Profile of a Vertebrate Zoology Collections Manager
What is your name?
What is your position?
Vertebrate Zoology Collections Manager
Where do you work?
University of Colorado Museum of Natural History (collection acronym: UCM)
When did you join SPNHC?
I have been a SPNHC member over 8 years since 2002. Richard Monk, my former advisor at Texas Tech University, recommended that I join.
How many years have you been working in the capacity?
I have been employed as UCM’s Vertebrate Zoology Collections Manager since 2005 (also interim Invertebrate Zoology Collections Manager 2008-2010). Previously, I was Digital Imaging Specialist at the Department of Mammalogy, American Museum of Natural History (2004-2005). When I was a student, I enjoyed working part-time as Graduate Research Assistant at the Natural Science Research Laboratory of the Museum of Texas Tech University (2001-2003). Educational Background. I have an MA in Museum Science from Texas Tech University (2003), MS in Biological Science (Zoology) from Kyoto University (1999), and BS in Applied Biological Sciences from Nagoya University, Japan (1997).
What drew you to the natural history field?
My childhood dream was to become a zoologist or someone who specialized in animals. But I did not have a clear future vision until I entered college. I had opportunities to interact with great biologists who had tremendous influence on my career path as role models. I particularly became fascinated with taxonomy, systematics, "species concepts," and study of mammals. Once in graduate school, I fine-tuned my academic interests and concentrated on taxonomic and systematic questions surrounding Japanese endemic rodents. Not until the late 1990s, did major universities in Japan operate natural history collections as public repositories accessible to outside researchers. As a consequence, one of the major obstacles I had to face in my research project was lack of available and accessible museum collections for conducting morphological study. So it was essential to go out to the field to collect specimens and build a new collection on my own other than visiting the historic mammal collection at the National Science Museum, Tokyo. I was jealous of museums in Europe and North America. My ambition for making a difference in the natural history museums in Japan inevitably grew during this period. Eventually I determined to take a leave of absence from the PhD program at Kyoto and study in the United States. The other justification for this decision was that graduate-level museum study programs with particular emphasis on natural history were (and still are) nonexistent in Japan. I am still planning on returning to Japan and contributing to museums there some day.
Describe the nature of the collections you work with.
I work primarily with the collection of nearly 100,000 vertebrate specimens and associated documentation with geographic focus on Colorado and the Rocky Mountains region. About two thirds of the catalogued materials are herpetological voucher specimens preserved in fluid, and the rest are research collections of mammals, birds, and fish prepared and housed in a standard manner. Additionally, we have taxidermy mounts of birds and mammals for use in exhibits, and teaching collections of vertebrates that are actively used in biology courses and the museum's educational programs.
What are your responsibilities for them?
I am fully or partially responsible for almost everything that involves care, preservation, access, and management of the vertebrate collections, including basic curatorial work, collection database management, preventive conservation, scientific loans and inquiries, collection tours and visitor services, policies and standards, environmental health and safety, IPM, disaster planning, collection staff and volunteer training and supervision, and archives management. Fortunately, our institution and the university provide useful resources and logistic support to help us out, especially in facilities and IT-related areas.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I can think of many highlights in the collection projects we have accomplished and are still working on, including "Moving Taxidermy Specimens from the Exhibit Gallery to the Collection Storage" project with generous support from the Faber Grant. But honestly, I am most proud of our team efforts over the years including a number of dedicated student assistants, without which not so many things could have been accomplished. Our long-term goal is to upgrade our zoology collections collectively from all different perspectives of collections management to become one of the best quality university collections in the Mountains-Plains region. I admit we are still behind and working hard to catch up with today's collection standards, but I am proud of how much change we have made as a team with limited budget. The extent of the improvement may be minor, but to my eyes, every shelf and drawer and database entry looks fairly different compared to 5 years ago.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
I find it very satisfying to detect existing and potential problems in my workplace in a big-picture as well as in details, and then try to resolve issues and provide solutions in the most consistent and effective ways possible. This is another great way of having a sense of accomplishment beside teamwork. Technology, scientific approaches and demands for natural history collections constantly change, and the professional standards also have changed significantly. It is fulfilling to think big and work toward increasing the capacity of the collections to be able to correspond to such newer trends and needs, while respecting and practicing traditional wisdom of preserving the collections.
What have you learned from SPNHC to be particularly helpful?
SPNHC has been very helpful in my career development, especially since I graduated from school and started working in collections more independently with increased responsibility. SPNHC is unique in a way that brings together the momentum of natural history collections people who are willing to share their expertise and experiences to advance the field. Thanks to SPNHC, I can stay in tune with what is going on in the professional community through annual meetings, publications, listservs, and other networking opportunities. I acknowledge that the Society has been recently making strides toward going more international and more diverse in its mission and membership to tackle with emerging global challenges in the natural history field. I totally support this direction.