What is your role on the NatSCA committee?
My main role over for the last four years has been organising our annual conferences at York, Bristol, Derby and Cambridge museums.
There’s a lot of work involved in putting the programme together and it’s a great team effort, along with our fantastic treasurer and the staff based at the various venues. I have found it very rewarding to see us expand our audience and develop our programme themes.
I am currently a member of the of the journal editorial board and NatSCA bursaries/grants sub-committee.
Job Title & Institution
Curator of the Herbarium: World Museum, National Museums Liverpool.
Tell us about your day job
I’m responsible for the care, management, display, interpretation and use of our herbarium and its associated collections, including plant models and illustrations.
I’m particularly interested in methods employed in the preparation and preservation of botanical collections. They can be amazingly beautiful fragile objects, but my job is also to keep them as accessible, workable tools in the study of botany.
My job also involves contributing to our venue development, acting as the lead curator for World Museum’s collection care and environmental monitoring.
Natural science collections are very popular with museum visitors. Why do you think this is?
People are fascinated by the natural world. Throughout history artists and scientists have tried to record and interpret the environment around them. Natural science collection displays provide the visitor with a ‘real’ connection to that world. Even in our accessible age of the internet, nothing beats seeing – or even handling – specimens first-hand. They definitely have the ‘wow factor’.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now?
Winning the argument to retain and increase dedicated natural science posts, along with their associated expertise, by demonstrating the relevance of our collections to funders.
NatSCA works hard on supporting this argument and provides advocacy for our collections and the staff that work with them.
What do you love most about working with natural science collections?
I’d say no two days are the same, and even after 25 years, I’m still discovering new things about the collection I work with – be it within an unopened box or through the eyes of a visiting researcher. Through the collections I also get to meet fascinating people who are passionate about their subject. However there are many routine duties, e.g. ordering, labelling and imaging, that I find strangely calming.
It’s always felt a great privilege to be a custodian of these collections, and I enjoy talking about my job and the collections I work with – often opening people’s eyes to not only the intricate richness of our specimens, but their significance and the role they play.
Over the years I have been fortunate to visit many collections and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of being ‘behind-the scenes’ of the museum.
What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?
Working in a museum can sometimes feel like an alternative universe!
What is your favourite museum, and why? (It can be anywhere in the world, and doesn’t have to be natural science-related!)
I love the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. It’s made up of a number of buildings all housed within the beautiful Jardin des Plantes.
The Gallery of Evolution is stunning with 7,000 specimens jam-packed into one giant hall – large specimens are easy to view in the ‘parade’ of mammals and smaller intricate specimens are beautifully displayed thanks to clever use of lighting and glass.
A few years ago, I was fortunate to work in the museum’s historical herbarium as part of the EU Lifelong Learning – Daubenton Project. What an amazing collection! It was an experience I will never forget.
Written by Donna Young, Curator at the World Museum, National Museums Liverpool.