The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) has issued a report stressing the benefits of maintaining object-based collections for scientific research purposes. The long-awaited report is based on the results of a survey on the status of federal scientific collections. The report was compiled by the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections (IWGSC) and includes recommendations on the future management of the nation’s scientific collections.

The survey was conducted online between June 2006 and September 2007 and garnered 153 responses from fourteen government agencies reflecting a total of 291 federal scientific collections. Collections were classified into one of ten categories with cellular (22%), geological (21%), paleontology (14%), vertebrate (12%), botanical (11%), and invertebrate (10%) being the most common. The primary use of federal scientific collections is basic research, a use category selected by 84% of respondents. The majority of collections were reported as growing in size (78%). Although most respondents (78%) reported the condition of their collections as “good” or “very good”, more than half also stated that a condition survey of their collection has never been performed and a complete condition assessment has been done by only 12% of collections. A lack of collection assessment can be at least partially explained by funding and staff trends. A large number (41%) of respondents stated that funds for collection care and management are not specifically allocated by their agencies and only 27% reported budget line-items dedicated to collection maintenance and management. In addition, dwindling numbers of collection support staff were cited by 40% of respondents.

The IWGSC found that while federal collections are generally accessible for use in scientific research, serious shortfalls remain with the development of collection databases, availability of collection contents on the internet, and the formal establishment of collection policies. The majority of respondents (78%) reported that more than half of their collections are accessible for scientific research and other uses. While 68% of collections have more than half their specimen data cataloged, only 27% have their entire collection cataloged and a mere 16% have all their specimen information in a computerized database. A scant 14% have more than half of their collection specimen data available on the internet, making it more difficult for scientists to be aware of federal specimens that relate to their research. Lastly, 28% of respondents stated that they have no formal policies that govern the management of their collection. Over 50% reported that they do not have approved policies dealing with documentation, acquisition, access and use, preservation, disposal, handling, and security of their collections.

The IWGSC recommends that costs of managing and maintaining collections be included in the budgets of agencies that possess them. They suggest that catalogs, indexes, and online databases of federal collections be further developed with the added goal of compatibility of databases between agencies. The working group also suggests that those managing collections improve the inter-agency exchange of information and documents relating to policies, procedure, and best practices so that existing protocols may serve as blueprints for others with underdeveloped policies. Lastly, the IWGSC suggests that periodic review of the status and condition of federal scientific collections be conducted and that the IWGSC should remain in function past its current March 2009 deadline to carry out these recommendations.

The complete report on federal scientific collections is available online at: http://www.ostp.gov/galleries/NSTC%20Reports/Revision1-2209_CL.pdf

 


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