Library brings Herbarium to life

For more than 30 years, botanists and botany students have been visiting the University of Lethbridge to study a unique collection of more than 20,000 preserved plant specimens from Waterton Lakes National Park and environs. Now, thanks to a partnership between Herbarium collection curator Dr. John Bain in the Department of Biological Sciences and the University Library, these invaluable specimens have been digitized and will soon be widely available via the Internet.

The majority of the Herbarium's specimens date from the 1970s and 1980s.

"In 1982, former University of Lethbridge professor Job Kuijt's A Flora of Waterton Lakes National Park was published – after which he deposited in the Herbarium all plant specimens he collected and pressed during his documentation of the flora," says Bain. "It was this abundant and diverse flora found in Waterton Lakes National Park that was, in part, the reason for the park's designation as a World Biosphere Reserve in 1979 and a World Heritage Site in 1995."

Unlike other materials the library has previously digitized, pressed plants pose a slightly different challenge due to their relative fragility and the fact that the specimens must remain on-site in the Herbarium. To facilitate the digitization process, specialized equipment was purchased and located in the Herbarium. Quinn Daviduck, a summer research assistant, was hired to create high-resolution digital images for each and every plant specimen in the collection.

The next step in the process is to catalogue and describe each specimen using appropriate metadata (e.g., locational data, flowering times, ecological and distribution data) in order for the content to be more effectively searched or browsed online.

"In undertaking this project," says Bain, "the library is ensuring that an important natural history collection housed at the University of Lethbridge will join similar collections around the world in being widely accessible."

An official launch of the Herbarium Digital Collection was held on Monday, Dec. 19 at the University of Lethbridge Library.

For more information, contact Associate University Librarian, Information Systems & Technical Services, Wendy Merkley at

This story first appeared in the December 2011 issue of the Legend. If you'd like to see the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.