
The USGS has a mission that is unique among Department of the Interior bureaus—to conduct observational and hypothesis-driven science to meet the needs of the Nation. Thus, the scientific working collections generated during this work are public assets, and the USGS has a responsibility to plan for and manage these collections during ongoing research and to determine the appropriate disposition of these collections when they are no longer needed for USGS scientific investigations.
Purpose of this Guidance Document
This document provides guidance to USGS scientists, and information to the general public, regarding planning for, acquiring, using, evaluating, and releasing USGS scientific working collections and scientific products that may come from those collections. This guidance addresses policy in IM CSS 2019-01 USGS Scientific Working Collections Management.
This guidance is periodically updated with existing and developing strategies to address and implement the policy provided in IM CSS 2019-01. Major updates are documented here:
- 6/10/2019 —web page created
- 7/22/2019 —update includes changes from the USGS Collections Steering Committee that incorporate feedback from USGS science centers and collections managers
- 9/23/2019 —FAQs were removed from this page and added to the page Frequently Asked Questions
- 10/2/2019 —edits were made to correct grammar and improve clarity
- 11/18/2022—revisions were made to improve clarity and enhance guidance
The guidance in this document applies to all working collections acquired for USGS scientific research, including those produced in whole or in part by USGS employees, contract employees, financial assistance awardees, other grantees, and other contractor entities where the samples were collected and/or produced with complete or partial USGS funding, unless otherwise prohibited by law, regulation, or policy. It also applies to all types of materials within existing USGS scientific working collections (i.e., geological, biological, hydrological, etc.).
This Guide will first define working collections according to the Department of the Interior and describe the importance of maintaining working collections. Then, it will provide an overview of the five steps in the lifecycle of working collections in the USGS. Finally, it will provide an overview of the workflow associated with working collections in the USGS and provide detailed guidance for each step. The appendices provide additional guidance for the evaluation of scientific working collections. Links to additional resources and a glossary can be found at the end of this document.
This guidance builds on existing USGS policy that was formulated to implement the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. 15908; P.L. 109-58, Sec. 351), with mandates to:
- Archive geological, geophysical, and engineering data, maps, well logs, and samples;
- Provide a national catalog of these archived materials; and
- Provide technical and financial assistance to State geological surveys and relevant bureaus in the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) for managing their archived materials.
The following abbreviations will be used throughout this document:
- United States Geological Survey (USGS)
- Department of the Interior (DOI)
- Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)
- Instructional Memorandum (IM)
- Survey Manual (SM)
- United States Code (USC)
- Core Science Systems (CSS)
- Registry of Scientific Collections (ReSciColl)
What is a Scientific Working Collection in the USGS?
The vast majority of collections maintained by USGS are scientific working collections because they are acquired for scientific research. These are defined according to the Department of the Interior Departmental Manual Part 411 as:
“Organic or inorganic specimens and items maintained by bureau/office [henceforth USGS] programs that are not intended for long-term preservation and care as museum property due to their expendable nature. Working collections are intended for use during education or ongoing research and may be consumed or discarded during the analysis process according to bureau policy. Some specimens and items may subsequently be designated museum property [as part of the museum collections the USGS maintains]. Working collections will be discarded when it is determined there is no longer a need for the collection for future research or education or upon completion of the ongoing research according to standards set in bureau/office policy.”
The USGS also maintains some small museum collections which consist of items of historic significance and/or great scientific value that will continue to meet the mission of USGS in perpetuity. See the Frequently Asked Questions page for more details regarding the distinction between scientific working collections and museum collections.
There are several types of working collection that USGS scientists use. Legacy collections are those from retired or deceased researchers that, with proper management, could become useful scientific working collections. Orphan collections are those that lack proper documentation but may still be valuable resources if better metadata can be discovered. Some working collections may also include voucher specimens, which are collected to verify the identity of the material used in a study and ensure the repeatability of the study. A reference collection contains samples of a distinct nature, natural or manufactured, that provide an objective standard against which other samples are compared. See Glossary for additional definitions.
Hereafter, all references to working collections in this document specifically mean scientific working collections.
Benefits of Maintaining Scientific Working Collections
The utilization of the policy allows USGS scientists to be good stewards of their scientific collections and solidifies their legacy within the USGS as it prioritizes science for a changing world. Other benefits include:
- Added value to USGS science through the promotion of FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reproducible) practices for scientific collections
- Increased opportunities to reuse and reanalyze materials, especially as new technologies emerge
- Increased accessibility of physical samples and materials
- Reduced or eliminated investment in new sample collection (i.e., field work), storage, and maintenance
- Increased opportunities for education and outreach
- Increased collaboration, citation, and continuation of scientific progress
- Ensured preservation and protection of collections that are the only source of irreplaceable materials
- Ensured preservation of historically and scientifically significant collections
- Increased protection for federally funded assets
Figure 1 highlights the benefits of utilizing the policy and this guidance to make a collection more FAIR.
Working Collection Lifecycle
Planning, acquisition, use, and maintenance of working collections for scientific research are steps conducted within the context of the scientific research process and workflows. These steps constitute the lifecycle of a working collection in the USGS (Figure 2). When conducting research that involves a working collection, the entire lifecycle–from planning to final disposition–of the collected material needs to be accounted for. For new USGS working collections, workflows and procedures conducted within the stages of a working collection lifecycle will ensure proper management of collected materials and their documentation. By following these steps, researchers can allocate the resources required to maintain collection management into the future.
Overview of Working Collection Lifecycle Steps
Planning - The Planning stage of the working collection lifecycle should be conducted as part of the broader context of scientific research project planning. At this stage, planning for the entire lifecycle of the working collection needs to be conducted to consider: what the collection will entail; how it will be maintained and used; what will happen to the collection after the project ends; and what to anticipate in terms of needs, challenges, and outputs of the collection. An important component of the Planning stage required by the policy (IM CSS 2019-01) is the development of a Collection Plan, which details how the collected material will be acquired, maintained, and handled after the research project is completed. The Collection Plan is developed as part of the Project Work Plan, which is required through the Survey Manual (502.2 and 502.6).
Acquisition - Acquisition of the physical samples that constitute the collection is conducted according to field and/or laboratory protocols as detailed in the Project Work Plan. Use of best practices for sample type (from community-based standards) for collecting, handling, and processing of collected material during the collecting process will help ensure the integrity of the working collection for use in research activities. Please note, the term “acquire” is used here and throughout this document simply to mean “obtain” or “collect” and does not refer to formally acquiring title to or ownership of the material. Physical samples may be acquired from federally managed lands or Tribal lands, but ownership and authority over the samples remains with the landowning entity (see Acquire below)
Use - Use of collected material in research activities can involve conducting observations, measurements, consumptive procedures, laboratory analyses, and other interpretive investigations of some or all the collected material during the research process. If all collected material is consumed (destroyed) during analysis and use, this stage will become the final stage in the lifecycle of the consumed collection. Proper disposal documentation is required. Any collected material that remains after the working collection has been used in the research project will continue to the next step of the working collection lifecycle.
Evaluation - Evaluation of a working collection involves determining whether a working collection is still needed and/or remains useful for current or future research activities of the USGS. Evaluation is conducted after the project for which the working collection was created is completed, as specified in the Collection Plan. Legacy collections (see Glossary) also require evaluation. Evaluation will result in a decision on the fate of the working collection from that point forward. If the landowner or government agency managing the land retains authority over the collected materials, consult with that owner or governing authority regarding disposition.
Disposition - Disposition, in the context of this guidance document, refers to what happens to the working collection after the research project is completed and involves implementing decisions made during the Evaluation stage. In this stage, all or parts of the remaining working collection can be retained and catalogued within the USGS, transferred to another organization, destroyed, donated, or accessioned as USGS museum property (which requires additional steps and must be approved by the USGS Collections Steering Committee and USGS National Museum Curator). In the case of transfer, the Sundry Civil Act of 1879 mandates the USGS to first offer the collection to the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History and then, if declined, to another institution.
Manage Quality and Documentation - Managing quality of a working collection and documenting all methods, procedures, and activities related to a collection is an element that applies to all stages of the collection lifecycle from planning to disposition of a working collection. Documenting planned and implemented collection and preservation methods, procedures, workflows, protocol deviations, location, and disposition of materials at every stage of the Working Collection Lifecycle (see Figure 2) in sufficient detail is critical to the production of sound science and continued scientific investigations in the future. This includes being able to track the contents (e.g., specimens, associated materials, and information) of the collection and to understand how the collection was created and maintained. All documentation can be used to develop standard metadata (information about the collection) that describes the working collection and its contents to potential users both within and outside the collecting institution.
Detailed Lifecycle Steps: the USGS Collections Workflow
A workflow for the management of working collections within the context of the working collection lifecycle is described in the sections that follow. The workflow (Figure 3) consists of different stages that correspond to the five stages of the working collection lifecycle described above. The Plan stage of the workflow corresponds to the Planning stage of the lifecycle. The Acquire stage of the workflow corresponds to the Acquisition stage of the lifecycle. The Conduct Research stage of the workflow corresponds to the Use stage of the lifecycle. The Evaluate stage of the workflow corresponds to the Evaluation stage of the lifecycle. The Retain & Catalog, Transfer, Donate, Destroy, and Accession as USGS Museum Property stages of the workflow all correspond to the Disposition stage of the lifecycle.
The workflow for existing working collections versus new working collections begins at different stages. For new working collections, the workflow starts with the Plan stage (Figure 3) where collection planning is integrated with the Project Work Plan. For existing collections, the workflow starts in later stages. Some existing collections may be collections currently in use by active research. Others may be legacy or orphan collections that are no longer in use and need evaluation. For these existing collections, the workflow starts at the Evaluate stage (Figure 3) since the initial lifecycle stages of existing collections occurred prior to implementation of the USGS Policy on Scientific Working Collections. Some working collections may have already undergone the Evaluate stage and have been retained for future use. If USGS scientists are conducting new research on a working collection that has previously been evaluated and retained for future use, the workflow will begin at the Conduct Research stage. Following the completion of the research, the data generated will be made available and the Evaluate stage will be revisited by the responsible parties. Managing quality of the working collections and documenting all methods, procedures, and activities related to collections should be done throughout the workflow for both new and existing working collections.
Steps for Existing Collections
Existing collections acquired prior to 2019 may not have a formal Collection Plan and are not required to as they were created prior to the release of USGS Survey Manual Instructional Memorandum IM CSS 2019-01. However, existing working collections that are either currently involved in USGS research activities or are in storage and have not been evaluated need to be evaluated for subsequent disposition steps.
For existing working collections that have been in long-term storage (as legacy or orphan collections), Evaluate is the next step. Reading through the Evaluate guidance and Evaluation Questions will help to determine suitable next steps based on the collection’s condition and value for future use.
For existing working collections that are currently involved in research, USGS scientists must consider the future evaluation and disposition stages of the lifecycle as research activities continue. Completing a Collection Plan and reading through the Evaluate stage guidance and Evaluation Questions below may assist in consideration of future disposition status of collection materials. Once the Conduct Research stage is completed, data products and data releases can be generated and made findable (Make Data Available), and final evaluation and disposition of collection materials can be undertaken (Evaluate).
Steps for New Collections
The following are the detailed steps for new working collections that USGS scientists are encouraged to follow as they plan new research that will involve the acquisition of collection material.
As part of the Planning stage, a Collection Plan must be created as part of all USGS Project Work Plans when study objectives include the collection of materials, samples, or other objects from existing collections or from new research work areas. See below for instances where a Collection Plan is not needed. For Project Work Plans, the USGS requires that all planned research be described (USGS Survey Manual Chapter 502.2) and saved to an internal and permanent USGS system at Science Centers prior to the initiation of work. A Collection Plan should be linked to the Project Work Plan and saved to an internal and permanent file archive at USGS Science Center. All these plans may be updated throughout the duration of a project.
When developing a Collection Plan, USGS employees should:
- Determine if there are existing collections within USGS that could be used to address the research question being posed such that a new collection is not needed
- Avoid accumulation of artifacts or specimens of general interest. The USGS has no mandate for museum functions and limited resources for the accession, maintenance, display, and curation of museum objects. See the Frequently Asked Questions for more information on specimens of general interest
- Limit collections to those that will inform the objective-driven science detailed in the Project Work Plan
The Collection Plan details project and collection information for new materials being acquired or for samples being obtained from existing collections (see example Collection Plan template here). Basic necessary details of a Collection Plan include:
- Type, number, and volume of materials to be collected
- Purpose of collection
- Sample labeling and identification scheme
- Description of spatial and temporal frame of the collection
- Who is the landowner
- Whether collecting permits or other permissions are needed, and any requirements for the resulting collections or instructions for documentation and disposition
- Identification of potential hazards (e.g., pathogens, invasive species, biological infestations, radioactivity, toxic chemicals) the samples may pose to humans, other organisms, or other working collections, and assuring actions for avoiding or mitigating those hazards
- Methods of handling and storing the working collection during the ongoing research
- Planned handling, storage, and disposition of samples from the collection, consistent with instructions from owner or governing authority, as applicable, (Destroy, Donate, Transfer, Retain & Catalog, or Accession as USGS Museum Property) after research objectives are met
- Planned sharing of collection metadata describing the collection samples and the collection itself
- Tracking of collected material and its associated documentation (e.g., field notes, photographs, maps, etc.)
- Contact information for the responsible parties and positions
- Budget for collection maintenance
- A plan to record the analyses and processes applied to samples in the collection
If collected materials are consumed or destroyed during initial analysis, a simplified Collection Plan is all that is required to document the initial existence of the collection (see Collection Plan template).
A Collection Plan is not needed for research activities that do not involve the use of new or existing collection. Documentation of these activities would be reported in Project Work Plans and scientific products, such as manuscripts and data releases, with reference to the source of the collection where samples were obtained. Adding materials to an existing collection that has a Collection Plan: In this case, the existing Collection Plan can just be updated to reflect the new additions. If the existing collection does not have a Collection Plan, a new Collection Plan concerning the evaluation and disposition of the collection can be created.
Early phases of a research project often involve the acquisition of new samples and materials that are obtained according to methods and protocols described in the Collection Plan. Things to consider at this stage of the working collection lifecycle include:
- Obtaining appropriate permits and other permissions
- Determine who owns the land you will be collecting on and their policy/procedure for collection
- County, state, federal, and Tribal lands require permissions and permits and may retain ownership rights; discuss with the landowner prior to collecting
- Follow the USGS policy for obtaining permission to access private lands and associated guidance
- Fossil resources are protected by the Paleontological Resources Protection Act, see DOI policy
- Determine who owns the land you will be collecting on and their policy/procedure for collection
- In instances involving material collected on federally managed lands or Tribal lands, the agency or Tribe may retain ownership rights and authority over the collected materials. Thus, the USGS does not have authority to dispose of these materials, and any disposition activities must be done in accordance with the governing authority.
- Avoiding or mitigating and documenting potential hazards that collected materials or their collection may pose to humans, other organisms, or other working collections. Examples include biosecurity (pathogens, invasive species), biological infestations, radioactive materials, and toxic chemicals
- Thoroughly documenting acquisition steps and any deviations to the original Collection Plan in terms of collecting activities
- Following recommended practices for appropriate collecting, transporting, storage, labeling, and management activities that are required during and soon after the acquisition of new collections and samples
- Reporting collecting activities if required by funding or permitting agencies
- Assigning unique identifiers to every sample in a collection. Consider obtaining International Generic Sample Numbers (IGSN), which ensure your identifiers are globally unique and link to persistent online metadata profile pages.
- Documenting metadata. Documentation of collections’ metadata and related data is essential to maintaining the integrity of USGS science products (USGS SM 502.5). Collections should be properly documented and added to ReSciColl. See Retain & Catalog for a description of the metadata documentation and Resources or the Frequently Asked Questions for more information
In addition to the physical samples collected, other materials generated during collecting such as field notes, maps, images and collecting permits should be maintained for the duration of the working collection lifecycle. Maintaining this documentation helps ensure that information about the collecting process and collected material can later be associated with the working collection to facilitate its future use by project researchers and other potential users.
Soon after the acquisition of the collection and during the initial phase of the Use stage, it is important to establish clear guidelines and procedures on the following: who can access the collection; how material in the collection should be handled; what kinds of uses are allowed; whether or not sampling is permitted and if so, what amount is allowed; and any other considerations to maintain collection integrity for the duration of the project and potentially thereafter (should the collection be envisioned as a long-term resource). Recommended practices for handling, storage, labeling, and maintenance of the collection should be followed.
Additional processing of collected material may be needed to prepare the samples for specific research uses. That processing, for example, may include extracting subsamples or parts of a collection, sorting materials, drying of samples, adding dyes or other reagents to materials to facilitate observation of certain characteristics, and other processing methods. Processing procedures conducted on the samples or specimens of the collection should be well documented.
Once the samples are processed, they are then used in a variety of ways (e.g., making observations, taking measurements, conducting analytical testing, and many other procedures) to address the research question(s). During use of the 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. 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 lifecycle. 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).
As part of the Use stage of the working collection lifecycle, labels and IDs of materials in the collection are documented and tracked to ensure scientific reproducibility and reporting. This documentation needs to be legible and machine-readable. Databases and spreadsheets may be created to track collection materials as well as data that is generated from the collection. Associated documentation (e.g., field notes, photographs, maps) should also be linked to collection materials at this time for future reference. Any changes made to a working collection during this stage must also be documented (i.e., which parts of the collection were consumed vs. which remain intact).
Documentation of collections and related data is essential to maintaining the integrity of USGS science products (USGS SM 502.5) and allows researchers to discover collections for additional investigations. These working collections are documented and included in ReSciColl for researchers to find and reuse. The analytical results derived from the collection supporting interpretive reports should be documented and published as a USGS data release. If changes to the collection occur while active e.g., transfer, samples consumed, these should be noted and updated in the collection documentation. See Retain & Catalog for a description of the collection documentation. Check on any data sharing agreements or any access or use constraints, e.g., sensitive or proprietary data, before making public. Be mindful of permit conditions and requirements from governing authorities with oversight for the collected materials that restrict release of sensitive information, such as locality for rare, threatened, or endangered species.
The Evaluate step is used for assessing possible next steps for existing collections or for evaluating working collections once the research project is completed. These steps should be spelled out in the Collection Plan, but in cases where next steps were never determined or need to be revisited, a collection Evaluation is necessary.
The following collection types should be evaluated at this step:
- Existing Working Collections that do not have a Collection Plan
- Working Collections for which the Conduct Research stage is completed
- Legacy or orphaned collections from scientists who are no longer working for the USGS
- Working Collections held to ensure that no additional checks or analyses are required during the USGS Data Management step and release of science products (reports, data releases, etc.)
During the evaluation process, the evaluator should verify that the collected material is federal property and that the USGS has full and legal authority to determine disposition. Things to consider include:
- Were the materials collected with USGS funds?
- Who owns the land that the materials were collected from?
- Were the samples legally obtained?
- Were the proper collecting permits and permissions (if applicable) in place when the material was collected?
- What instructions does the landowning or governing authority have in association with the collected material (if applicable)?
- Is the material part of an agreement or loan with another agency or institution for the USGS to retain possession of the material?
For material collected on federally managed lands (e.g., National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, etc.) or Tribal lands, the agency or Tribe may retain ownership rights and authority over the collected materials. Thus, the USGS does not have authority to dispose of these materials, and any disposition activities must be done in accordance with the governing authority. If it is determined that the USGS is not the proper authority of the material, consider a Transfer to the institution or agency that owns the material or discuss other disposition options with the proper owner.
To conduct an evaluation, see the Evaluation Questions in the Appendix that can help guide the evaluation process for determining next steps for a collection. Use Figure 4 as a guide through the evaluation process.
Once all research activities are completed, the Evaluate step should result in one of the following five outcomes: retain the working collection at USGS for further use (Retain & Catalog), destruction of materials that no longer have a value or potential use in USGS science, education, or historical documentation (Destroy), donation of materials that have educational value (Donate), transfer to the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) of the Smithsonian Institution (SI) (hereafter “NMNH”) or another institution (Transfer) or accession as USGS museum property (Accession as USGS Museum Property).
A working collection may still be of use for USGS research after completion of the research project for which the material was collected. After there has been a determination that retaining and maintaining the collection at USGS is the best disposition, and that the USGS has legal authority to do so, the collection (or remaining collected material) will be retained as a working collection in USGS and will return to the Use stage of the lifecycle until a new evaluation of the collection is made. Retaining a working collection entails reviewing the Collection Plan and updating it when necessary to ensure collection management procedures (e.g., handling, storage, use, preservation) reflect the most recent context and condition of the collection and are appropriate to properly manage the working collection from that point forward.
Retaining a working collection also entails describing the collection in ReSciColl. Metadata describing the collection need to be documented and to be entered into ReSciColl. Guidance regarding collection- and item-level metadata are available from ReSciColl, under Collections Management (see Submission Guidance). Documentation includes keywords describing the collection characteristics, collection status, description, when the collection was published or updated, provenance, the time period of the items within the collection, responsible parties and organizations, how to get access to the collection materials, and research results from the collection supported in a larger work or publication. Currently, only collection-level metadata are required, but scientists are encouraged to include individual sample metadata to describe the items in the collection. This document will be updated when metadata requirements for ReSciColl change. This formal documentation of retained collections and related data is essential to maintaining the integrity of USGS science products (USGS SM 502.5) and allows researchers to discover collections for additional investigations. Metadata should be updated if the location or point of contact for the collection change.
While still being retained by the USGS, the custody and ownership of a collection may be given from one team/group/individual within USGS to another team/group/individual within USGS. As long as the collection remains within the USGS, it is still considered within this disposition outcome “Retain and Catalog.” The disposition outcome “Transfer” only applies to transferring a collection outside of the USGS. See Transfer. When the custody and ownership of a collection is given from one USGS team/group/individual to another, it must be documented using the form 9-064.
When a working collection is no longer needed to meet the USGS mission, ownership (which includes custody) will be transferred to the NMNH or, upon refusal, another appropriate repository outside of the USGS. In instances involving specimens/samples collected on public or Tribal lands, the agency or Tribe may retain ownership rights. Disposition of such materials must be done in accordance with the landowning or governing authority. Transfer may also be used to transfer collections to their proper owner if it is determined during the evaluation that the USGS is not the proper owner of the materials. Transfer is used for collections, parts of collections, that are well-documented (i.e., minimally meet the 5-point standard) and scientifically relevant for another repository. Transfer should not be used for collections or parts of collections that are being donated for educational purposes (see Donate). See Frequently Asked Questions for more information regarding the difference between transferring a collection and donating a collection.
To transfer a USGS working collection, the following apply:
- The Sundry Civil Act of March 3, 1879 (20 USC § 59) mandates the USGS to “deposit collections no longer needed for investigations in progress at the Smithsonian National Museum”. The Smithsonian has the right of first refusal for any scientific collection offered to it. (See Smithsonian Directive [SD] 600 Section I.B.)
- An exception to the Sundry Civil Act is when the samples/specimens are owned by or remain under the ultimate authority of another entity, such as another federal agency or Tribe, in which case the disposition must be in accordance with the governing authority (e.g., statute, permit, treaty etc.). Ideally an agreement should be reached that maintains the scientific integrity of the collection and provides ongoing access to the collection
- If the intention is to transfer a USGS collection to an entity other than the NMNH, it needs to be offered first to the NMNH to satisfy their right of first refusal, except as noted in the previous bullet where another entity has authority over the collected material. If a repository other than the NMNH has been identified, the offer letter should make this known so that the NMNH is aware that there are other viable options. If the NMNH declines to accept the collection, then the USGS may consider alternative disposition including finding another appropriate repository, retention as USGS Museum Property, or disposal
- By transferring the collection to another repository, the USGS transfers ownership and custody of the collection and waives its rights according to the transfer agreement, relinquishing further involvement and obligations with transferred collection materials. These terms must be stipulated in the transfer agreement
Concerning scientific working collections or parts of collections that are no longer needed to meet the USGS mission, are eligible to transfer, and that the NMNH agrees to accept, the following guidance applies:
- Collections to be transferred to the NMNH or another repository must be described in official correspondence (e.g., a Memorandum of Agreement) that includes a complete list of what is being transferred (see Resources). This document must be signed by the Center Director
- Materials to be transferred must be reported to the USGS for screening prior to being transferred using the form SF-120. Transfer of USGS scientific collections must be documented (i.e., receipted) in the USGS office or Science Center that holds the collection using form DI-104 for transfers within DOI or SF-122 for transfers outside of DOI
- Transfer of USGS collection(s) also must be documented (i.e., recorded) in the USGS office or science center catalog and/or ReSciColl (see Retain & Catalog for how to document)
Concerning scientific working collections, or parts of such collections that are no longer needed to meet the USGS mission, and that the NMNH declines to accept, the following guidance applies:
- NMNH must provide written documentation certifying that the USGS offered the collection to NMNH to honor its right of first refusal and NMNH declined to accept the offer. This may be in the form of an email
- When NMNH declines an offer from USGS, USGS must then offer the collection to other bureaus and offices in the Department of the Interior
- When none of the other bureaus and offices in the Department of the Interior accepts the offer, USGS must then offer the collection to another qualified repository
- Collections to be transferred to either another DOI bureau or office, or to another qualified repository, must be described in official correspondence (e.g., a Memorandum of Agreement) that includes a complete list of what is being transferred (see Resources). The document must be signed by Center Director
- Materials to be transferred must be reported to the USGS for screening prior to being transferred using the form SF-120. Transfer of USGS scientific collections must be documented (i.e., receipted) in the USGS office or Science Center that holds the collection using form DI-104 for transfers within DOI and SF-122 for transfers outside of DOI
- Transfer of the USGS collection must be documented (i.e., recorded) in the USGS office or science center catalog and/or ReSciColl
There are two ways that something can be donated by the USGS:
First, material may be donated to a public body in lieu of destroying it. Second, collections and/or parts of collections may be donated to bona fide educational entities that certify that the items will be used for scientific and/or technological training or research pursuant to the American Technological Preeminence (Stevenson-Wydler) Act of 1980 as amended (Pub.L. 96–480) (94 Stat. 2311). See Frequently Asked Questions for what qualifies as a bona fide educational entity.
Collections and/or parts of collections may be donated if the Evaluation determined that the USGS has the proper authority over the materials. In instances involving materials collected on public or Tribal lands, the agency or Tribe may retain ownership rights. Disposition of such materials must be done in accordance with the governing authority. USGS items that may be donated include those that:
- Do not meet the 5-point standard
- Do not have iconic, historic, or scientific value to the USGS (see Retain & Catalog) and are not of value to the owner or governing authority, the NMNH or another suitable repository (see Transfer)
- The collection permit (if applicable) authorized consumptive use through analysis and destruction upon completion of the research
Documentation of donation:
Collections that are donated should be documented in ReSciColl, with the change in status and new information for the point of contact included.
Materials that are donated to a public body in lieu of destruction must be documented with form DI-103A. A signed and dated receipt is also required.
Donation of materials to bona fide educational entities that certify that the items will be used for scientific and/or technological training or research pursuant to the American Technological Preeminence (Stevenson-Wydler) Act need to be reported to the USGS using form SF-120 for internal screening prior to being transferred. In addition, the donation must be documented in the 9-064 form for excess property retained by the science center or repository. Information that must be included are the non-profit entity’s name, address, and 501(c)3 number, and the name, business telephone number, and email address of a contact person who represents the receiving entity. The non-profit entity receiving the donation is required to provide both a signed certification that the property will be used for scientific and/or technological training and/or research pursuant to the American Technology Preeminence (Stevenson-Wylder Act) and a signed and dated receipt.
The Destroy step may arise through one or more of the following reasons:
- An accumulation of orphaned, legacy, and/or new scientific working collections that were never intended to be maintained for the long-term as described in the Collection Plan
- A determination as part of the Evaluation that a collection is no longer needed for investigations in progress and is of minimal scientific value, damaged, or compromised integrity
- Materials can no longer be maintained by the USGS and are not of value to the NMNH or another suitable repository
- The collection is the subject of irreversible deterioration or infestation or a safety hazard and may adversely affect facilities, employees, or the condition of other materials in collections
- The collection does not meet the basic requirements to be usable (see 5-point Standard)
To initiate destruction of USGS collection material(s):
- Ensure that all associated information, sample IDs, metadata and collection descriptions are complete
- Consult with researchers who have used the collection to ensure all information has been documented
- Prior to proceeding with any destruction plans, confirm that the USGS has full and legal authority over the collection material(s). For example, are any parts of the collection from federally managed lands or under the ultimate control of other agencies that have requirements for the return of materials to those agencies? Adhere to personal and environmental safety and compliance when collection material contains contaminants and/or hazardous preservative materials
- Consult USGS Safety Officers for appropriate destruction methods as needed before disposing of materials
- Apply appropriate disposal procedures such that collection material is not somehow reused, repurposed, or confused with active collection material
- If the analytical or descriptive results of a collection are included in a published dataset or document (report, journal article, etc.), a simplified Collection Plan must be completed to document metadata about the collection and describe all information that arose from the collection (reports, publications, maps, data releases, etc.). For legacy or orphaned collections, and collections that have been maintained and used across multiple studies, metadata describing the collection must be submitted to ReSciColl. Single-study working collections that are to be destroyed following the original Collection Plan do not require registration in ReSciColl
- Ensure information in the Collection Plan is complete and saved to a central and permanent file system at the USGS office or Science Center
- Complete form DI-103A and save to a central and permanent file system at the USGS office or Science Center
Accession as USGS Museum Property
In some circumstances, an evaluation may conclude that a working collection, or parts of it, need to be considered for accession as USGS Museum Property. Parameters for accessioning museum property are defined by a USGS Scope of Collections Statement for each specific museum collection. Once a working collection becomes USGS museum property, it must be housed, managed, staffed, reported, and funded thereafter as described in the policies of the Department of the Interior. This option requires additional steps and must be approved by the USGS Collections Steering Committee and USGS National Museum Curator. The primary mission of the USGS is research, and, as such, the majority of the collections the USGS maintains are scientific working collections, not museum collections. The USGS, therefore, only accessions museum property in rare cases in which something is of great historic or scientific significance.
The following are questions that can help guide the evaluation process for determining next steps for a collection.
If the answer is ‘no’ to most of the questions below, consider Destroy, Donate, or Transfer.
If the answer is ‘yes’, consider Retain & Catalog.
- Does the collection support ongoing USGS research?
- Does the collection meet the 5-point standard? (See below).
- Does the collection represent a unique reference resource for ongoing and future USGS work that cannot be found elsewhere?
- Is the collection irreplaceable or one-of-a-kind?
- Did collection materials originate from agency managed lands, and has the land-owning agency been involved in determining a sample disposition plan? Land management agencies must be consulted prior to Retain & Catalog, Destroy, Donate, or Transfer steps. Governing authorities for samples collected from federal, state, or Tribal lands (e.g., laws, treaties, permits, memoranda of understanding, etc.) must be complied with in determining ownership and disposition of materials.
- Are the research objectives long-term or meant to be comparative across broad time scales?
- Is the condition and scientific integrity of the collection superb?
- If the collection can still be used, would it directly address the mission of the USGS or needs of stakeholders?
- Can the collection be adequately managed as a working collection with existing and future USGS resources?
- Have research objectives expanded or changed or has technology advanced and new work on the collection is anticipated?
- Has the collection gained significant value due to an event or circumstance that makes the collection irreplaceable?
- Is there clear interest in the curation and management of the collection by USGS but not by other repositories?
- Does the collection contain the only representations of a certain material (i.e., no duplicates exist elsewhere)?
The 5-point standard will be applied to the evaluation of collections that do not have a collection plan. The 5-point Standard aids in the evaluation process and determines if collections meet the basic requirements for ongoing research. If these minimum requirements cannot be met, in most cases such collections are no longer useful for scientific investigations and therefore cannot be used for additional research or transferred to other repositories.
The five points of the standard are:
- What: Do the materials or samples have identification numbers or can they be assigned numbers?
- Where: Do the samples come with locality information or can that information be recovered without undue burden?
- Who: Is it known who collected the samples?
- When: Is it known when the samples were collected?
- How: How were the samples collected and stored?
Another important question to ask here is “why.” Although it is not part of the 5-point standard, answering this question can lead to a better understanding of the original intentions of the collection. It can also help to answer the evaluation questions listed above.
- The U.S. Geological Survey Geologic Collections Management System (GCMS) (Note: This system is no longer used by the USGS, but this can still serve as a resource for collections-related information)
- USGS Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program
- USGS Registry of Scientific Collections of the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program
- Submission Guidance for the USGS Registry of Scientific Collections
- The USGS Data Management website
- USGS Community of Data Integration
- USGS Thesaurus Keywords (search on Categories and then Product Types)
- Quality Management System for USGS Laboratories
- Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections
- Economic Analyses of Federal Scientific Collections
- DOI Museum Directives
- DOI Museum Program
- Examples and descriptions of Data Management Plans and managing USGS materials for quality and documentation can be found at the USGS Data Management website
- Data exit form for USGS employees to capture information on data and collections
- Example transfer agreement form between USGS and the NMNH (download document in DOCX format here)
- Giving custody and ownership from one USGS team/group/individual to another must be documented using form 9-064
- Destruction of USGS working collections must be documented through the form DI-103A V.2 (Certificate of Unserviceable Property)
- Donation of USGS working collections must be documented through either: a) DI-103A V.2 (Certificate of Unserviceable Property) if donated to a public entity in lieu of destruction; or form SF-120 for internal screening within the USGS and form 9-064 for donation of collections used for scientific and/or technological training or research pursuant to the American Technological Preeminence (Stevenson-Wydler) Act
- Transfer USGS working collections must be documented through forms SF-120 for screening within the USGS and DI-104 for transfer within DOI or SF-122 for transfer to another federal agency
- Metadata and data releases (for documenting working collections)
- USGS Data Release (from the USGS Data Management website)
Accession – The formal process by which collections are permanently in the custody of a USGS repository.
Catalog - verb: The act of classifying objects into categories and documenting them with descriptive detail and identifying or descriptive unique numbers. noun: A file or database comprised of systematically arranged records. A catalog of working collections is the primary tool for organizing and sharing information about collections, accessible through a digital environment at a USGS office or Science Center.
Collection Plan – A document established during the Project Work Plan process and approved by Science Center Directors that documents at a high level the details of the working collection and plans for its management. Full implementation of the collection plan ensures adherence to this policy.
Disposition - The outcome of the collection evaluation process that determines if a collection, or portion thereof, is to be transferred, or disposed of in accordance with applicable Bureau requirements.
Fundamental Science Practices (FSP) – The set of mandated requirements, codified in USGS policy, that describe the peer review process for publishing research results, releasing data, and other aspects of the scientific process conducted by USGS scientists.
Legacy collections – Existing collections from past research that may or may not have complete descriptions of their content, provenance, and management. These collections have not yet undergone the Collections Evaluation process.
Orphan collections – A collection that, for a variety of reasons, is poorly documented and may have little research value unless metadata is increased.
National Digital Catalog - The National Digital Catalog, now ReSciColl, includes metadata records describing geological and geophysical samples and data managed by state geological agencies and federal organizations. The Catalog is currently being revised to allow entry of metadata records from all types of samples from new and existing USGS working collections.
Project Work Plan – A document that describes an approved study detailing the timeline for the research, the discrete tasks that need to be completed to accomplish the study objectives and the relationship of these tasks to one another as well as the methods to be used. A project work plan also includes details on the budget and staffing for the study, anticipated or planned information products, and the process for managing and archiving scientific records. (see SM 502.2)
Reference collection – A collection that contains samples of a distinct nature that provide and objective standard against which other samples are compared. This type of collection may be augmented with new samples to improve the standard.
ReSciColl – The Registry of Scientific Collections (previously the National Digital Catalog) includes metadata records describing geological and geophysical samples and data managed by state geological agencies and federal organizations. ReSciColl is currently being revised to allow entry of metadata records from all types of samples from new and existing USGS working collections and discoverable in a new map interface, ReSciColl Map.
Scientific collection – “Sets of physical specimens, living or inanimate, created for the purpose of supporting science and serving as a long-term research asset, rather than for their market value as collectibles or their historical, artistic, or cultural significance, and, as appropriate and feasible, the associated specimen data and materials” (42 USC § 6624(e)). Specimens in a federal research laboratory or on federal property are not necessarily, or automatically, part of a scientific collection. This term comes from the U.S. Code and is generally applicable within the federal government, but this document primarily uses the definitions outlined in the IM CSS 2019-01 USGS Scientific Working Collections Management Policy. The definition is included here for consistency with other federal documents.
Voucher specimen - A specimen that physically and permanently documents data in published literature by verifying the identity of the material used in the study and by doing so ensures that a study which otherwise could not be repeated can be accurately reviewed or reassessed. For example, rock and mineral specimens may serve as vouchers to document the geology of an area.
Working collection – “Organic or inorganic specimens and items maintained by bureau/office programs that are not intended for long-term preservation and care as museum property due to their expendable nature. Working collections are intended for use during education or ongoing research and may be consumed or discarded during the analysis process according to bureau policy. Some specimens and items may subsequently be designated museum property. Working collections will be discarded when it is determined there is no longer a need for the collection for future research or education or upon completion of the ongoing research according to standards set in bureau/office policy (411 DM, Ch. 1).”