Willows in the Wind: Digitisation of the Tullie House Herbarium

Excited (botanical) chatter, the inexorable flashing of camera equipment, intrigued visitors gathering around our new gallery space; this was our Virtual Flora of Tullie Herbarium Project, funded by the Bill Pettit Memorial Award at the start of 2017.

The scope of the project, between 30th of May to 26th of September 2017, was to use a team of volunteers to begin photographing and cataloguing our (“ex”) University of Lancaster herbarium. This significant acquisition of 35,000 vascular plant sheets is a highly data rich and well-provenanced collection with invaluable information on the historical and contemporary distribution of species across the UK and beyond.

Almost a third of the specimens were collected from Cumbria, much of it collected during a major 30 year survey of the flora of Cumbria; an exemplar model of field surveying which is aspired to by Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) recorders today. The survey work culminated in the team leader’s (Geoffrey Halliday) highly comprehensive publication of A Flora of Cumbria. No other herbarium has a comparable recent (1968+) collection of Cumbrian material.  But despite the importance of this recent acquisition, none of these specimens were digitised.

Thanks to the Bill Pettit Memorial Award funding this was all about to change.

The inside of the (“ex”) Lancaster herbarium, showing specimens stacked and arranged taxonomically. (C) Tullie House.

The Award funded the Assistant Curator, Claire Sleightholm, to supervise a team of four volunteers over 90 hours over 17 weeks (plus a few hours for image processing). The scope of the funding allowed us to digitise the entire collection of Salicaceae, which includes the willows, which were of the perfect collection size (821 sheets) to digitise within the scope of the project.

The project transformed a previously quiet gallery space into an exciting, buzzing collections workspace where, most importantly, volunteers could interact with the general public.

The four volunteers, Tracy Perfect Reid, Annwen Philipson, Annie Donnelly, and Louise Ceres, worked in pairs under the supervision of the Assistant Curator. Specialist groups such as the Cumbria Botany Group, cannot be underestimated here in their value as recruitment sources.

As Claire keenly set up the DSLR camera, synced to 2 studio flash units, the volunteers eagerly sat down in their new collections space. The volunteers methodically worked through one herbarium sheet at a time, ensuring that each one had its own separate entry on our collections management system, MODES. As each sheet was catalogued, and separately accessioned, it was then photographed.

The herbarium set up in the newly designated collection space; showing volunteers working on documentation and photography. (C) Tullie House.

Written by Simon JacksonTullie House Curator.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s