Willamette University's Natural History Collection

Welcome to Willamette's Natural History Collection.  Our collection has a rich history and we strive to preserve and provide our materials for education and outreach.  At this time we do not have interpretive displays associated with our collection so our materials are limited to check-out use only.  On this site you will find information on the following topics

For more information on the specific contents of the collection please contact our collection curator, Gabrielle James, at gmjames@willamette.edu or call 503-570-6013.


Collection History

Willamette’s Natural History collection was started by our Department founder, Dr. Morton E. Peck in 1905.  Dr. Peck was an avid collector of both plants and animals, and his specimens have found their way into major collections, including those at Harvard University, the New York Botanical Gardens, the United States Nation Herbarium and the Carnegie Museums of Natural History in Pittsburg.  He and his wife, Jessie, took many trips abroad and through their dedicated effort, the University is privileged to have an extensive collection of both local and exotic birds and some large mammals.

During the 1970’s-1990‘s the collection was furthered by the work of Dr. Donald Breakey who, as a small mammal expert, was keen to expand the collection to include more mammals.  Thanks to his efforts, the collection represents nearly every species of rodent found in Oregon, and many of our large mammals.  Through the work of Dr. Peck, Dr. Breakey and the students and community members they inspired, the University houses a collection comprised of over 3,000 specimens. 

Sadly, after Dr. Breakey’s departure in 1992, the collection began to deteriorate as fewer and fewer people used and maintained it.  It wasn’t until 2010 when a dermestid infestation threatened to destroy the entire collection that efforts were made to revive it.  Under the guidance of the Department Chair, Dr. David Craig, 2009 graduate Kaeli Swift began work to catalog the collection electronically and move from it’s previous home in Olin Science Center to Collins Science Center.  It took nearly a year of work, and in June of 2011 the collection was fully restored under the new catalog system. 

The collection is divided into three major groups; animal skins, animal skulls and our wet collection.  Although some of these are very fragile, dating bating to the collection's inception in 1905, most of our collection is intended to be used for teaching and outreach purposes.  For specific questions or to arrange a time to check something out please contact Gabrielle James at 503-370-6013 or email at gmjames@willamette.edu.


Collection Policies

  1. Willamette University Natural History Collection Mission Statement: To obtain, prepare and preserve animal specimens to be used as educational tools for students, staff and community members.
  2. Access to the Research Collection: In order to preserve the integrity of the collection, access is strictly monitored. Approval by the museum staff is required for any visitation or use of the collection. This includes both university staff and students.   If you would like to inquire about the collection please email our museum curator. Users will be provided materials and instructions for specimen care and are expected to provided basic contact information and an estimated return time.  Willamette University reserves the right to refuse to loan to parties who have a poor history of maintaining the integrity or specimens or returning them in a timely manner. 
  3. Fees: At this time we do not charge fees, although we do ask for a $100 donation should items be damaged to cover the cost of repairs. 
  4. Procurement of Data by User: The user may acquire only specified portions of the primary database. To prevent potential conflict between multiple users, these portions are granted only upon approval by museum staff.
  5. Acknowledgement: A)The user must acknowledge the contribution of Willamette University whenever the data are used, including any product produced by the user, even when modified. Acknowledgement must be given in all publications and presentations, including testimony before legislative bodies of local, state or federal government, and conservation or land-use agencies. B) Subsequent data bases and informational products created by the user will acknowledge that they are secondary databases and not the primary database of the Willamette collection.
  6. Data Accuracy: The user understands that Willamette University maintains the collection to the best ability of the staff, but that no guarantee of data accuracy is implied or given. It is also understood that Willamette University accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of the data taken and subsequently modified or compiled by the user.
  7. Third Party Dissemination of Data: No information in any form collected by the user is allowed to be passed on to a third party, organization or agency, whether private or governmental, without written permission from Willamette University
  8. Copies of Publications: The user agrees to supply Willamette University with copies of documents including any publications, reports or testimonies which arise from the use of the data obtained from the collection.
Willamette University would like to thank Washington State University’s Connor Museum for providing the template for our policies and procedures.

Loan Policies and Procedures

  1. There is to be one recognized Curator (Key Holder) for the collection at all times.  This person is responsible for maintaining the collection (to the best of their abilities) and for taking users* to see and/or borrow from the collection.  *User is defined as anyone other then the key holder.  This includes: community members, Willamette students, staff and faculty members. 
  2. The Curator’s contact information is to be updated on the W.U Natural History Collection page of the Biology homepage as soon as they assume responsibility.  This can include a phone number but at the very least should include an email address. 
  3. Once the Curator has been contacted by an interested party they are responsible for escorting that person(s) to the collections room.  Since there will likely be a broad level of knowledge regarding taxonomic groups, it is important the Curator be familiar with the collection and its arrangement so they can assist people when looking for specific species or groups.  Please give yourself at least 30min for this process so that no steps are skipped.
  4. Users will be instructed to: A) Wash hands prior to interactions with specimens.  B) Pick up specimens by the body only, never the head or feet. C) Keep specimens in an airtight container (and preferably refrigerated) when not in use, and keep away from pets.   
  5. Users will be given a note card with the specimen’s shelf-ID number to keep with specimen at all times.
  6. If user needs one, plastic containers will be provided for transport of specimen.  If they are taking a skins specimen, one or two mothballs (i.e. naphthalene) should be placed inside the container; this will help protect against insects. 
  7. User will finish by filling out a loan form.  Contact information will very according to who the user is.  If user is a community member, the Curator should request both an email address and a phone number.  For a Willamette student, staff or faculty member, their University ID could be used instead of a phone number or email address.  (Remember you may know the person very well, making gathering contact information seem arbitrary, but future curators may not, so please take the time to get as much information as possible.)
  8. Loan forms are to be filed under the “Outstanding Loans” tab in the file folder. 
  9. Once a specimen has been returned, it is to be placed in a freezer for 2-3 days, to inoculate against destructive insects. 
  10. After the 2-3 day quarantine period, the Curator is responsible for re-shelving the specimen and signing in the loan form.  Once the loan form has been signed in it is to be re-filed under the “Returned Specimens” tab.  
  11. Every three months the Curator (or a department intern) will be responsible for going through the outstanding loan forms to check for late specimens.  If specimens are over a week late from estimated return time, borrowers should be contacted.