GB3D, the New Coronavirus and the GCG Collections Officer

Written by Mike Howe, Head of the National Geological Repository at the British Geological Survey and Collections Officer for the Geological Curators’ Group

As Collections Officer of the GCG, my responsibilities include liaising with museums and collections around the UK to ensure our Collections Map is up to date as well as identifying any collections at risk. I raise any concerns with the Chair and Committee and we discuss how best the Group can help. Frequently this will involve raising awareness within the geological community through postings on the GCG website, and writing to those with senior management authority for the collections to ensure they are fully aware of the importance of the collections they are responsible for.

Every twenty years or so it is also the duty of the Collections Officer (previously known as the Recorder) to organise a State and Status Survey of the UK geological collections. The first survey was published in 1981 as The State and Status of Geology in UK Museums*. The second survey was carried out in 2001 and published in the Geological Curator as The State and Status of Geological Collections in United Kingdom Museums: 2001**. The next Survey is due next year…

High resolution image of Dactylioceras anguiforme (Buckman SS) – UK.BGS.GSM38014 GB3D database.

Collections advocacy is a key responsibility of the post of Collections Officer. Following extensive lobbying by the Group and many individuals, on 26th April 2016, the Geological Society published a Statement on the Values of Museums and Collections. It has also published blogs containing excellent examples of the importance of collections in research.

There is growing appreciation within the scientific community of the importance of collections in underpinning research, both for repeating and confirming published results and for reusing specimens in new research. The IGSN system (International GeoSample Numbers) is a system of unique registration numbers and an associated database that is being adopted by many publishing houses to support this. Other international databases are also gaining support, for example GBIF and iDigBio. Since 2011, the GCG has been a partner in a specialist database – GB3D: UK type macrofossils online. The project was funded by Jisc and managed by the British Geological Survey, with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge, the National Museums Wales in Cardiff, and the GCG as partners. GCG represented the smaller museums around the country.

Home page of the GB3D: Type fossils online database.

The aim of the GB3D project was to pull together in one database as many type macrofossils held in UK museums, and that had been collected in the UK, as possible. It involved re-photographing every specimen at high resolution, and most specimens were also photographed as stereo-pairs, made available as red-cyan anaglyphs. Selected specimens were also laser scanned to derive 3d digital models. Over two thousand specimens have been scanned and can be downloaded from the website. At the launch, this was the largest collection of publicly available 3d fossils. 

The project was run with the main partners as hub museums, and a mobile unit, run out of BGS, that travelled round many of the local museums. The local museums particularly seemed to appreciate having their type specimens readily available for international study, in part because it underlined the research importance of their collections.

In the seven years since the website was launched, the number of monthly visitors has continued to increase. With many universities now involved in the online teaching of practical laboratory work, the importance and use of GB3D has grown, with monthly visitors exceeding 18,000 for the first time in April 2020, immediately after the new coronavirus forced many establishments to switch to home working. This is a clear success story in which GCG is a partner, and the hub and mobile team method could even form the basis of some of the new digitization models being considered under such international projects as DiSSCo.

Monthly visitors to the GB3D website


* Doughty, P. S. 1981. The State and Status of Geology in UK Museums. Geological Society Miscellaneous Paper 13, 1-118

** Fothergill, H. 2005. The State and Status of Geological Collections in United Kingdom Museums: 2001. Geological Curator 8 (3), 53-136

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