Avian Specimens Collection in the Digital Media Repository: Collaborative Project Brings New Life to Historical Ball State Bird Collection
For the first time in over three decades, students and the general public are able to view a rare, historical bird collection with ties to the Ball family. This was made possible through a collaboration between the University Libraries and the Department of Biology to create the Avian Specimens Collection in the Ball State Digital Media Repository (DMR).
Beginning in 1964, philanthropists Virginia and Edmund F. Ball took a strong interest in building a collection of East African birds to benefit the growing biological sciences department on campus. Between 1964 and 1972, Virginia and Edmund Ball went on safari in East Africa three times. While there, they collected native bird specimens, had them cleaned, skinned, and prepared, and sent them back to Dr. Robert H. Cooper, chair of the Department of Biology at that time. During this time, they also sponsored a number of East African safaris in order to grow the collection.
Over 587 birds were collected from Tanganyika, Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia. By 1972, 731 specimens were available for study in the new Cooper Science Complex, named in honor of Dr. Cooper. At one time, Dr. Cooper even envisioned a museum to house the vast collection, hoping that Ball Gym could one day serve as a natural history museum as the campus expanded.
With this knowledge, Technical Cataloging Assistant and former ornithology student Sarah R. McKillip, working with Metadata and Digital Initiatives, approached the newest curator of the Ball Bird Collection, Dr. Kamal Islam, Professor of Biology, in hopes of beginning a digitization project. The project would offer greater accessibility and permanency to an aging collection of rare birds. Dr. Islam was enthusiastic about the project, since access to the physical specimens is limited, and further exposure and handling advances deterioration of such specimens. To date, 52 bird specimens are available for viewing in the DMR, with plans to continue adding others.
This fall, Sarah McKillip and Dr. Islam met with John Straw, Assistant Dean for Digital Initiatives and Special Collections in the University Libraries, to discuss historical documents tied to the bird collection. The documents included correspondence between Virginia Ball and Robert Cooper (beginning in 1964), collection permit requests, photographs, and newspaper articles publicizing the collection. In the interest of preservation and wider accessibility, Dr. Islam and the Department of Biology decided to donate the historical documents to Archives and Special Collections. Selected photographs and newspaper articles from the collection will be digitized and made available for study and research along with the digital avian collection in the DMR.
Pictured: Robert H. Cooper and Virginia Ball.
For more information about the Avian Specimens Collection, contact Sarah R. McKillip, Technical Cataloging Assistant/Monograph. ◙