Collaboration key in the new “Thin Sections” collection of university libraries

When the Great Basin Science Sample and Records Library (GBSSRL) and the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology were faced with the challenge of identifying the best and most efficient way to digitally capture a unique collection of mineral thin sections, they turned to turned towards the Digital services of university libraries department for assistance.

Approximately 185 thin section samples taken from different quadrants of Elko County by geologist Robert Coats in the late 1950s were recently digitized by the Digital Services team and are now available for viewing online.

Geologists prepare thin sections by using a saw to cut a thin slice from a mineral sample. The slice is then glued to a microscope slide. The samples, from the Jarbidge – Mountain City area, contain a mixture of Paleozoic sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, Cretaceous granite rocks, Tertiary volcanic rocks, and weathering vein samples.

“GBSSRL had conducted a pilot project to capture the sections with funds from the USGS Data Preservation Grant, but our process was taking a long time and was not feasible with larger collections,” said Emily O ‘Dean, GBSSRL and responsible for geoscience data. “The attention to detail by the libraries was amazing. The partnership involved devising new techniques to effectively capture these images, then we needed to make sure to combine them with highly detailed standardized metadata, and then disseminate and share the scanned data online. Libraries have helped us achieve all of these goals.

Emily O’Dean is the Geoscience Data Manager for GBSSRL.

This project was unique, even by university library standards.

“It was an interesting project because we had never captured thin sections before,” said Katherine Dirk, head of the digitization lab for university libraries. “My team basically had to create a microscopic view, with our 120mm camera lens and light box. While we regularly scan negatives on a softbox, with the thin sections, we had an added element of capturing them in regular lighting and in polarized light using polarized film sheets.

When viewed under polarized light, minerals in the sample will appear in different colors and intensities, making them easy to identify.

Lady with short dark hair and glasses wearing a dark emerald green blouse
Katherine Dirk is responsible for the University Libraries Digitization Lab.

Explore the collection

Thin Sections is accessible to the public via digital library archives, and via the GBSSRL site. Those interested in new discoveries can visit GBSSRL and view the thin sections of this collection – and tens of thousands more – under a petrographic microscope.

Visit the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center’s Breezeway to see six thin-cut samples that have been turned into oversized art. These samples are part of the libraries’ new mining exhibit titled “Nuggets: Short Stories About Nevada Mining”. The exhibition was made possible by a generous grant from IGT. To learn more about the Nuggets, please visit University library nuggets page.

The libraries were also recently featured in the College of Science’s “Mineral Monday” video series for the work being done to digitize ore from the Goldfield mines. In this episode, explore the Libraries Digitization Lab where the Keck Museum’s collection of minerals from the Goldfield mines was digitized and hosted online. Watch to learn more about this unique new collaboration. Then check out the digital collections of the university libraries where the digital ore collection will be displayed!

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