Policies that govern the acquisition, care and use of specimens were formally approved by the SDNHM Board of Trustees in January 1995, with revisions in 1997. The Museum's Collections Policy establishes policies for: code of ethics, acquisitions, documentation and care of collections, deaccessioning, loans, forensic collections and voucher collections repository, sampling and destructive testing, access, etc. The Paleontology Collection establishes departmental procedures to implement the general museum policies within the framework of its disciplinary concerns.
Specimens are acquired that will strengthen the existing fossil collection relative to the research priorities of staff and research associates as well as the regional emphasis of the museum. Specimens may be acquired by field work, exchange, gift, purchase, or bequest. Material is accepted from commercial mitigation projects within the region; fees are charged according to volume of material deposited ($90/cu.ft.). Specimens are accepted only with clear documentation of legal title (e.g., proof of permits, landowner permission, etc.).
Criteria for evaluating salvage specimens
The department's role as a regional repository for salvage paleontology has required staff to develop criteria for evaluating acceptability of potential collection donations. These criteria fall into four basic categories: 1) taxonomy; 2) preservation; 3) stratigraphic position; and 4) paleoecologic/paleoenvironmental aspect. Under the taxonomic category, specimens are accepted if they represent new or rare taxa. Under the preservational category, specimens are accepted if they represent unusual or exceptional modes of preservation or possess significant taphonomic aspects. Under the stratigraphic position category, specimens are accepted if they document critical biostratigraphic levels or critical lithostratigraphic horizons. Under the paleoecologic/paleoenvironmental category, specimens are accepted if they document unusual ecologic associations, critical climatic parameters, or critical depositional settings.
Access to and loans of specimens
The primary reason for holding specimens is their use in scientific research and education. Thus the policies for access to collections and for loans are designed to maximize the usefulness of the collections while minimizing risk of damage to or loss of the collections. Loans of specimens are approved by the Curator, and are made to researchers representing non-profit institutions. Students may borrow specimens only with the written approval of their faculty advisor. Loans are made for one year at a time, with consideration of written renewal requests. Any restrictions due to the physical nature of the specimen or particular value (scientific or commercial) are clearly identified before the loan is finally approved. Staff make every effort to respond to loan requests promptly.
Access to the collection by a visiting researcher must be arranged in advance. Research associates have authorized access to the department and library. Access to the research division and the collection are both controlled by locked entrances; therefore visitors must be accompanied by a staff member to gain admittance to the collection. Weekend and after-hours access to and use of the collections is by prior approval of the collections staff only and may require a fee to support after-hours staff and security.
The Department of Paleontology follows the institutional policy in approving sampling requests. Recognizing that some research methodologies may result in the permanent alteration, removal and/or destruction of part or all of a specimen, the decision to permit destructive work is made on a case by case basis by the Curator. Conditions and limits must be agreed to by the borrower in writing in advance of the work. Permission may be denied unless the SDNHM specimens can be fairly shown to be the only ones that meet a particular research need. Documentation of the testing and results should be made available to the Museum upon return of the specimen, or remaining portion. Requests to sample type specimens are not currently allowed.
Access to and dissemination of collection data
Requests for data are handled promptly by collection staff. Data are provided to researchers associated with non-profit institutions at no charge. Commercial users are charged $100 for a standard request; fees for large requests involving multiple sites or taxa would be established before beginning the data retrieval. Data for sensitive localities are not released to commercial users. A limited version of the Paleontology collection database is posted on the website. This web version of the database supports multiple data field queries and can provide researchers with a preliminary view of the collection.