Science Museum Creates CD-ROM Catalog of Microscopic Fossils

Article excerpt

Established in 1869, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City houses one of the largest collections of specimens, including numerous microscopic fossils from around the world.

For years, the museum has published catalogs of microscopic fossils, used mainly by scientists employed by the oil industry. These scientists, known as micropaleontologists, utilize microscopes to see what type of fossils are being pulled out of a well and at what frequency.

Such information helps engineers determine if, for example, a well contains gas, oil or neither. By 1994, the largest catalog had reached about 75,000 pages, occupying nearly 80 loose-leaf binders.

* An Avalanche of Paper

Each year, the museum would issue between 600 to 1,200 new pages that would have to be alphabetically intercollated with the others. "This got to be quite a pain," notes Dr. John Van Couvering, director of MicroPress.

Officials had considered developing a computerized version of the catalog before, but found out that most customers did not want to purchase the mainframes necessary to access it.

Next, the museum experimented with storing the pictures on videodisc to eliminate the mass storage problem. Text was imported into the database using optical character recognition (OCR) software. However, project managers abandoned that process when they realized that even the best OCR packages achieved no higher than a 95% accuracy. Preventing errors was further complicated by the fact that the catalog included entries in dozens of languages.

With the services of Electro Communication Systems (ECS) of Dallas, Texas, the museum turned around and digitized entire pages, then compressed all 25GB onto four CD-ROMs.

ECS accomplished this seemingly painstaking task with the help of an Electronic Filing System from Panasonic Office Automation, Secaucus, N.J.

Terry Muncey, CEO of ECS, says that placing the catalog on CD-ROM opens up the information to a broad range of university researchers and students. …