Skip to main content.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History



Ray and Lavallee with Weddell seals at the Palmer Peninsula, Antarctica

Overview * Importance of Field Books * What is a Field Book? * Website Credits




"Exposing Biodiversity Fieldbooks and Original Expedition Journals at the Smithsonian Institution", better known as The Field Book Project (FBP), began in 2010, made possible by the Hidden Collections grant administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The project was initiated by the Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Archives to address issues of access to field books and physical and bibliographic control of field books. Until the project, field book descriptions ranged from brief folder level descriptions in finding aids to having no descriptions at all.

The purpose of the CLIR grant is to identify, locate, and catalog field books at the Smithsonian that reflect biodiversity collecting and field research in order to improve access and control of these documents. To do this, the FBP is building a Field Book Registry that will serve as the single location for field book content, not only at the Smithsonian, but also across the country. The FBP uses a two tier descriptive cataloging process, cataloging field notes at both the collection level and the more granular item level. Additionally, the FBP creates authority records about the persons, organizations, and expeditions responsible for creating the field notes we catalog. These authority records not only provide standardized forms of names for persons, organizations, and expeditions, but also include contextual biographic information and links to related entities.

In 2011, SIA received funds from Save America's Treasures to support physical conservation for the FBP. The same year, SIA received funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee for conservation and much needed digitization of a portion of the field notes cataloged during this project. Funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee were timely as the FBP nears its goal of placing both bibliographic descriptions of field books and digitized field book content in its Field Book Registry.

Importance of Field Notes


Field notes are significant sources of information related to scientific discovery. They provide rich data for researchers to understand how biodiversity has changed over time and space. They enhance information associated with specimens by providing details regarding dates, localities (for geo-referencing), and associated event data. For example, field diary entries may describe habitats, meteorological events, personal observations, and emotional declarations. These additional data allow us to assess the intrinsic value of specimens, such as hydrology, geology, co-occurrence, and frequency, appear regularly in these original sources.

The Smithsonian field books are “hidden collections” meaning little documentation exists for these resources.  Our project’s initial phase focuses on exposing field books at the Smithsonian by creating catalog records with detailed descriptions and location information for these items.  Additionally, we strive to create a community consensus regarding the design of metadata standards, data definitions, interoperability, accessibility, and institutional collaboration as they relate to this object type.  A community consensus will guide us in our project’s final phase—the design and implementation of an electronic Field Book Registry that will serve as an international toolkit for management of biodiversity field books and related items. 

What is a Field Book?


Field books or field notes are primary source documents that describe the events leading up to and including the collection of specimens or observations during field research. Field notes can take many forms depending on the information needs of the collector. Click below to learn more.

Website Credits


Templates for this website were created by the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) IT Department. Members of the Field Book Project, NMNH, and Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) contribute content to this website. Widgets found on our Flickr page were created using open source code by Roy Tanck. Collapsible menus for the side navigation were created using "What is a field book" photo gallery was created using Highslide. Funder logos are courtesy of those agencies.

Lesley Parilla: Field Book Project logo

Lesley Parilla: Webmaster


[ TOP ]