Global database connects collections from the world’s 73 largest natural history museums

© UHH, RRZ/MCC, Mentz


With their 16 million objects, the scientific collections of the LIB are now part of a global database of the world’s largest natural history museums. The digital catalogue connects more than one billion objects from scientific collections of 73 natural history museums from 28 countries. In addition to the richness, large gaps also become apparent. The results of the study were published in the specialist journal Science.

The initiators of this global database are the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, the American Museum of Natural History Museum in New York City and the Natural History Museum in London. In the first phase of this initiative, the holdings of 73 of the world’s largest natural history museums were initially assessed. The aim behind this is to collectively raise the knowledge in the natural history collections worldwide and make it available to all people as a scientific infrastructure.

The study shows that there are 1.1 billion objects and thus an incredible amount of relevant information lying dormant in the scientific collections. However, most of these materials are not indexed, i.e. only 16 percent of the collections have digitally discoverable records. This is the first step in an ambitious effort to inventory global holdings that can help scientists and decision-makers find solutions to pressing, far-reaching problems such as climate change, food shortages, human health, pandemic preparedness and wildlife conservation.

Beyond their exhibitions, the world’s natural history museums preserve and explore an unparalleled archive of the history of our planet and our solar system. These natural history collections offer a unique insight into our planet’s past. Increasingly, they are being used to make predictions about our future. While museums have traditionally acted independently, the aim of this new approach is for all the world’s organisations to work together to create a global collection of their objects that is as complete as possible.

To better understand this immense, untapped resource, leading researchers from a dozen major natural history museums have created an innovative but simple framework to rapidly assess the size and composition of natural history museum collections worldwide.

The organisers created a common framework of 19 collection types for 16 geographical regions with 304 different cells covering collection categories. The 19 collection types include biological, geological, palaeontological and anthropological collections and 16 terrestrial and marine regions covering the entire Earth.

The Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change (LIB) preserves and researches its scientific collections with a total of 16 million objects from the fields of zoology, mineralogy, geology and palaeontology at its sites in Hamburg and Bonn.


The project is explained in a recent article (23 March 2023) published in the journal Science:

“A Global Approach for Natural History Museum Collections”

Please find the final US press release here


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