Not long ago, one of the ecology labs here gifted to the Essig 20 drawers of specimens from one of their studies, 80% of which was two species. The only reason I accepted it was because they had pinned, labeled, databased, and had identified to species each and every specimen. How could I say no to all that work? I have since talked with this lab about what is proper vouchering. I don't really have the space for that many specimens from one place within a two year period and will seek off-site possibilities for the bulk of it. Now if it were all collected and stored in 95% EtOH there is probably a population geneticist who would love to look at population structure or lack there of.

I think having both a (rule of thumb) policy and a healthy relationship with researchers is worthwhile. I have been campaigning for faculty, staff, post docs, and students to contact me before they begin their fieldwork to discuss data capture, specimen preparation, curation supplies and vouchering. It takes some time and effort up front, but in the long run it is making my life much better.

Peter T Oboyski, PhD
Collections Manager & Senior Museum Scientist
Essig Museum of Entomology
1170 Valley Life Science Building
University of California, Berkeley

mailing address:
1101 VLSB, #4780
Berkeley, CA 94720

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Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2014 17:36:04 -0600
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Voucher specimen protocols
To: [log in to unmask]

We use the same guidelines expressed by Doug.


Brett C. Ratcliffe
Curator & Professor
Systematics Research Collections
W436 Nebraska Hall
University of Nebraska
Lincoln, NE 68588-0514  U.S.A.

TEL: (402) 472-2614
FAX: (402) 472-8949
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On 21 Feb 2014, at 5:28 PM, Doug Yanega wrote:

On 2/21/14 3:00 PM, Division of Entomology wrote:
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While I’m thinking about it…


The SEMC is in the process of formulating an official policy regarding our acceptance of voucher specimens generated from various university, NGO, state and federal research projects. Although the university department with which we are most closely allied, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, does not have any particular rules requiring vouchers as part of their program (so far as I know), we feel it is within our mandate to accept them and have recently had more and more well-meaning but poorly-informed students ask us about them.


Would any of you folks at university-based collections (or otherwise) have voucher policies that I could examine and potentially use as a template for our own? A seminar course outlining the basics of specimen preparation, preservation, curation and data standards and formats would be a lovely requirement for all students using arthropods in their research (systematic, ecological or otherwise), though one does not currently exist.


From the collection’s standpoint, how do you decide how much material is too much, or are you required to take everything given to you? Do you require the curatorial supplies necessary to voucher specimens (drawers, pins, trays, alcohol) to be purchased by the student/mentor, or are these costs absorbed by the collection? Do you require the donor to digitally capture the specimen data prior to acceptance, or is that something that falls upon collection staff?


I would love to have a look at any relevant web pages or documents you folks might have out there- please pass them along!

I suspect we at UCR are not alone in dealing with vouchering on a case-by-case basis, with no formal documents in place to set any sort of "official" policy. We discuss any and all potential voucher depositions, and this discussion can vary from happily cooperative to outright rejection of the proposed deposition. Given the diversity of scenarios we've encountered here, I find it hard to imagine a single policy that would have worked well for all of those different cases. In all cases, it was absolutely necessary to know in detail what the material was, AND to negotiate our responsibilities in a manner favorable to usS (e.g., that we are free to dispose of any and all specimens we do not wish to retain, solely at our discretion); in general, that means that the specimens we keep are things we can use, and that there are no strings attached. That being said, we are still prudent about it - if a student submits 50 identical specimens from a lab culture, we might not keep all 50, but we won't dispose of all 50, either - but better still is discussing it beforehand, and asking them to give us 5 specimens of each sex, properly labeled, etc.

Accordingly, I find it hard to see how one could formulate an ideal blanket policy. Too lax a policy and we would be acting as a "dumping ground" for material that no one (outside of the person depositing it, and sometimes not even them) is interested in, or that we would not be able to maintain given our present limitations on staffing and space; conversely, too restrictive or bureaucratic a policy and we would probably have turned away some things that have proven to be very valuable, even though they incurred substantial costs of labor on our part to bring them up to adequate curatorial standards. Having discretionary authority and room for negotiation seems far too important to consider adopting formal policies; I wouldn't go that direction unless I had no choice. Guidelines and informal policies are ideal, in my opinion, because there is flexibility in their application.

Doug Yanega      Dept. of Entomology       Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314     skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82