Meet the NatSCA Committee – Patti Wood Finkle

Written by Patti Wood Finkle, Collections Manager at the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum & Art Gallery at the Pennsylvania State University, in State College, Pennsylvania, USA.


Patti Wood Finkle

What is your role on the NatSCA committee?

I am an ordinary committee member and have volunteered to lead the conference planning committee next year.

Job title and institution

Collections Manager at the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum & Art Gallery at the Pennsylvania State University, in State College, Pennsylvania, USA.

Twitter username

I don’t have a twitter account, but I am a co-host on The M Files Podcast, a museum-centric podcast that my colleagues and I started during the pandemic to help museum professionals connect and learn more about other museums. Basically we get to meet new people and chat about how much we enjoy working in museums.

Tell us about your day job

In my current roll, I work with rocks, minerals, fossils, meteorites, man-made composites, industrial paintings and prints, as well as historic scientific instruments and equipment. We have a wide-ranging collection and there are always things to do, whether it is updating the current database with images and information, accessioning an incoming collection, or writing exhibit text (and I’ve done all three this week). A large part of my job is collections based, but with a staff of two, it is important to manage our time wisely and both of us take on tasks such as tours, guest lectureships, exhibit planning and development, supervising our student workers, and working with our parent institution. I also work with students and facilitate partnerships with faculty and student organizations whenever possible.

Natural science collections are very popular with museum visitors. Why do you think this is?

Because natural science is amazing! To see, in person, how large a whale is, how brilliantly a gem may sparkle, how beautiful a beetle can be is exhilarating. Screens and computers can only show you so much, but to see the things for yourself is authentic and tangible. It fuels our curiosity and our wonder. The number of times I have heard both children and adults walk into a natural science gallery and exclaim “WOW!”, sometimes under their breath and sometimes out loud, is affirmation of the power of these collections to continue to awe and educate visitors of all ages.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – March 2023

Welcome to the March edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

Compiled by Olivia Beavers, Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at World Museum, National Museums Liverpool.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences, and training opportunities. We are keen to hear from you if you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest, please drop an email to

Sector News

NatSCA Conference 2023

Registration is open for the Annual Conference & AGM of the Natural Sciences Collections Association will be held on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th April 2023. Stoke-on-Trent Museums will be hosting the conference at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. The conference will include gallery and collection tours, presentations, poster sessions and the annual AGM. The focus this year is:

So how do we actually do all this? Hopeful futures and turning theory into practice for big issues in natural history collections

This is the “How To…” conference for people working with natural history collections. The last few years have seen unprecedented changes in the expectations for what the museum sector can deliver. Global and local social and environmental issues have coincided to reinforce the needs of museums to consider their reinvention and relevance.

Register via Eventbrite through the NatSCA website: Members can access discounted booking rates by entering a promo code which has been distributed. If you are a NatSCA member and have not received a code via email, please contact We look forward to seeing you in April!

SPNHC Conference

The 38th Annual Meeting of The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections is being held in San Francisco, California 28 May – 2 June 2023. Full details here.

Unnatural History Museum session

This session will be held on 22nd March 2023 on the topic of decolonising natural history museums. 

“We are at a crucial historical moment, in which the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List has announced a catastrophic decline in global biodiversity. Yet nature is, necessarily, interpreted in museums, through taxidermy dioramas and skeletal mounts; virtual tours and digital databases; image, text and film. The Unnatural History Museum brings together museum professionals and academics across disciplines to platform vital conversations about the museum mediation of the natural world during the sixth mass extinction.”

Each session is hosted on Zoom to allow for international participation, and takes the format of short presentations focussed around a specific theme, followed by a synthesised Q&A and roundtable discussion. To register and find out more click here.

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Aliens Escape the Herbarium

Written by Annette Townsend (Interdisciplinary Natural History Artist) & Sally Whyman (Curator: Botany Curator, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales).

Aliens 1956. Close-up. Annette Marie Townsend. Image Dewi Tannatt Lloyd

Plants growing on the wall of a London art gallery!! On closer inspection you discover they are alien plants, introduced to the UK. Looking even closer you realise they are delicate sculptures, handmade from beeswax, paraffin wax, tinned copper wire, tissue paper, cotton thread, artists’ pigments, acrylic paint and acrylic varnish.

Aliens 1992. Close-up. Annette Marie Townsend. Image Dewi Tannatt Lloyd

Mounted on stainless steel plates with stainless steel strips, and epoxy printed collector labels, in a juxtaposition of historic and modern materials and techniques, each sculpture mimics a real herbarium sheet, found in the Welsh National Herbarium, Amgueddfa Cymru.   

Wax passion flowers in progress. Image A.M. Townsend

The brainchild of Annette Marie Townsend and Sally Whyman who wanted to combine the skill, vision and dexterity of the artist with the depth of collection knowledge of the curator, allowing the plants to come to life and escape the confining folders and cabinets of the herbarium. This Aliens series allows the plants tell their stories of biodiversity change and invasive species to new audiences, further afield than museum visitors and botanical researchers.    

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Natural History Museums for a World in Harmony with Nature: Now’s the Time!

Written by Henry McGhie, Curating Tomorrow,

Bio: Henry McGhie has a background as an ecologist, museum curator and manager. He set up Curating Tomorrow in 2019 to help empower museums and their partners to contribute to sustainable development agendas, including the Sustainable Developmet Goals (SDGs), climate action, biodiversity conservation, Disaster Risk Reduction and human rights. He is a member of the ICOM Sustainability Working Group, and a Churchill Fellow working on these topics.

This blog post takes in some of the developments over the last couple of years, and sets out some current opportunities for museums with natural history collections to strengthen their contributions to environmental sustainability.

Let’s cast our minds back to 1992, over thirty years ago now, when representatives of all countries agreed to take action in three areas. This was the Rio Earth Summit, which adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change (the grandparent of the Paris Agreement) and the Convention to Combat Desertification. It’s entirely possible you may not even have heard of all of these, but don’t worry you’re far from alone. While governments signed onto these agreements, they were broad, framework agreements. It is true that governments were supposed to take the lead in these, and other agreements, but surely sectors – including museums – don’t need to wait to be asked? However, the agreements have just not been turned into action, and that is a fault of governments, but also of the sectors, that could have gained a lot by saying ‘we have something to contribute here’. What I’m proposing isn’t just that museums take up these agreements to look good, sound good, show off, or compete with one another or with other sectors, but to use them as practical tools.

Why? Because connecting with the big picture and international agreements helps museums to:

  • Shape their programmes and activities, to provide people interested in these topics with educational and participatory activities.
  • Put their unique resources to good use in pursuit of positive social and environmental outcomes.
  • Play a significant and distinctive part in an ambitious programme for a better world.
  • Build partnerships and collaborations, with one another and with other sectors, working to shared goals.
  • Create and demonstrate impact, showing that museums and collections are not a nice-to-have, but essential players in securing a future in harmony with nature.
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4th MOBILISE Training School: “Next Step in the Digitisation Process of Natural History collections: Publishing of Biological, Geological, Palaeontological and Mineralogical data”.

Written by Olivia Beavers, Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at World Museum, National Museums Liverpool.

In December I was selected, along with 17 others, to attend the 4th MOBILISE Action Training School held in Brussels, 6–7th February. This training school gave an opportunity for students and professionals of Natural History Institutions from Europe and Israel to learn more about the publishing of our collections’ data sets. A crucial aim of the training school was to learn how to map data to the Darwin Core Standard, and as a result, create a Darwin Core Archive file to be uploaded to GBIF.

The Training School consisted of two parts: the first was an introduction to the group. This was conducted online and addressed theoretical issues associated with our datasets. Part 2 was the two-day, face to face trip to Brussels to check the cleaning and validation of our data for it to be ready for publishing on GBIF (for Biological Data) or GeoCASe (for Geological, Palaeontological and/or Mineralogical data).

A group photo of the 21 attendees and group leaders at the 4th MOBILISE Action Training School, Brussels
Figure: 1 A group photo of the attendees and group leaders at the 4th MOBILISE Action Training School, Brussels ©Katerina Voreadou
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