The Field Book Project

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FBP_title.jpgIntroduction


The Field Book Project began as a partnership between Smithsonian Institution Archives and National Museum of Natural History to identify, locate, and catalog field notes across the Smithsonian Institution in order to increase their discoverability. The FBP joined with Biodiversity Heritage Library and Smithsonian Libraries in 2014 to make the field notes more widely available through BHL.

In July 2015, FBP staff began work on the current two-year grant from the Arcadia Foundation, UK. In this stage of the project, FBP staff will catalog 2,000 field books as well as digitize and make available 2,600 field books on BHL.

In order to continue supporting BHL’s growing archival collections, FBP staff will also provide support to other projects, including the //Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature Project// funded by IMLS and the //BHL Field Notes Project//funded by CLIR.

Items cataloged for the Field Book Project can be viewed in Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center, and items digitized for the Project are available on BHL.


What is a field book?

Field books, also called field notes or field documentation, are original records of scientific discovery. They are primary source documents that describe the events leading up to and including the collection of specimens or observations during field research. Field books can take many forms depending on the information needs of the collector.


Importance and challenges of field books

Field notes are significant sources of information related to scientific discovery. They provide rich data for researchers to understand how biodiversity has changed over time and space. They enhance information associated with specimens by providing details regarding dates, localities (for geo-referencing), and associated event data. For example, field diary entries may describe habitats, meteorological events, personal observations, and emotional declarations. These additional data allow us to assess the intrinsic value of specimens, as well as use information in new ways: reconstructing historical ecologies, clarifying specimen's provenance, and re-discovering localities.

Field books as an object type are located and described in a wide variety of ways. They can be found in rare book collections, libraries, archives, and museum departments. Field book descriptions can range from brief folder level descriptions in finding aids to having no descriptions at all. Regrettably, field book collections are often distributed across departments within an institution or even across multiple institutions with no centralized access point, complicating researcher’s ability to discover and access them. Furthermore, although generally considered archival documents, field books are just as frequently managed in museum collections, science labs, and discipline-specific libraries. These various types of custodianship result in a myriad of descriptive practices with varying levels of detail, further compounding access and usability issues.

To overcome these challenges, we have worked closely with the custodians of these unique materials to identify, catalog, and digitize these hidden collections. Our workflows and practices have been community-developed as we work with the different Smithsonian departments with field book holdings, and collaborate with other institutions through the BHL Field Notes Project.



The Field Book Project is currently funded by:
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Field Book Project logo created by Lesley Parilla

Questions? Email us at marroquina(at)si(dot)edu