The need to advocate for natural history collections, so that those making decisions about the future of museums can understand their importance, has been a recurring theme over the last few years – and SPNHC 2014 was no exception. The Thursday morning session, chaired by NatSCA, focused on this very topic. Ben Garrod, in his keynote speech, stated that we need to inspire our visitors so that they become our advocates. Luanne Meehitiya of Birmingham Museums argued that advocacy must start with basic concepts, such as ‘What is natural history?’, because, while it is obvious to us, our visitors and colleagues may have a very different idea.
While the afternoon sessions on collections were not overtly advocacy-themed, I still found the thread running through, with many examples of the importance of natural history collections. Bethany Abrahamson of the University of New Mexico (UNM) showed, by looking at publication records, that natural history collections are supporting a much wider range of research now than ever before. J. Tomasz Giermakowski, also of UNM, demonstrated that historic collections data can be used to target hotspots for current conservation efforts. Tiffany Adrain of the University of Iowa showed that historical research can reveal the importance and improve the future research potential of forgotten specimens.
While advocacy is not a new topic, this year I left the conference feeling that there was a new optimism, as colleagues from all over the world came together to share their vision for the future of natural history collections.