By: Erika Range, Carolyn Leckie, Luci Cipera

Labelling Natural History Collections (and other things too!) by: Erika Range, Carolyn Leckie, Luci Cipera

A drawer of bird skins with attached specimen labels that provide scientific data such as where and when the specimens were collected. Image : Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature

At the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) in Ottawa, we noticed that collections staff and volunteers are using a wide variety of materials to label their collections. Most seem to be the standard types of things like archival paper, Pigma™ Pens, and computer generated labels. However, these materials are also changing rapidly as new materials and technologies are emerging on the market almost every day.  The conservation team at the CMN want to stay on top of these changes because labels in natural history collections are extremely important.  Often the label contains original information (not found elsewhere or yet to be added to the database) about location and the collector, among other things.  Also natural history collections contain multiple specimens from a species because the collections need to represent different populations through time and by geographical localities. These collections are also very vulnerable to dissociation due to their size (the CMN has over 10 million specimens), and because the specimens themselves can be difficult to label directly without affecting the scientific value of the specimen, or like in the case of fluid preserved specimens, cannot be labelled directly since they are submerged in preservation fluids.

We set out to review the labelling practices at CMN and to create a resource for the museum which would help conservation and collection workers make good choices when considering their labelling needs. Erika Range, a conservation intern from Fleming College, along with conservators Luci Cipera and Carolyn Leckie, has recently submitted a new article to the SPNHIC wiki on best practices and standards of labelling natural history collections.

It highlights the key principles of artifact labelling, especially with relation to the diversity of storage conditions of natural history collections.  The article goes into depth about choosing the right substrate, ink/printing technology, and attachment method, while also identifying industry and conservation standards which these materials fit under. 

Some of the key tools this article produced were decision trees which guide users through choosing the right materials for dry labels, wet labels and very cold labels.  Please visit the SPNHC wiki page on Labelling Natural History Collections to read the full article and to offer your input on labelling standards and materials.

Translate »