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Digital Mapping Techniques '03 — Workshop Proceedings
U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 03–471

Preservation of Geoscience Data and Collections

By Linda R. Musser

Fletcher L. Byrom Earth and Mineral Sciences Library, Pennsylvania State University, 105 Deike Building, University Park PA 16802
Telephone (814) 863-7073; fax (814) 865-1379; email


Every day, geoscience data and collections are in peril of being lost through deterioration, lack of space, loss of equipment to read the data, or lack or loss of documentation or metadata. The sheer volume of geoscience data and collections are daunting (table 1). A 1997 survey by the American Geological Institute (AGI) identified those data and collections available to be transferred to a repository if one were available (table 2). Unfortunately, few state geological surveys have space available to accept these materials.

Table 1. Minimum estimates of the volume of geoscience data and collections in the United States (National Research Council, 2002).
Core (ice)
Core (rock/sediment)
Thin sections
Washed residues
Other well record
Seismic (2-d)
Seismic (3-d)
Square miles
Velocity surveys
Well logs Paper/film/tape/digital 46,021,700
Scout tickets Paper//film 21,960,350
Geochemical analyses Paper 1,750,000
Table 2. Volume of geoscience data and collections available to be transferred to a repository (National Research Council, 2002).
Data source
Volume available
10,000,000 feet
2,500,000 boxes
Thin sections
30,000 slides
Seismic data (paper, film and digital)
102,500,000 line-miles or films
Related data
25,000 velocity surveys
Well logs (paper, fiche and digital)
7,100,000 logs, cards, or tapes
Scout tickets
2,500,000 paper and fiche
Geochemical analyses
50,000 paper

In 2001, the National Research Council formed a committee to investigate this issue and recommend solutions. Specifically, the Committee on the Preservation of Geoscience Data and Collections was asked to:

In addition to documenting the extent and nature of the problem, the committee identified factors that led to the loss of geoscience data and collections. These included:

The committee recommended that priority for preservation should be placed on geoscience data and collections that are in danger of being lost (National Research Council, 2002). The highest priority should be given to those data and collections that are well documented and impossible or extremely difficult to replace. In addition to establishing priorities, the committee developed recommendations regarding storage, curation, cataloging and indexing, access, and discovery and outreach of geoscience data and collections.

The Committee’s report reinforced the need for adequate space and funding to preserve geoscience data and collections through a combination of new space, support for existing repositories, and the creation of partnerships and consortia among repositories. Regarding curation, cataloging, and indexing, the Committee emphasized the need for more support for these value-added activities and recommended that methods be developed within the scientific community to recognize outstanding contributions to curation, cataloging, and indexing of geoscience data and collections. Recommendations related to access, discovery, and outreach activities included more funding to make indexes available via the Internet and promoting recognition of the value of geoscience data and collections via citation.

Since publication of the committee’s report there has been progress on several of the recommendations. A task force has been formed to promote the citation of geoscience data and collections by the geoscience community. The energy bill, currently before Congress, requests $30 million per year for 5 years for the USGS to distribute to state surveys for preservation efforts. Efforts are ongoing in the private sector and via the AGI Foundation to raise funds for preservation, and a group has been formed to act as a national advisory board on preservation of geoscience data and collections.


Hopefully, these initiatives will prove successful and more funding and space will become available to support preservation and archiving activities. In the meantime, it is important to take steps now to preserve geoscience data and collections. Be aware of existing guidelines, or staff in your organization who may assist you in your efforts.

For example, are there existing records management guidelines that cover your data? Have you consulted with the state archives staff regarding assistance they may be able to provide to your agency? Are there policies or guidelines developed by others that would be useful? The resources and guides developed by the International Council on Archives, the Archaeology Data Service , and the Council on Library and Information Resources offer good advice and examples. Some tips for handling digital collections include:


Archaeology Data Service, 2003, Guides to Good Practice.

Council on Library and Information Resources, 2004, CLIR Reports.

International Council on Archives, 1997, Guide for Managing Electronic Records from an Archival Perspective.

National Research Council, Committee on the Preservation of Geoscience Data and Collections, 2002, Geoscience Data and Collections — National Resources in Peril: Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 107 p.,

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