Geotimes

From the Editor

This issue focuses on the value, preservation, curation and future use of geologic materials. Which geoscience collections and data are worth preserving and which can we toss out? If there were enough space, we could keep it all for the time being, but available space for such use is either gone or going fast. Surely not everything needs to be saved, but how do we decide?

An April report from the National Research Council (NRC), Geoscience Collections and Data: National Resources in Peril, should help get our collective arms around these questions. In our first feature this month, Paul Cutler and Christopher Maples present a summary of the report, making the case for expanding storage capabilities for geoscience materials. They focus, as did the NRC report, on physical data — cores, cuttings, maps, paper reports, fossils — rather than digital data, which other recent studies have addressed.

Our second feature article, “Data Preservation: A Global Perspective,” provides balance by addressing the care of both digital and physical data. Chris Keane discusses the curation issues associated with the giant North Sea oil and gas field — issues made more complicated by the field’s occurrence beneath the territorial waters of both Norway and the United Kingdom. Keane also shows us how different attitudes about data preservation are in the United States compared to other countries.

Our last two features give us the museum perspective. In “Access Makes and Old Collection New,” Brian Bisbee illustrates that preservation alone is not enough. Geoscience materials also need to be accessible through creative curation. What he did for renewing use of a Pennsylvanian fossil collection creates hope that just about any preserved materials can be made accessible and useful. And in our last feature, Donald G. Mikulic and Joanne Kluessendorf provide their perspective on why we are losing old collections and missing the chance to access potential new collections.

What value do we assign to these geologic materials, particularly rock cores? In this month’s Comment, Texas State Geologist Scott Tinker gives us his answer to this question, drawing on personal experience and the efforts of the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, which he heads.

An obvious solution to the problem of preserving endless amounts of materials and data is equally endless amounts of money — which of course are not readily available. In the absence of such resources, we need to redirect some of the creativity that currently goes into the collection of materials and data toward selective preservation and curation. We must ask ourselves: What is the smallest, reasonably representative portion of a material? For which data are there likely to be the least demand and least significance? Just because we decided to save it once, does it qualify again? How do we use cost-benefit analysis to guide choices? Isn’t it more important to be certain we have saved the most “valuable” materials rather than “breaking our picks” on trying to keep all of it? Since we aren’t caring properly for what we have already collected, what is to become of the new stuff?

Once geoscience materials and data have supported published research, it is too easy to either fall permanently in love with them and forget them altogether. The hard choice is to make realistic judgements about their likely future value and, therefore, their fate.

As with all major challenges, the questions outpace the answers. The good news is that discussions of these issues are becoming more heated, more realistic and more creative.

Believe your compass,
 

Samuel S. Adams, Editor-in-Chief


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