New & Noteworthy

Archive for December, 2010

28 Dec 2010

Legislative Update: IMLS Reauthorization and Plant Genetic Resources Treaty

On December 22, President Obama signed into law a bill to reauthorize the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  The legislation (S. 3984) increases funding authorizations for the agency’s museum services to $38.6 million in fiscal year 2011.  This represents an increase of 14 percent above the fiscal year 2010 funding level.

According to the American Association of Museums, the law contains several provisions proposed by museums, including “enhanced support for conservation and preservation, emergency preparedness and response, and building statewide capacity.  The bill specifically supports efforts at the state level to leverage museum resources, including statewide needs assessments and the development of state plans to improve and maximize museum services throughout the state.”

On December 14, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the “International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.”  The treaty, which went into force in 2004, aims to ensure food security throughout the world through the conservation, exchange, and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.  According the letter of transmittal from President George W. Bush to the U.S. Senate in 2008: “The centerpiece of the Treaty is the establishment of a multilateral system under which a party provides access to other parties, upon request, to listed plant genetic resources held in national genebanks.  These resources are to be used solely for purposes of research, breeding, and training in agriculture.”

Unfortunately, the Senate failed to act on the treaty prior to the chamber’s adjournment for the year.  This means that the Committee on Foreign Relations must pass the treaty again in the next session of Congress before it can be considered by the full Senate.  Although the United States signed the treaty when the treaty was originally crafted nearly ten years ago, we have yet to ratify it.

20 Dec 2010

2010 Fiscal Survey of States

The National Governors Association (NGA) and the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) recently released the 2010 Fiscal Survey of the States.  As described in the report, the survey “presents aggregate and individual data on the states’ general fund receipts, expenditures, and balances.  Although not the totality of state spending, these funds are used to finance most broad-based state services and are the most important elements in determining the fiscal health of the states.”

As reported in the Executive Summary, “after two of the most challenging years for state budgets, fiscal 2011 will present a slight improvement over fiscal 2010.  However, even an improvement over one of the worst time periods in state fiscal conditions since the Great Depression states still forecast considerable fiscal stress…in fiscal 2012 a significant amount of stat funding made available by the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will no longer be available.  The significant wind down of this support will result in a continuation of extremely tight fiscal conditions for states and could lead to further state spending cuts.”

Furthermore, state general fund receipts typically lag behind national economic recoveries.  So, even though the national recession was declared over, the nation’s economic recovery has also been slow to develop.  These factors, the report notes, suggest that state revenue will remain well below pre-2008 recession levels.

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14 Dec 2010

Student Internship Opportunity with CollectionsWeb

CollectionsWeb announces the availability of a research internship in collections-based research. The interns can be housed at any institution in the U.S. and supervised by any appropriate mentor.

The purpose of the internships is to train students, create collaborations among museums and labs from different institutions, encourage the development of new tools and foster diversity. The research focus should include some component of collections-based study and should be interdisciplinary in nature.

Two internships are available and each will be paid $4000 in financial support. To apply, the student should send a brief (1-2 page) proposal and current CV, along with a supporting letter from the mentor, to Karen Francl ( All proposals will be reviewed by the CollectionsWeb Steering Committee.

Applications accepted through March 31, 2011.

07 Dec 2010

Senate Committee Passes Legislation to Reauthorize IMLS

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions passed a bill on December 3 to reauthorize the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  The legislation, S. 3984, would increase funding authorizations for the agency’s museum services to $38.6 million in fiscal year 2011.  This represents an increase of 14 percent about the fiscal year 2010 funding level.

07 Dec 2010

Collections May Hold 35,000 Unidentified Plant Species

A major untapped pool of undiscovered flowering plant species may be natural history collections, according to a paper recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Based on a survey of 3,200 plant species, the study’s authors found that only 16% of species were described within five years of collection; nearly one quarter of species were described more than 50 years after they were collected.  The authors estimate that more than 35,000 plant species are likely to be ‘discovered’ in herbaria collections within the new few decades.

Some members of the study attribute the potential for discovery of new species within collections to a lack of trained taxonomists and resources.  Dr. Mark Carine of London’s Natural History Museum told BBC News: “Lack of manpower and lack of expertise is obviously a major issue here.  There’s no doubt we just don’t have enough people to complete the process as rapidly as we might like.”

To read the study, visit  To read the BBC’s coverage, visit

03 Dec 2010

New Shipping Regulations to Ease Regulatory Burden for Collections

Starting 1 January 2011, natural history specimens shipped via commercial air will no longer be classified as “dangerous goods.”  The new policy, issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), also removes a requirement for shippers to be formally trained in how to package scientific specimens; instead the shipper can train themselves.

These special provisions, known as “A180” in the 52nd edition of the IATA Dangerous Good Manual, should enable researchers and collections curators to ship specimens more easily, as well as expand the list of countries which these materials can be sent to or from.

Andrew Bentley, Ichthyology Collection Manager at the University of Kansas’ Natural History Museum & Biodiversity Institute, was an integral player in representing the collections community to IATA.  According to Bentley, the major air shipping companies (DHL, FedEx, and UPS) have indicated that they will accept packages that meet the A180 guidelines.  FedEx previously barred the shipment of dead animals.

In order to qualify for the exemption, specimens must be placed in three layers of heat-sealed bags and contain no more than 30 mL of free liquid.  Additionally, scientific specimens will still not be allowed in carry-on or checked luggage.