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Desert Diary
Museums/Collections Research


Most museums have far more items in their collections than are ever on display. For many, most of the specimens never will be displayed to the general public. Why, then, do the museums have them? For research, of course. Museums are institutions dedicated to the increase and dissemination of knowledge. The public gets to see part of the dissemination role in the form of exhibits and understandably tends to think that's all that museums do. However, gaining new knowledge from collections is an important part of the mission of many museums, through research by museum curators and researchers located elsewhere.

Most natural history museums have a variety of ways to insure their collections fulfill their research functions. Many, such as the Centennial Museum, have some specimen data available on the internet. Most make long-distance loans to researchers, for seldom does any one institution have all the material necessary for a research project. Most museums also welcome visiting scholars, providing specimens and work space. Without this network of support and mutual aid, few collection-based research projects could be completed.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Drawer of research specimens

A part of the collections the public never sees. The vials hold small fossils recovered from a cave near Carlsbad Caverns. The fossils are being used to reconstruct the flora and fauna that inhabited the area several thousand years ago. Photograph by A.H. Harris.