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National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program

What are “Best Practices”?

BestAs a buzzword, the exact meaning of the term “best practice” can be subjective.  Best practice brings to mind the final, superlative method of approaching a given task.  For the purposes of this report, the term is used as a means to seek improved and applied methods, which will lead to the development of newer strategies for data and specimen management.

Best practices should be seen as exemplary methods, and as models for optimal performance.  As new methods of preservation and curation are developed, these practices will change to reflect new technologies and capabilities.  Not all best practices outlined in this paper are suitable to each repository’s needs and available resources.  They provide a best case scenario for operation and a point of departure for the development of data preservation techniques that fit their individual requirements.  It is important to note, this paper is not a final decision on what is best practice.  As repositories come forward and contribute to the development of this report, best practices can and will be amended and more repositories will be highlighted.

Standards Development

Example of the difference between facilities meeting the criteria of maintaining access to their collections and storing samples in such a way as to preserve their integrity and longevity. Image courtesy of the Indiana Geological Survey.These best practices were founded on the development of industry and practice standards within the scientific community.  According to the National Standards and Best Practices for U.S. Museums (2008), standards are, “something used as a measure, norm or model in comparative evaluations; a required or agreed level of quality or attainment.”  The key element in this definition is the need to have agreement within the community as to the requirements to uphold.  They are based on common purpose and practical experience (what can go right, as well as what can go wrong) in handling a situation.  They may be altered as needs and capabilities change.

A key component to the success of this report is the active participation of scientific, academic and industrial repositories of geoscience specimens and data in the continual development and evolution of these standards and best practices.  Minimum standards have been identified for each data type/preservation issue addressed in this paper.  The fulfillment of these minimum standards provides the basis for the development of best practices in the geoscience data and sample preservation community.

Minimum Standards

Repositories have two main goals to satisfy:

  1. preservation of the integrity and longevity of their holdings; and
  2. maintaining access to their collections 

These are the base-line minimum standards for the preservation of any collection.  Without these two criteria, repositories simply cannot function as such.  That being said, how these facilities accommodate and accomplish these goals varies, based upon the nature of the collections and the abilities of the institution to complete these tasks, but the underlying principles of longevity and access remain.

The minimum standards outlined in this report are based on common purpose and need for each data type and issue in regards to preserving continuity, integrity for future use, and access.  These standards are not set as lofty goals which can only be completed by a few well-funded institutions.  They are broad and unifying principles, fundamental to the successful operation of repositories.

With this in mind, repositories can be expected to be evaluated and appraised by these community-derived standards of operation.  This evaluation is with less of a critical eye, and more of a method of instruction and recommendation.