Tag Archive | Institute of Museum and Library Services

Natural History, Digitized

Our first blog of 2020 is brought to you by our fantastic Digital Collections Librarian Mēgan A. Oliver

Digitizing natural history collections is quickly becoming a specialty of ours, over at the Digital Collections department at the University of South Carolina Libraries. We’ve partnered with McKissick Museum for the past few years on their nationally grant-funded digitization project entitled ‘Historic Southern Naturalists’ (HSN); many thanks to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the grant. This digital project has been highly collaborative and has produced a useful and beautiful web portal from which to access myriad museum collections of fossils, rocks, dried botanicals, and minerals, as well as the library’s collection of early naturalist manuscripts.

Since the HSN digital collaboration yielded such great results in providing museum and library users with fantastic historical resources, we’re excited to be back at the beginning of a new natural history digital collection.

In 2019, UofSC officially established the Mark Catesby Centre, a collective of scientists, librarians, curators, rare book experts, and naturalists, with invested personnel spread across the United States and the United Kingdom. The Catesby Centre’s work revolves around researching and promoting the ever-important findings and illustrative records of Mark Catesby, a naturalist that came to study biology in the Carolinas, Florida, and the Bahamas almost three centuries ago. Catesby’s seminal work predates that of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus by 29 years, with Catesby’s first edition of natural history findings published in 1729. Linnaeus would not release his now-famous biological classification system until 1758. The entirety of Catesby’s work in his multivolume set “The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands” was published over the course of 18 years, beginning in May of 1729 and ending in July of 1747.

Illustration of the Bahamas Titmous[e].
The Bahamas Titmous[e], first edition of Mark Catesby’s “The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands”, 1731.

Digitizing these rare and sometimes delicate natural history items requires specialty scanners and camera equipment, fully trained staff, and a great deal of time and patience. We strive to ensure that the color balance and tone distribution captured with our digitization equipment is as true to the physical, original item as possible. Calibrating and staging a single shot or scan can take up to 30 minutes, or the process could involve multiple scans of the same item in order to get the digital facsimile just right. In our department, this attention to detail often captures the iridescence and depth of the pigments used to hand color illustrations, as well as the texture of paper and the organic signs of age that rare books exhibit. Our staff, often graduates of the School of Library and Information Science here at UofSC, take great pride in producing such detailed work, as digital collections like these provide researchers with the next best thing to seeing a rare item in person; seeing it anywhere in the world at any time, online.  

Last year alone, we digitized and helped to format metadata (data that describes the digitized items online) for about 12,000 items for the Historic Southern Naturalists digital collection, and we scanned a little over 2,500 pages and prints from our Catesby rare books.  In creating yet another stunning natural history digital collection for students, scholars, and historians to peruse, we hope to create a diverse wealth of natural history primary resources online.


Historic Southern Naturalists, http://digitalussouth.org/historicsouthernnaturalists/index.php

The Mark Catesby Centre, https://digital.library.sc.edu/markcatesbycentre/mark-catesby/

The Centre’s announcement, https://sc.edu/about/offices_and_divisions/university_libraries/exhibits_events_news/news/catesby.php

Mark Catesby, https://cdn.lib.unc.edu/dc/catesby/about.html

Catesby’s multivolume publication dates and information, personal communication (email) with Catesby Centre curator Dr. Michael Weisenburg

Carolus [Carl] Linnaeus, https://www.anbg.gov.au/biography/linnaeus.html

Introducing The Charleston Museum Team: Matthew, Jessie and Jennifer

An important partner in our Historic Southern Naturalists project, The Charleston Museum has several skilled museum staff working with us to digitize these objects. Our newest blog entry comes from Matthew Gibson, the Curator of Natural History at The Charleston Museum. Read on and say hi!

Herbarium Specimens from The Charleston Museum

Staff at The Charleston Museum have partnered with the McKissick Museum to digitize artifacts related to three historic Southern naturalists Lewis Gibbes, Daniel S. Martin, and Thomas Cooper.  These works are a continuation of The Charleston Museum’s own endeavors to make collections available online. In addition, efforts have been made to create digital representations of objects in 3D, which are also accessible online.  The staff at The Charleston Museum have backgrounds in various fields and are using that experience to help expand the Historic Southern Naturalists database.

Matthew Gibson – Curator of Natural History

Matthew Gibson is the Curator of Natural History at The Charleston Museum.  A native of Statesboro, G.A., Gibson has a B.A. in Geology and a M.A.T in teaching secondary science education from Georgia Southern University. He also has a M.S. in Biology with a concentration in Paleontology from East Tennessee State University. As the Curator of Natural History, Matthew is responsible for the preservation and cataloging of the Museum’s rocks and minerals, fossils, zoological, and botanical specimens. He routinely designs new exhibits showcasing examples from these collections. His research interests are primarily paleontological, focusing on the Lowcountry’s Oligocene whales and Pleistocene megafauna.

First and foremost, Matthew’s goals focus on maintaining The Charleston Museum’s wide-ranging natural history collection as well as using it to educate visitors. When he was hired in 2014, he began the extensive project of designing a new natural history exhibition in addition to reorganizing the collections. The new Bunting Natural History Gallery, opened to the public in 2017. The reorganizing of the collections is an ongoing project. Gibson has also been experimenting with new data collecting and sharing techniques including virtual reality.

Jessica Peragine – Curatorial Assistant

Jessica Peragine is the Natural History Curatorial Assistant for The Charleston Museum. Originally from Long Island, NY, Jessie graduated from Lycoming College, PA with a B.A. in Archaeology and a B.A. in History with additional studies in the natural sciences, particularly botany. Her internships in the Paleontology Department at the American Museum of Natural History, N.Y., the Natural History Department at the Vanderbilt Museum, N.Y., The Thomas T. Taber Museum, P.A., Charles Towne Landing, S.C., certified completion of the Rampart Scotland Archaeology Field School, as well as having worked in town and college libraries aptly prepared her for her museum career.

As an environmentalist and naturalist, Jessie feels fortunate to have found her “dream job” at The Charleston Museum and has recently curated the exhibit, Preserving Nature’s Beauty: The Art of Herbaria. With her knowledge of botany, horticulture and art, Preserving Nature’s Beauty was the perfect opportunity to blend all three subjects in highlighting the Museum’s rich herbarium collection. This has also been beneficial in her involvement with the Mckissick Museum and their recent project to highlight Southern naturalists. Extensively cataloging and digitizing the Museum’s historic herbaria, Peragine’s work ensures that these pressed specimens, many of which are over 150 years old, will be preserved and shared through the Southern Naturalists Project for years to come.

Jennifer McCormick is the Chief of Collections and Archivist at The Charleston Museum. She received her B.S. in Anthropology at the College of Charleston with a minor in Art History and has worked at the Museum since 2009.  As the Chief of Collections, McCormick oversees the curatorial staff, exhibit functions, as well as the collections record keeping. As the Archivist, she manages the large array of manuscripts, works on paper, maps, and photographs. Dedicated to digital preservation, Jennifer was instrumental with initiating the online catalog making the Museum’s collections available to a wider audience. The Museum’s Archives maintains the Lewis Gibbes Papers as well as the Daniel S. Martin Papers, and McCormick is hard at work scanning their correspondence and related natural history material.  

35,969 objects, Ah ah ah ah ah!

These days the IMLS grant team is giving The Count a run for his money. Since making our big move and settling in, Chris, Allison and I have been getting back to the basics and picked up the process of counting and inventorying everything in McKissick Museum’s natural science collection.

The Count

Part of the mission of the grant is to take stock of everything in the collection, including items both in McKissick and in our offsite storage facility. This means not just counting everything, but also creating an inventory list, detailing each object by making a record of what the object is, briefly describing it, and listing its current location (in the building) and its locality (place of origin) if possible. Once an inventory is complete it is the job of the grant team to catalog the object, which means producing an official record for it in the museum’s database. Over the past year much of this work has been focused on the artifacts in offsite storage. As detailed in previous posts, this meant going through each box of specimens, identifying them, assigning a cataloging priority, repacking the box, and eventually creating an inventory record for each and every object we discovered.

Counting Blog Post


Since we conquered the collections in storage, we focused our attentions on items still in McKissick that have not been entered into the database. For the past two weeks Chris and Allison went through approximately 250 drawers of specimens, and painstakingly took notes on each object, while I inventoried them on the computer. We are proud and excited to finally be able to say that we have inventoried every last rock, fossil, mineral and gemstone in McKissick Museum’s natural science collection!  (We’re still counting the modern shell collection…)

This may seem like a simple enough task, but there are not enough fingers and toes in this building for the amount of counting we’ve accomplished. Over the past 2 years the grant the team has managed to catalog 10,376 objects, and has inventoried 10,559 items from the offsite storage facility, 4,000 gems from the Howard Collection and 6,161 objects from McKissick’s natural science storage area. This gives us a grand total of 31,096 total objects processed, out of the 35,969 total items in the Natural History collection!  Safe to say that’s probably more objects than The Count would have time for in one episode of Sesame Street.

by Alyssa Constad
Curatorial Assistant
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

Movin’ Out

If you see Chris, Allison or I walking around campus this week, ask us to flex for you. It’s safe to say that we are all a little stronger than we were this time two weeks ago, not to mention a lot more relieved! Last week, with the help of some awesome museum and facilities staff, the IMLS team accomplished mission impossible and finished  moving thousands of pounds of natural science objects from one offsite storage area into a new offsite storage facility.

Our off-site storage facility fully stocked and ready to go.

Our off-site storage facility fully stocked and ready to go.

Off-site storage... post move! Sometimes, less is more.

Off-site storage… post move! Sometimes less is more.

Over the past year the IMLS team has been working towards inventorying everything in our off-site storage facility so we would  be able to take stock of our collections and move them into a new home. Since summer 2013 members of the team have inventoried and repacked over 300 boxes and moved the majority of them from our old facility into McKissick for storage or conservation work.
Starting bright and early last Tuesday morning, May 13, the team started moving almost 150 boxes out of McKissick into our new building, and successfully completed the job. Wednesday brought some more heavy lifting as the team ventured to move out some of our bigger items. How many of you can say that you’ve safely transported a fossilized whale jaw and some dinosaur foot prints on the same day? Thanks to some incredible facilities workers, we were able to get every piece of petrified wood, fossil, and lapidary equipment safely and successfully moved down the street into our new facility.

Willie, Chris, Austin and Charles carefully moving a fossilized whale jaw into the moving truck. It's as heavy as it looks!

Willie, Chris, Austin and Charles carefully moving a fossilized whale jaw into the moving truck. It’s as heavy as it looks!

It’s been a long and heavy road, but we can finally say we’re all moved in! Over the remaining months of the grant the IMLS team will be working to catalog the rest of our “rediscovered” collections, and eventually move them over into the new facility. But for today, this has been one small step for museums, and one giant leap for the IMLS team!
Make sure you stop by the third floor of McKissick to check out all of the hard work we’ve done. “Hidden Treasures,” an exhibit displaying some of incredible things the IMLS team has found over the last two years, will be on display until August 30th.

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

by Alyssa Constad
Curatorial Assistant
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

An Old Collection Becomes New Again: The J. Harry Howard Collection

As far as hobbies go, becoming a lapidarist might not be a bad way to go.  I can’t really think of a better way to spend your free time than cutting diamonds and fashioning cabochons (a cut and polished gemstone). Just think, you’d never need to come up with another gift idea again! Thanks to J. Harry Howard, a native of Greenville S.C. and the benefactor behind McKissick’s impressive gem collection, all your lapidary dreams can come true.

An example of Howard Collection Beryl, also known as an Aquamarine

An example of Howard Collection Beryl, also known as an Aquamarine

A sample of Corundum (Sapphire) from the Howard Collection

A sample of Corundum (Sapphire) from the Howard Collection

A lapidarist is someone who cuts, polishes and engraves precious stones from their original rough form. The lapidary arts are often practiced professionally, but in 1936 Howard wrote the first instructional handbook geared towards the amateur lapidarist. “The art for some reason,” Howard wrote, “has always been passed down from generation to generation by apprenticeship only.”[1] Through his book Howard sought to bring lapidary art to the public, creating a text which would be both instructive and interesting to lapidarists of all skill levels. Howard’s book, to this day, is the only text dedicated to the pursuit of the armature lapidarist.

Mr. Howard, who was an electrical engineer by profession, was a notable collector of gems and minerals. Starting his collection in the 1920’s, he amassed an impressive variety of almost every known type of gem. Throughout the late 1940’s and into the 1960’s the University of South Carolina pursued a fruitless effort to acquire Mr. Howard’s collection. The August 25, 1967 minutes of the of the USC Board of Trustees states that when the Colburn Mineral Collection was purchased by the University in 1945, it was thought that the Howard Collection would “compliment it and provide a broadly based museum which would be of interest both to the public and to students.” [2]

Mr. Howard passed away in 1962, and “although his collection included virtually every known variety of gemstone, it was seen by relatively few people during his lifetime. This was due in large extent to his great modesty about his own accomplishments.”[3] Despite Mr. Howard’s overwhelming modesty about his collection, it was expected by the University’s board of trustees that Mr. Howard’s widow, Louise Howard, would donate the collection to the University. According to the minutes, in 1967 the collection was valued between $50,000 and $100,000.  At the time, it had been the museum’s intention to put Mr. Howard’s collection on permanent display in its entirety, with specimens occasionally on exhibit in the Geology Museum.

Although the complete collection is not currently on display here at McKissick, specimens can still be viewed in our natural science exhibit, Natural Curiosities. However, there is more to the Howard Collection than just gems and cabochons. In 1970, the University was bequeathed the gift of Mr. Howard’s grinding and lapidary equipment.  Significantly, much of the equipment had been designed by Mr. Howard himself, and still forms the basic template of lapidary equipment that is in production today. A letter dated February 24, 1977 from Kenneth Toombs, then the University’s Director of Libraries, enclosed an appraisal on the portion of the Howard Collection which included the machinery, lapidary rough, and Howard’s books and periodicals. Interestingly, the letter refers to the lengthy time lapse between the acquisition and the appraisal, citing a move in McKissick’s location and the fact that “the University was closed for two weeks due to the energy shortage” as explanations for the delay.

As we pack up our off-site storage and prepare for the big move, the Howard Collection has become a major part of the IMLS grant team’s daily thought. While the gems and minerals are being carefully stored here at the museum, much of Howard’s machinery was placed in our off-site storage facility. As we continue to pack up, much of Howard’s possessions have been unearthed and rediscovered for a new generation of lapidarists.

Some of Howard’s collection, inclusive of both equipment and gems, will be on display in our upcoming exhibit, Hidden Treasures: Rediscovering McKissick Museum’s Natural History Collections. The exhibit will run this coming summer, from May 19- August 20 on the third floor lobby. While I can’t promise you’ll walk away ready to cut your own precious stones, you will get the rare opportunity to see natural crystals, faceted gems, and some of the equipment used to evaluate gems, and a glimpse into the work of the IMLS team. See you there!

Alyssa Constad
Curatorial Assistant


The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.


[1] J. Harry Howard, Revised Lapidary Handbook, (Greenville, South Carolina) 1946. 1.
[2] University of South Carolina, Board of Trustees, Meeting Minutes, August 25, 1967.
[3] Ben Smith Jr, Valuable Gem Collection Given to the University of South Carolina, Lapidary Journal (August) 1969. 734.

A Nifty Garnet

Sometimes we come across an object that is just too neat to keep hidden.  We have so many interesting or beautiful objects that we are unable to exhibit because of space or time, so this blog is an invaluable tool to show off some of our pretties.

Garnet, while familiar even to those of us who are not geologists, more accurately refers to a group of minerals rather than an individual mineral type.  Garnet can be colored green, orange, the classic deep red, purple, and pink.   McKissck has examples of all of these colors, but this specimen really stood out.  This beautiful garnet (MCKS 30718) is grossular garnet, var. hessonite from Quebec, Canada.  The crystals are transparent gem quality, and the characteristic dodecahedral (12-sided) crystal habit is amazing.  These crystals are so cool they could almost be set in jewelry unfaceted!

Allison Baker
Curatorial Assistant

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

Hidden Treasures: Rediscovering McKissick Museum’s Natural History Collection

The IMLS grant team is happy to announce that we are working with Ned Puchner, McKissick Museum’s Curator of Exhibitions, to develop an exhibit that will open at the end of May. Hidden Treasures:  Rediscovering McKissick Museum’s Natural History Collection will feature the interesting objects we found during both grants, as well as some of the challenges we faced.  “Mining McKissick” will offer some sneak peeks of what will be on display.  We look forward to seeing you in the gallery!

Mercury is the only specimen in our collection that we store in its liquid state, since it is liquid at room temperature.  It’s chemical symbol is Hg, short for hydrargyrum, Greek for “silver water” and was named for the Roman god Mercury.  It has high surface tension, which means that it will have the lowest surface area possible.  You can see in video that instead of spreading out to fill the bottom of the vial, the mercury forms a bead with much lower surface area.  While mercury can be found in nature, it is more commonly ored from cinnabar.  30701.a




by Allison Baker
Curatorial Assistant

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.