Paper No. 228-12
Presentation Time: 11:00 AM
DIGITAL VOUCHERS AND EXPANDING ACCESS IN PALEONTOLOGY COLLECTIONS
Voucher specimens have been a part of fossil collections since the beginning of scientific paleontology. Vouchers represent the fundamental basis of objective knowledge and reproducibility. Many peer-reviewed journals will not allow the description of specimens in private hands. Digital vouchers can be represented by 2D photos and/or 3D scanned images and their scientific value requires the same kind of metadata that are included with “real” fossil specimens. In some other natural history disciplines, digital vouchers are replacing physical specimens as new material is described in the professional literature. This is true, for example, with endangered species of extant taxa in which collecting physical specimen vouchers might be detrimental to declining populations. Digital vouchers thus have a role in natural history museums in the 21st century that can enhance collections acquisition, curation, and documenting past and present biodiversity. Digital vouchers can be catalogued within the main research collection much the same way that casts have been catalogued in the past. Instead of a “real” fossil, the catalog entry can include the digital file and if 3D, a printed replica. Digitally vouchered fossils thus provide the opportunity to study and archive a specimen without needing to own the original physical specimen. With high-quality scans, certain anatomical features of fossils are better studied using, for example, 3D images. Concerns about accepting digital vouchers include whether they should be part of type series, data storage requirements, and whether journals will change their policies. A great advantage of digital vouchers is that they are accessible to the public and can be used for learning in both formal and informal settings. The advent and acceptance of digital fossil vouchers will improve the knowledge base for scientific paleontology and greatly expand access for education and outreach.