Profile of a Collections Specialist
Name: Janis Klapecki
Position: Collections Specialist, Natural History
Institution: The Manitoba Museum
How many years have you been working in this capacity? Just over 20 years now
When did you join SPNHC? I’ve been a member of SPNHC since 1993
What drew you to the natural history field?
Probably, like most of ‘us’, it started early with a love of the outdoors and a curiosity of nature - to observe, pick things up, catch things, etc. and wonder about them. Spending time at our family cottage nurtured that. While attending university, I worked summers as a Field Research Assistant with the federal Department of Fisheries & Oceans. With DFO, I was very fortunate to travel to some incredible, remote Manitoba and Ontario locations, gaining experience in collecting techniques for fishes and invertebrates, field “survival” skills, specimen sampling and preservation methods. After university, I worked for the provincial government conducting botanical surveys in bear country…..we have a lot of bears (of 3 species) in Manitoba! I was then hired at The Manitoba Museum to work with the Natural History collections.
Describe the nature of the collections you work with.
I work with the entire Natural History holdings of over 300,000 specimens and/or lots, stored in various media, including dry and fluid-preserved. The disciplines include Botany (herbarium, fungi, lichens, bryophytes), Zoology (entomology, non-insect invertebrates, herpetology, ichthyology, ornithology and mammalogy), Paleontology (invertebrate, vertebrate, and botanical), Geology and Mineralogy. Other than fossils, our oldest collections date back to the mid-nineteenth century and focus geographically on Manitoba and surrounding regions of North America, although we do have some exotics, including an amazing tropical butterfly collection.
What are your responsibilities for them?
I am responsible for all aspects related to collections management, care, preservation and documentation.
Describe some of your activities.
As the museum’s only NH ‘Specialist’, I really have to be a generalist. My work is incredibly varied – there’s never a typical day. My duties include: specimen cataloguing, labeling, digitization, shelving/filing, IPM, storage, database/documentation management, donations/acquisitions, condition reports, preventive conservation and some treatments, loans/shipping, exhibits, tours, staff and volunteer training, specimen preparation (skins, skeletal, dermestid colony, pinning, pressing, mounting, etc.) and assisting Curators with field collection whenever I can.
What do you find most interesting about your work?
Just being able to work with such important scientific collections on a daily basis. This is really emphasized when I conduct a collections tour to people that may not have known that such collections even existed - or why. People are aware now, more than ever, about our changing world without really knowing the cause and effect mechanisms on the organisms involved. When you explain to them how important these collections are and why they exist, you’ve put the puzzle pieces together for them and they are truly amazed and want to know more. They are also surprised by how much care and attention dead things demand.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the state of the collections that we have been able to achieve so far. They are more accessible, better organized, clean, protected, and padded. We have not completed all collections to where I envision them, but that will come with time. Lately, I have been working closely with our database Registrar to refine and better define our entry fields. This process has eliminated ambiguity and the possible misinterpretation of data. It has also improved data completeness and standardization across our NH disciplines which will ultimately benefit our future end-users.
Another definite highlight was being on the field crew in 1998 when the world’s largest trilobite was discovered near Churchill, MB (MM I-2950 Holotype: Isotelus rex) – and yes, there were polar bears.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
Knowing that during my career here at TMM, I have played a part in making improvements and developing long-term strategies for the way our natural history collections are viewed, cared for, stored and managed that will positively affect the longevity of these provincial collections.
I also find it very rewarding to be part of the many internal and external projects that our research and collections staff, produce. I work very closely with several departments across the museum – curators, conservators, exhibit designers and productions staff. Whether it is a specimen mount design for an exhibit, or a storage issue (how can I get more specimens into this small space…??) – it’s a real collaborative effort and aside from budget and staffing constraints, we always manage to come up with an acceptable solution.
What have you learned from SPNHC to be particularly helpful? How has SPNHC helped you?
SPNHC has been an incredibly important supporting organization. Accessing information through the many resources available from newsletters, journal articles, and Listservers has been an integral part of shaping my perspective on Natural History collections issues and has been invaluable over the years.
Attending SPNHC conferences and workshops when I can, has provided the opportunity to meet with like-minded professionals with an ever-enthusiastic willingness to share information. I especially enjoy visiting the host institution’s collections as it offers a great perspective and appreciation of the successes and challenges experienced at other facilities. Viewing other collections also offers a way to comparatively evaluate our own collections to ensure that we are moving in the right direction. I always return home with new ideas to implement.
In the near future, we will need to increase our collections storage capacity that will inevitably include designing and building a new research and collections facility. As we go through the initial planning phases, my input into the project so far has been derived from what I have learned through the SPNHC network. Learning from other’s experiences – what worked, what didn’t – will be key to how our facility plans evolve.