The collection of entomological notebooks of Finnish Museum of Natural History

Finnish museum of natural history keeps about three hundred collection notebooks that include data relating to the older parts of the insect collections of the museum. These entomological notebooks are basically catalogues containing sample numbers and collection data about insect specimens.

Back in the time of ink pen it was impossible to fit much data on small hand-written labels that were put to the same needle with insect samples, so a separate notebook for recording sample data was kept.

Data included at least collector's name, collection date and locality. In addition, information on possible host plant, method of collection, hatching date of specimens collected as eggs or larvae etc. could be recorded. Specimens were coded with different label and number colours, number styles and various sub- and superscripts because writing long number series on small labels was unpractical. Later, development of copying and printing technology has allowed sufficient sample data to be included in the specimen label. With this, the use of separate collection notebooks has become less common. In addition to few original field notes, older collection data have not been kept anywhere except in these 8-300 pages long notebooks, many of which are in bad condition due to old age. Data of up to thousands of specimens per book is thus of irreplaceable value in interpretation and research of the Museum's insect collections.

The oldest notebooks date back to 1860's and include collection data of several entomologists in one book. However, most of the books are personal notebooks of one collector, whether a professional entomologist or a hobbyist collector. The books that are currently being digitized cover the period from those old days to about 1960's.

In addition to collection data notebooks can include quite detailed information about the geology, soil characteristics and weather conditions of the collection locality, as well as other habitat details. One can also find hand drawn maps, excursion budget calculations and different kinds of descriptions of the collection events and other happenings.

The quality of handwriting varies a lot. Especially some of the older books are written in spectacular handwriting style with an old-fashioned ink pen. On the other hand there are books with almost non-readable scribbles, possibly written in the field. There is no information on whether the older notebooks were actually written down by the collectors themselves. Many are probably the work of associates, secretaries or later entomologists. The notebooks of department store director Mr. Sten Stockmann consist of over 1300 pages of collection data in five separate books covering years 1918-1974. Exceptionally, these are entirely typed with a typewriter. Legend says that the job was done by Stockmann`s personal secretary at the department store.

As part of the digitization project of the Finnish museum of natural history, contents of the notebooks have now for the first time been copied and transformed into digital form. Book pages are photographed and the text on these images is manually interpreted, partly by remote workers. Images of typewritten pages can often be processed with optical character recognition software that translates text automatically to text documents. Images and text are then saved in structured form in a database. Major parts of this database can be publicly accessed through a web-based user interface. By this process the entomological notebooks have become available to all interested, and contents can now be searched by keywords. Currently some 50 notebooks containing about 5300 image pages can be accessed through the public user interface. The books in database are numbered by their archive order (n1, n2, n3 etc., n=notebook) and page images by a running number after the book number (n1-002 etc.).

Text by Jan Salonen


A digitisation system for entomological notebooks

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