Collection Policies

Access to specimens is open to qualified researchers, postdocs, students and visitors. The Department of Vertebrate Paleontology adheres to general MCZ Collections Policies and Procedures in addition to the specific collection policies listed below. Contact the Curatorial Associate for further information at mcz_vertebratepaleo@fas.harvard.edu.

A limited amount of funding is available to support the work of researchers using the collections. The Museum of Comparative Zoology periodically awards Ernst Mayr Grants to systematists undertaking research needed to complete taxonomic revisions and monographs.

Policies updated: August 2020

ACCESS

The Vertebrate Paleontology (VP) Collection is an active research resource and is heavily utilized. To visit, an appointment needs to be scheduled in advance (at least 90 days) to ensure access and working space. The VP Collection is open, by appointment, to qualified individuals Monday through Friday, excluding university holidays, generally from 9am to 5pm (eastern time zone).

To request access to the collections, please complete the Request to Visit the Vertebrate Paleontology Collection form and send it to the Curatorial Associate at mcz_vertebratepaleo@fas.harvard.edu. The Request to Visit form must be submitted for review at least 90 days in advance of the proposed visit date. For proposals that include the creation of 3D data, including but not limited to CT scanning, laser scanning, and photogrammetry, please review the 3D Data Collection and Use Policy for MCZ Vertebrate Paleontology Specimens.

If a visit request that involves 3D imaging is approved, all researchers named in the project proposal will be required to sign the 3D Data Collection and Use Policy form. The primary researcher will then need to sign the MCZ Vertebrate Paleontology 3D Data Use Agreement on behalf of all collaborators.

Credit for any use of MCZ material should be given in resulting publications. Publications should include a table, where possible, that lists MCZ specimen numbers and reprints should be sent to the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology. Per the MCZ Permissions & Copyright Policy, the MCZ retains the copyright to the image of any museum owned material and that copies of images and other media, including associated metadata, be provided to the MCZ for archiving. Therefore, copies of all media related to Vertebrate Paleontology must be sent to the Vertebrate Paleontology department. Please read the Guidelines for Digital Media provided to the MCZ.

LOANS

Loans are made for research and exhibit purposes only. If you wish to request a specimen loan for the purpose of exhibition, please review the MCZ Exhibit Loan Policies and contact MCZ Collections Operations at mcz_collections_operations@oeb.harvard.edu.

For research loan requests, please review the Loan Guidelines listed below before submitting your request. Failure to comply with any or all of the guidelines may impact copyright requests and/or future loan requests by the borrower, their lab, or the institution more generally.

Short duration loans may be made with the approval of the curatorial staff and may be recalled as necessary. To request a specimen loan, please complete the MCZ Vertebrate Paleontology Specimen Loan Request form and send it to the Curatorial Associate at mcz_vertebratepaleo@fas.harvard.edu.

For proposals that include the creation of 3D data, including but not limited to CT scanning, laser scanning, and photogrammetry, please review the 3D Data Collection and Use Policy for MCZ Vertebrate Paleontology Specimens. The MCZ VP Department prefers all scanning be completed at Harvard in order to preserve specimen integrity and to limit specimen inaccessibility. CT scanning may be performed by both internal and external researchers at Harvard’s Center for Nanoscale Systems. For more information visit the Center for Nanoscale Systems website. In exceptional cases, loans may be approved for scanning at non-Harvard facilities. The rationale for using an external scanning facility needs to be included in the project proposal.

If a loan request that involves 3D imaging is approved, all researchers named in the project proposal will be required to sign the 3D Data Collection and Use Policy form. The primary researcher will then need to sign the MCZ Vertebrate Paleontology 3D Data Use Agreement on behalf of all collaborators.

For proposals that include destructive sampling, please review the MCZ Destructive Sampling Policy and the Vertebrate Paleontology Destructive Sampling Policy, which can be found in the Destructive Sampling tab on this webpage. The Vertebrate Paleontology Destructive Sampling Policy contains specific instructions related to loaning, sampling, and returning sampled VP specimens.

Upon approval of the loan request, a formal loan receipt form will be produced. The borrower is required to sign and return a copy of the loan receipt form upon receiving the specimen(s). Any damage during shipping must be indicated on the loan receipt form and the Curatorial Associate notified immediately for instructions on specimen handling (see Loan Guideline on Specimen Care and Handling). Failure to return the signed form may jeopardize publication copyright or any future loan requests.

Loan Guidelines

Institutional Affiliation: The borrower must be affiliated with a research institution. Individuals without such affiliation may borrow specimens only under the condition that they are sponsored by an individual with such an affiliation and agree to study the material at the sponsor's institution. In such cases, loans will be sent to the sponsor at the sponsor's institutional address. The loaned material may not leave the sponsor institution without prior approval from the Curatorial Associate.

Students and Faculty Sponsors: Student borrowers must have a faculty advisor who is willing to oversee the care and safe return of the loaned specimens. All requests must be accompanied by the full name of both the student and advisor and the advisor’s institutional address so appropriate inquiries may be made.

Types and Specimen Stability: In most cases, loan requests for type material or other historically important specimens will not be granted, unless deemed appropriate by curatorial staff. If the specimen requested is deemed to be in fragile condition, transportation by hand may be required or the researcher may be required to visit the collection to examine the requested material in person.

Size of Loan Request: Researchers are requested to consider the practicalities involved in responding to requests for large numbers of specimens, or material that is large and/or heavy. In these cases, a researcher may be required to visit the MCZ. Requests that involve many specimens from the same taxon may need to be sent in multiple lots, such that the collection is not depleted.

Loan Tenure: Specimens are loaned for a period of 6 months. It is the responsibility of the borrower to contact the Curatorial Associate in writing to request an extension. A request for an extension must be made before the current loan period expires.

Care of Specimens: The borrower assumes responsibility for the care of the specimen(s). All borrowed specimens are to be kept in a secure facility and in association with their labels and other accompanying data. If the loan institution is not known to the MCZ curatorial staff, details of where and how the specimen will be stored while on loan may be requested before a decision is made. Improper care of specimens while on loan (e.g., unreported or excessive damage, unauthorized alteration or preparation) could impact future loan requests by the borrower, their lab, or the institution more generally. If the researcher needs to collect data or image a specimen at an institution outside of the borrower’s institution, the name and location of the facility must be reviewed and approved by curatorial staff in advance. If research on the specimen needs to occur in a country other than the borrower’s institution, this must be disclosed with the loan request as permits and permissions need to be sent with the loan to adhere to international laws for the transport of fossilized specimens.

Researchers are not permitted to undertake preparation of MCZ specimens without the approval of the Curatorial Associate. If a researcher needs a loaned specimen to be prepared, the Curatorial Associate must be contacted with the request before any alteration to the specimen occurs. In the request, include rationale for the preparation, a description of the borrower institution’s facilities, and the preparator’s name and e-mail address. The Curatorial Staff may need to contact the preparator to discuss the work to be performed. Specimens may not be electrocoated for SEM examination without prior approval from curatorial staff.

If a specimen breaks or is damaged while on loan, do NOT attempt to repair the specimen. Please contact the Curatorial Associate for direction on how to handle the specimen. Send clear photos from multiple angles, including a scale bar, of the damage, describe the damage-causing incident, and information regarding the institution’s on-staff paleontology preparator. Please include the preparator’s name and e-mail address. The Curatorial Staff may need to contact the preparator to discuss the work to be performed.

Hand Carrying Specimens: If a specimen requires transportation by hand (‘hand-carry’), the borrower of the loan must demonstrate they have the appropriate funds to return the loan in the allotted loan period.

Shipping & Insurance: The MCZ will pay for shipping and insurance on the loan to the borrower(s) institution, while the borrower(s) assume responsibility for the safe and insured return of the loaned specimens.

Packing & Returning Specimens: Borrowers are requested to return all specimens as soon as possible upon completion of their research. Partial returns are acceptable until all specimens in the original loan have been returned. A copy of the original loan form should be enclosed with the returned loan. All specimens should be sent via FedEx. Specimens should be securely packed and boxed. Specimens with loose elements should especially be protected.

Due to the increased volume of mail sent during the holiday season and the increased risk of shipping complications, please do not return loans during the month of December. Please notify the Curatorial Associate when the return loan has been shipped and provide any tracking numbers associated with the package(s).

Please mail specimens via FedEx to:
     Christina Byrd
     Museum of Comparative Zoology, Vertebrate Paleontology
     Harvard University
     52 Oxford Street
     Room B341
     Cambridge, MA 02138

Change of Address: Loans may not be moved between institutions without prior permission. It is the responsibility of the borrower to notify the MCZ curatorial staff prior to any change of address so the appropriate records can be updated.

Designating New Type Specimens and/or Identifications: Researchers designating types from MCZ material are requested to provide the curatorial staff with a copy of the published type designation. It is requested that type specimens be returned either via Fed-Ex or hand-carry. Researchers designating new identifications of MCZ material are requested to notify curatorial staff and provide a copy of the document to the Curatorial Associate.

Loan Transfers: Transfers may not be undertaken without the written permission of the curatorial staff.

Copyright and Publications: Credit for any use of MCZ material should be given in resulting publications. Publications should include a table that lists MCZ specimen numbers and reprints should be sent to the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology. Permission for 2D- or 3D-imaging of loaned specimens must be specifically requested in the loan request. Please review the MCZ Permissions & Copyright Policy for more information. Copies of all media must be sent to the Vertebrate Paleontology department. Please read the Guidelines for Digital Media provided to the MCZ.

DESTRUCTIVE SAMPLING

Destructive sampling is the permanent removal of material from a specimen, including but not limited to disarticulation, thin sectioning, or isotope sampling. Requests to use destructive sampling techniques on fossil specimens MUST be included in the researcher’s loan proposal for review by Collections staff. Please review the MCZ Destructive Sampling Policy prior to submitting a proposal. In most cases, loan requests that include destructive sampling of type material or other historically important specimens will not be granted without exceptional cause and must be approved by the curator.

 

For destructive sampling techniques to be approved, the researcher, the researcher’s institution, and/or the student researcher’s advisor must have demonstrated previous abilities to perform the destructive sampling method proposed.

 

The loan proposal for destructive sampling must include a description of which institution will perform the sampling, what part of each specimen will be sampled, the make and model of equipment that will be used to perform the sampling, and a list of all stabilizers, epoxies, and other chemicals that will be used.

 

If destructive sampling techniques are approved:

  • The researcher may be required to mold and cast and/or CT scan the specimen prior to sampling with guidance from the MCZ Vertebrate Paleontology Curatorial Staff. If CT scanning is not available to the borrower, MCZ Vertebrate Paleontology will CT scan the specimen at a cost to the borrower.
  • A list of all material used on the specimen (e.g. stabilizer, epoxy, grinding material) must be included with return of the loan to ensure long-term care of the specimen.
  • All material, including the remaining original material, molds and casts, properly labeled and identified slides, any high-quality images taken, and copies of notes and documentation regarding how specimens were sampled must be returned to the MCZ upon return of the loan. Permission to retain a cast of the specimen must be requested at the time of the original sampling request. If approved, the first cast (also called the master) should be the one returned to the VP department. Please ensure that the cast is complete, does not have excessive small bubbles within the cast that obscure surface features, and does not exclude small structures due to air bubbles trapped in the mold during casting.
  • If thin-sectioned specimens are prepared on glass or by other techniques, the sections should be clearly labeled with complete information from the original specmen.
    Anatomical directions on all sides of the thin section should be clearly labeled.
    Anatomical directions on all sides of the thin section should be clearly labeled. The Slide ID corresponds to notes that should also be included with the specimen upon returning it to the MCZ. These notes should designate the element, left or right side (if applicable), and where exactly on the specimen the thin section was made. Example: L.Fem.MS.1 = a midshaft section of the left femur. Anatomical element abbreviations for the Slide ID should be a 3-letter term. Suggested abbreviations include: Fem (femur), Fib (fibula), Tib (tibia), Hum (humerus), Rad (radius), Uln (ulna), Plx (phalanx), and Rib. If you have questions regarding these labeling conventions, please contact the Curatorial Associate at mcz_vertebratepaleo@fas.harvard.edu.