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MSU Library receives grant of more than $300,000 to digitize records related to fish and aquatic insects

Friday Feb. 22nd, 2019

Montana State University is home to a wealth of information about fish in the state. Gathered by researchers over more than a century, the specimens, field notes and other data provide potentially valuable research information. But, with no information about the collections available online, or even in one physical location, the information hasn’t been widely accessible.

That will soon change, thanks to a grant of more than $300,000 from the Council on Library and Information Resources. The grant will fund “From the Mountains to the Prairies, From Trout to Dace: Revealing Climate and Population Impacts on Culture, Ecology, and Economy in Montana’s Fisheries.” The project, which will take about three years to complete, is a collaboration between the MSU Library, the MSU Department of Ecology, the Montana Entomology Collection and the Montana State Library.

“We are really excited to help others discover and use these specimens and data,” said Jason Clark, associate professor and head of Special Collections and Archival Informatics at MSU.

The funds will enable a multidisciplinary team to gather information about a variety of archival documents, field notes and prairie-fish and aquatic insect metadata that are available at MSU. Once digitized, the information will let scientists, historians, sociologists, economists and others study the cultural, ecological and economic impacts of human population growth and climate change on the biodiversity of Montana’s fisheries, Clark said.

The Council on Library and Information Resources awarded 17 grants for projects proposed to digitize “hidden” collections. The MSU team’s proposal included digitizing information about collections at the university dating back to 1911. Those include manuscripts on aquatic biodiversity and cultural heritage surrounding fisheries and fish conservation efforts in the American West; prairie fish specimens collected over the past century; and invertebrates that serve as food, pathogens and competitors for the fish. The archival papers of scientist Robert Behnke and anglers Bud LillyDatus Proper and Sylvester Nemes, from the library’s renowned Trout and Salmonid Collection, will be digitized as part of the effort.

The team will also develop related educational materials, said Justin Shanks, CLIR postdoctoral fellow at MSU Library. Those will include instructional materials for K-12 students, pedagogical workshops for educators and an interdisciplinary course for MSU students.

“Making these materials available to a wider community is an important part of this project,” Shanks said.

Once the project has been completed, the records will be available online via the MSU Library, as well as the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Montana Field Guide at the Montana State Library’s Natural Heritage Program, and the Symbiota, Fishnet2 and XBiod repositories, Clark said.

“By including this information in the Montana Natural Heritage Program’s database, it will be included in all state and federal environmental review processes and viewable to over 300,000 individuals that use the Montana Field Guide annually,” said Bryce Maxell, program coordinator with the Montana Natural Heritage Program.

Faculty and staff from MSU working on the project include Clark, Shanks, Department of Ecology head Diane Debinski, Special Collections librarian James Thull, associate professor Michael Ivie in the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology, affiliate professor Robert Bramblett in the Department of Ecology and museum collection specialist Sarah Rubin.

The team hopes that the data will be useful to researchers from a broad range of disciplines. 

Debinski noted that scholars could use the materials to study a range of topics, from biodiversity patterns to the culture of fishing and could be used in projects from history books to biological analyses to artwork.

“This information should be interesting to people in academia and beyond,” Debinski said.