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International Association for Identification Tags WVU Libraries as Official Repository

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December 8th, 2004

WVU Libraries could serve as the set for a new program in the fall lineup – CSI: 1893. It may be light on the cool special effects, but the story is still interesting.

Long before FBI agents were searching digital files to find a match for a fingerprint found at a crime scene, Sir Frances Galton began studying fingerprints as a means of identification. The result was Finger Prints, an 1892 work that included the first fingerprint classification system.

Galton established two major points. First, an individual’s fingerprints are unique – the chance of two people having the same prints would be 1 in 64 billion. Second, fingerprints stay the same as a person ages.

An 1893 edition of Finger Prints is part of the collection that the International Association for Identification is entrusting the WVU Libraries with for the next decade.

The IAI selected the WVU Libraries as the official repository for its library holdings because of the University’s Forensic and Investigative Sciences academic program and the Forensic Science Initiative research and outreach program.

“We are thrilled our library was chosen to receive this collection,” Myra Lowe, Associate Dean of Libraries said. “The materials will be valuable additions to the Libraries’ resources in the subject area and will greatly enhance our ability to support student and faculty research.”

The collection is dedicated to the history of fingerprinting, crime scene analysis, and related sciences. Along with Galton’s landmark effort is a 1901 edition of Sir Edward Richard Henry’s Classification and Uses of Finger Prints.

A pioneer in the field, the British police officer led police in Bengal, India, to use fingerprint to identify criminals. He later become assistant commissioner of metropolitan police in London and then established the Britain’s first fingerprint files in 1901. Soon, the rest of Europe and North America incorporated the practice of using fingerprints to identify criminals.

The collection includes many similar items dating back to the earliest uses of fingerprints in criminal investigations in the United States. The IAI library also includes original notes from the earliest practitioners and developers of fingerprinting, arguably one of the most important tools available to the forensic scientist.

“It is somewhat analogous to having notes taken by Charles Darwin during his voyages on the HMS Beagle prior to his publishing On the Origins of Species,” said Clifton Bishop, Director of the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program and Chair of the IAI Student Committee.

Bishop is a firm believer in knowing the history of significant developments within one’s field. He considers it critical that students understand why certain conclusions were drawn within their area and not simply accept things on blind faith.

“Often, you find that the questions asked by the early pioneers in a field are, with modifications, the same ones that are being asked today and knowing about their thoughts can make one better informed,” Bishop said.

In addition to the value of the material itself, IAI entrusting WVU with their collection is an important recognition of the University’s forensic program’s status.

“Locating their collection here further strengthens the important bonds between us,” Bishop said. “It is also a statement of IAI’s faith in us and in the continuance of our program that they have entrusted us with this collection.” – Morgantown Times

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