Wrestling with Mosasaurs: Results of the Sternberg Museum of Natural History-Forsyth Library Fossil Digitization Pilot Project

Wrestling with Mosasaurs: Results of the Sternberg Museum of Natural History-Forsyth Library Fossil Digitization Pilot Project

Andrew Weiss (Fort Hays State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2991-2.ch007


The purpose of the Sternberg Museum-Forsyth Library Fossil Digitization Pilot Project was to determine the feasibility of conducting a large-scale fossil digitization program at Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. Conducted in early 2011, the pilot examined such aspects as fossil digitization techniques, metadata development and best practices, scope and timelines, and overall digitization goals. This chapter focuses on the digitization landscape of the natural sciences, including an overview of major fossil digitization projects and analyses of issues related to these projects. Conclusions from the Sternberg-Forsyth pilot are also recounted and discussed. Also included is an appendix outlining costs and time needed for the recommended small-scale digitization project that will begin in late 2011 or early 2012.
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Between January 27th, 2011, and March 5th, 2011, Forsyth Library and the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, both operating within Fort Hays State University, participated in a pilot project to determine the feasibility of digitizing a paleontology fossil collection. This chapter aims to discuss the results and conclusions of this collaboration between a nationally-recognized natural history museum and a medium-sized academic library serving a state comprehensive university in rural Kansas.

Sternberg Museum of Natural History

The Sternberg Museum of Natural History, first founded as an academic support facility in 1915, contains millions of specimens ranging from the Paleozoic to Cenozoic eras, including world-class specimens of fossils from the Cretaceous period, and plants and animals from more modern periods. It is most well known for its specimen, Gillicus within a Xyphactinus, the “fish within a fish,” found by Dr. George Sternberg, and its world-class collection of Vertebrate Paleontology specimens, including world-renowned specimens of Pteranodons. The museum’s holdings are stored in various rooms dedicated to unique types of collections, including the wet collections (specimens held in liquid, jars), dry collections, and taxidermy collections. Additionally, the museum contains artifacts ranging from antique furniture, to old weapons, to images from other countries such as Borneo and Malaysia. Many of these miscellaneous collections are in the process of being moved to different locations or transferred to different organizations, including the Forsyth Library Archives and Special Collections. (Sternberg, 2011)

Forsyth Library

The partnership to create digital images of the Vertebrate Paleontology exists as part of the ongoing collaborative efforts that have occurred between the library and the museum. Currently the Forsyth Library Archives contains a number of significant artifacts related to the founder of the Sternberg Museum. These holdings include a series of 8 personal photo albums created by Dr. Sternberg. They are significant because these images are from his original archaeological digs, which started in the 1910s and ran through to the 1950s, serving as both a primary source for Sternberg’s paleontological discoveries and as a source for the history of Fort Hays State University. Additionally, the archives hold a series of glass-plate negatives and film negatives taken by Sternberg, some of which are found within the photo albums. These holdings represent some of the most sought-after materials in the archives and account for many of the research requests from patrons. The Sternberg Photo Albums, in particular, are a major priority item for digitization given their fragility and high patron demand. Both the albums and the negatives are in the process of being digitized and displayed online (FHSU, 2011).

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