Recruiting, Supporting, and Retaining Small Collections Workshop: A Student’s Perspective


by Abigail Hollingsworth

When I was first invited to speak about student learning in small collections at the Recruiting, Supporting, and Retaining Small Collections in Biodiversity Digitization Workshop April 7-10, 2014 at Central Michigan University (CMU), I expected the other attendees to hail primarily from other small Herbaria seeking to digitize. But this conference was far more inclusive than that. The topics covered varied from how to save our collections from the dumpster to how to save the next generation from falling through the educational cracks in our society.

This workshop was an incredible act of collaboration across educational backgrounds and scientific disciplines. Professionals and students gathered from all over the country to discuss the issues of curation, digitization, and outreach: museum curators, collection and database managers from universities big and small, programmers, administrators, and even representatives from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Rather than focusing attention only on Herbaria, this workshop welcomed paleontologists, ichthyologists, entomologists, and more.

Everyone at this conference, regardless of whether they came representing museums like the American Museum of Natural History, organizations like NSF, or universities like CMU, all had at least one thing in common: the desire to gain knowledge and the passion for sharing that knowledge with others. The attendees did not come to argue or to lecture; they came to learn. I was so impressed that everyone not only had a voice, but were eager to listen to each other and to grow.

Initially, I was overwhelmed at having to mingle with more than 50 highly qualified strangers, but by the time the conference had drawn to a close, I felt as if I had 50 like-minded friends. I had a support group, individuals forming a network of knowledge and experience from which I could draw. Perhaps most importantly, I was made to feel as if I had contributed in a valuable way.

It would have been easy for me to become a watcher, a non-participant. After all, I only have a Bachelor’s degree and a single year of experience working with natural history collections. Most of the individuals at the workshop have a veritable lifetime of experience and quite a few more degrees than me. But the professionals at this conference had a welcoming way about them that made me feel as if I was on equal footing with them, as if the perspectives of students were just as vital as those of accomplished PhDs, and as if 400-specimen collections were just as important as those containing millions. And they are.

It is so important for fledgling professionals to not only have role models, but to be included, to be allowed to stretch our wings, to not be ignored just because we are at the start of our journeys. This workshop through iDigBio and others like it are ideal for providing those opportunities. This conference taught me about running collections, writing grants, and about confusing terms like portals and SCNet. But what I really learned was the sort of professional that I want to be someday: not one who isolates, but one who collaborates, who reaches out. Because together we are smarter and stronger than the individual collections we represent. Only united can we ensure the future of science and the relevance of our collections in this quickly changing modern world.

Before I close, I would like to give a big shout-out to iDigBio, CollectionsWeb, and to the representatives from NSF, Roland Roberts and Judy Skog, who were instrumental in making this conference possible. Roland and Judy also contributed a big-picture perspective to the workshop, and did an amazing job revealing the keys to the locked chest that is successful funding. And to the other attendees of this workshop from places both near and far, I say, “Thank you.” The knowledge, perspective, and sense of humor that I gained at this workshop will remain invaluable to me. Here’s to the future of collections and collaborations!

[Abigail Hollingsworth is a recent Summa Cum Laude graduate in biology at Central Michigan University and will be pursuing her masters degree in creative writing at CMU beginning August 2014. Currently she works as an editorial assistant for an independent literary press and aspires to enter into the publishing industry. She has a year of experience working in natural history collections and has also participated in two research expeditions to Antarctica, where she worked with a team of international scientists to collect, sort, identify, and preserve a wide array of invertebrates and plankton. She has assisted in taking soil cores and water samples in northern Michigan wetlands and has worked as an undergraduate assistant in an aquatic molecular ecology lab, where she tested primers for the identification of invasive species using eDNA found in the water column, extracted and purified DNA from Antarctic sea star tissue, and used Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR) and electrophoresis to prepare samples for genetic sequencing. Abigail is one of several undergraduate and graduate students who attended the recent Recruiting, Supporting, and Retaining Small Collections in Biodiversity Digitization workshop co-sponsored by CollectionsWeb, iDigBio, Central Michigan University, and the Small Collections Network. iDigBio appreciates Abigail’s student perspective on this workshop. iDigBio also acknowledges Alan Prather, Principal Investigator of the NSF-funded CollectionsWeb, for providing the financial support that made this workshop possible, and Anna Monfils, former iDigBio Visiting Scholar, for her leadership in bringing the workshop to fruition.]