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Digital collections and the natural world

The unique topography and relief of Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta’s badlands showing strong stratification and erosional features, as indicated by markers.
Photo by Glenn Dolphin.


This is the first in a series profiling Libraries and Archives’ digital collections.


Libraries and Archives at the University of Calgary is home to a surprising range of archival, digital, and special collections. There’s institutional archives, rare books, manuscripts, historical maps, and numerous photographs. The collections also include materials from LCR’s partners at the Canadian Architectural Archives, The Military Museums, and the Arctic Institute of North America.

Among our collections, you can also find the popular Our Future, Our Past project and its components: Early Alberta Newspapers, Alberta Law Collection, and Local Histories

Finally, LCR is home to the Glenbow Library and Archives and the EMI Music Canada archives.

However, with spring here and summer on the horizon, we wanted to start this series with the Science collection. This collection focuses on the natural world: plants, insects, and the very landscape that give both a place to live.

The Science collection is comprised of the Herbarium, Invertebrates, and Geoscience digital collections. Each collection assists students and instructors. Users can download medium- and high-resolution images for educational and personal use. A Creative Commons CC BY-NC 4.0 license governs the use of the images from each collection.

While each digital collection is unique, they all include student involvement and an experiential education component.



The Science digital collection began in 2017 with a project to digitize the 1,709 physical specimens in the Herbarium’s reference collection. UCalgary’s Herbarium, founded in 1967, is located in the Biological Sciences building. The Herbarium includes some 95,000 vascular specimens (land plants with tissues that conduct water and minerals) and another 12,000 non-vascular (plants like mosses, algae, and fungi). The reference collection contains a specimen of every species found in Alberta, except for rare plants. Those are in a separate collection. Currently, the Herbarium is testing a home- or lab-based smartphone digitization station to “grow” its digital collection.



The Invertebrates digital collection features 1,684 specimens of native bees and other invertebrates found in Alberta. It’s designed to offer resources for outreach and teaching. Like the Herbarium, the Faculty of Science’s Invertebrate Collection also houses the physical collection that holds some 1.45 million insect specimens. The physical collection is growing at a rate of about 7.5 percent each year. This growth is due to contributions from undergrad and graduate students, academic and technical staff, and from donations of personal collections. The digital collection includes bee species collected by the Galpern Lab at the Faculty of Environmental Design along with other institutions and collectors. It also includes invertebrate specimens collected by University of Calgary entomology students. Finally, starting this spring, the digital collection will come to include 3D insect models.


Geoscience Images

Of the three parts of the Science collection, Geoscience Images is the newest. It may only have 215 images now, but it’s growing, and it’s also innovative. Geoscience faculty members provide the images while students create the metadata—the captions and descriptions and add embellishments to the images to illustrate key geological concepts, such as stratification and erosional features. The Geoscience collection provides instructors with images they can use in their courses and helps geoscience students understand key concepts and ideas. The collection also provides options for research, and scholarship.


Other collections

Along with the Herbarium, Invertebrates, and Geoscience collections, Arctic & Northern Studies, Arctic Institute of North America Photographic Archives, and Historical Maps collections also feature science-related material.

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