Natural history collections (NHCs) are used in many fields of study, but general knowledge regarding their uses is poor. Because of this, funding and support for NHCs frequently fluctuate. One way in which collections professionals can illustrate a collection’s contribution to a variety of fields is based on the collection’s history of use. Tracking NHC utilization through time can increase NHC value to others outside of the collection, allow for the analysis of changes in specimen-based research trends, and assist in effective collection management. This case study focuses on NHC usage records held by the Museum of Southwestern Biology (MSB), a currently growing university collection used in many research fields, and presents methods for quantifying collections utilization through time. Through an exploration of these data, this paper illustrates MSB’s growth and changes in research produced over time and offers explanations for the changes observed. Last, this study provides suggestions for how collections professionals can most greatly benefit from considering NHC records as a data source. Understanding NHC usage from “the collection’s perspective” provides a new way for NHC professionals to understand NHCs’ value in the context of the research it supports and demonstrates the importance of this key infrastructure to a broader audience.

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Author notes

Associate Editor.— Christine Johnson