Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Collections and Outreach

The extensive collections of the Survey provide a great resource for a variety of in-house and out-of-house outreach activities. Although the Survey is not set up for public viewing of its collections, the collections are often the focal point for Survey visitors, from kindergartners to legislators. Because of the complexity and diversity of the Survey, these impressive groupings of organisms provide an understandable entry into the work of the Survey. For many visitors, the collections are portrayed as, and indeed are, a great library of irreplaceable information--the biological memory of Illinois.

The collections serve other outreach functions, such as providing the "punch" for a traveling exhibit on biodiversity, serving as a resource for creating educational materials, or being included as objet d'art in a natural history photographic exhibit about Illinois. For the last six years, the Survey (in conjunction with the Geological and Water surveys) has had an exhibit entitled "Biodiversity in Illinois" that has visited nearly 60 sites around the state. Billed as "the exhibit that goes where no exhibit has gone before," the 1,000-square-foot exhibit has been in such diverse locations as a refurbished barn at a northern Illinois natural area, numerous middle and high school cafeterias, and visitor centers of national organizations, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The heart of the exhibit is a selection of organisms from the Survey collections: mussels, mammals, fishes, birds, amphibians and reptiles (including all four Illinois poisonous snakes), and insects and other invertebrates. The exhibit has put thousands of people in touch with the Survey and the importance of its collections.

In conjunction with the Illinois EcoWatch program, the collections have served as invaluable resources for the production of training materials for volunteer "citizen scientists." EcoWatch is a program whereby citizens are trained in volunteer monitoring projects and collect ecological data from various Illinois habitats. 

Part of their training is in the identification of specific groups of organisms, for example, macroinvertebrates for RiverWatch and butterflies for PrairieWatch. The collections have provided the source materials for full-color field guides and cards that enable volunteers to correctly identify the target organisms.

Several of the research collections have smaller traveling or loaner collections that can be used by Survey personnel when they present programs away from the Survey for a variety of audiences. These collections include several displays of insects, a case of all the bat species found in Illinois, and displays on mussels and the mussel industry.

Just as the collections provide a valuable research resource for the state, they also provide the needed materials for education outreach to introduce this and coming generations to the life forms found in Illinois.


Michael Jeffords, INHS Education/ Outreach Coordinator, helps kids in Chicago plant a prairie.

Michael R. Jeffords, Office of the Chief

Illinois Natural History Survey

1816 South Oak Street, MC 652
Champaign, IL 61820

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