Odds and Ends

My time at the Herbarium

I am getting back into the swing of my weekly routine. A big part of that is the morning I volunteer at the Herbarium in the Royal Botanical Gardens.

To find out more about the National Herbarium of Victoria, or indeed the vital role that herbaria play in understanding science, especially botany and the environment, drop back to an earlier post of mine. The website of the Herbarium has a great deal of interesting information too.

The statue of Mueller in front of the Herbarium (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

I do my volunteer work in the Library. Of course there are shelves of books there, books about botany, the environment, historical botanical expeditions and so many more. There are journals and periodicals too. In a newly renovated temperature controlled room there are historic books and original botanic art work. The collection of pristine, shiny spades always makes me smile. They were used by dignitaries to plant trees in the Gardens.

As well there are tens of thousands of slides, in boxes, in cupboards and filing cabinets. (Are you, like me, of that Certain Age to remember slides? My Dad took a huge number of them, and they are tucked away in cupboards in my childhood house. We had Slide Nights when a friend or family member returned from the Grand Tour of Europe. They often ended up with the couple arguing about whether the photo was taken in this town or that!)

While my Dad’s slides include many glorious sunsets, the ones in the Herbarium are far more specific. One of the projects is to digitalise the slides taken by a botanist Ilma Dunn. Her collection is over twenty thousand slides of, mainly, Victorian native plants, photos that could be used to identify individual species. On each side she has written incredible detail ~ genus, species, date and place, often quite specific. She was photographing as early as the 1960s and 70s, but most of them are in the 80s and 90s. It makes me wonder how many of the places she went to are still the wild places that enabled these species to grow.

I know very little about Dunn, but I do know that she was a good photographer, and her photos deserve to be made available to more people. She must have been a very dedicated botanist too, to know where the plant grew and to know the time when it would be flowering or seeding.

So I am part of the team that has transferred the data from the all those slides to a spread sheet. Now we are digitalising each one so that the photo and the data can be merged and made available on line.

Fifty slides ready to be slotted into the scanner. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)
Scanning (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)
The scanned image (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

While these slides scan I work on the data on other slides, slowly working my way through filing cabinet drawers. The data on these is much more scanty, which makes it quicker to enter. 🙂

The next sheets of slides ready to be processed (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

I feel honoured that I can be a part, if only a small part, of this scientific institution.


12 replies on “My time at the Herbarium”

It is good that we can save this resource. But it is a time consuming job, as each batch of 50 takes about an hour to digitalise. How long will it take to get through them all? I think I have a job there for a while 🙂


Unfortunately these institutions are so cash-strapped that they have to rely on volunteers. Such a shame that these internationally important projects can’t be funded properly.


Nothing like a good natter, so let's have a chat!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.