National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program

The USGS Geologic Collections Management System

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GCMS Side Image 1The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is widely recognized in the earth science community as possessing extensive collections of earth materials collected by research personnel over the course of its history. In 2008, a working group convened to examine ways in which these collections could be coordinated, cataloged, and made available to researchers both inside and outside the USGS. The result of this collaborative effort was the development and publication of the USGS Geologic Collections Management System (GCMS). The GCMS provides a unified collections management strategy, with proposed guidelines, procedures, and resources to preserve the scientific legacy of the USGS through its sample collections, as well as making these sample collections available for further study and use.


Who is the GCMS for?

The GCMS was originally conceived as a system to manage the USGS's geologic collections and specimens.  However, as the working group progressed, it became apparent that these geologic collections only represent a fraction of the scientific samples collected and maintained by the USGS. The methods and principles proposed in the GCMS are written with the varying nature and scope of USGS collections in mind and are designed to be modified to fit the needs of all USGS sample repositories.


Accessing the Report

GCMS Cover Art

The GCMS is available to download from the USGS Publications Warehouse at  This link to the GCMS front page also provides links to downloadable, stand-alone versions of Appendix 3The GCMS Policy ManualAppendix 4The GCMS Procedural Handbook, and Appendix 5Forms for the Long-term Management and Preservation of USGS Geologic Materials.

Printed copies are also available for distribution.  Please contact the USGS National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program at to request a free copy.


For More Information

The GCMS was presented October 28, 2015, as part of the iSamples webinar series.  This presentation was recorded, and has been uploaded to the iSamples RCN YouTube Channel.  The presentation video can be viewed below:


Issues Addressed by the GCMS

Defining Your Collections

GCMS Side Image 2The GCMS clearly defines several types of collections, and these categories aid in determining their use and needs for storage, management, and preservation:

  • Active collections (also known as working collections) contain materials from ongoing research that are actively used by the project scientists. New samples are added as the research continues. Upon completion of the research topic, the materials will be evaluated for long-term retention in a GCMS repository as a resource collection.
  • Resource collections contain materials from completed research projects or topics that remain significant as research assets and are made available for current and future research. Often, the collecting scientist is still working at the Survey. Resource collections will form the bulk of GCMS materials and are expected to be preserved for an indefinite period of time.
  • Legacy collections stored by the USGS contain samples that were collected by research scientists who are no longer with the Survey. If sufficient documentation is available, these collections will be incorporated into the GCMS and become resource collections.
  • Orphan collections are those that, due to a variety of reasons such as the lack of pertinent sample data, are deemed to have little foreseeable research value and will not be included in the GCMS.


Evaluating Your Collections

GCMS 4-Point Standard ThumbnailThe GCMS Collection Determination Process offers important questions that aid in evaluating samples and collections for retention or for other uses.  The 4-Point Standard developed for the GCMS poses basic questions to collections managers evaluating their collections.  These questions are an aid in identifying the basic metadata and information need to identify samples and collections.

Click the thumbnail on the left to view a larger image of the GCMS Collection Determination Process and read more information on this evaluation process.




Registering Your Collections

GCMS Side Image 3The GCMS suggests avenues for registering your samples and collections, and well as for serving up information about them.  These include utilizing services, such as SESAR, for registering samples and generating Universally Unique Identifiers (UUIDs). SESAR is an online service which assigns unique identifiers to physical samples to avoid ambiguity that may result from different and overlapping naming conventions used across various collections, or even within collections.

The GCMS also recommends using USGS ScienceBase and the National Digital Catalog to upload and serve sample and collections metadata to an online service, which allows samples to be searched, located, and requested.


GCMS Samples Template

The USGS NGGDPP provides a Microsoft Excel template for cataloging and managing metadata for GCMS collections.  This template is based on the preferred sample data recommended by the GCMS working group, and is explained in Appendix 2GCMS Preferred Sample Data. This template is available to download here.  

New versions of this template may be made available as the GCMS is implemented and vetted.  Please check back for improved versions.