What is your role on the NatSCA committee?
I am new to the NatSCA committee so am just starting to feel my way and find what my role might be as an Ordinary Member. I have considered joining the committee for many years, so I am really excited to finally be a part of it and just looking forward to getting involved, helping out and learning as much as I can.
Job title and institution
Curator: Mollusca & Vertebrates at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, Cardiff
Tell us about your day job
I have been at National Museum Cardiff for 17 years and for the large part of this time my role has been to work as part of the team curating the mollusc collections. We have one of the largest collections of molluscs in the UK, and it is taxonomically and historically significant. In recent years however, I have also taken on the role of facilitating access to the Vertebrate Collections. As you can imagine, this has been a significant learning curve and I am still in the process of developing in this role. As with many curators, a large part of my job is making collections accessible to everyone, be it through enquiries, loans, collection tours, open days, workshops, talks, visits and everything else. My job also includes curation – adding collections to our databases, sorting labels, etc, but with so many things to cover, I don’t get as much opportunity to do this as I would like. In recent years I have been involved with collections-based research, locating and investigating Type specimens in both our own collections and those in other institutions.
Natural science collections are very popular with museum visitors. Why do you think this is?
What’s not to love? They appeal on so many levels. For our youngest visitors this might be their first close encounter with nature, I remember my own experiences as a child vividly and it had a huge impact on me and my life choices. For artists, the collections are endlessly inspiring and a reminder of the amazing beauty and diversity in the world around us. For amateur naturalists they are havens for knowledge, feeding that passion. For specialists they are storehouses, representing vast swathes of data. For everyone, they can be immersive experiences of escape and wonder.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now?
Not to sound like an overplayed record, but money, money, money. Not just that there is less to spread round; but where that money is spent and who makes those decisions. I have had personal experience of losing colleagues to redundancies and it is a very real problem. With the loss of these amazingly talented and devoted people, we are losing not only valuable mentors and guides, but immeasurable amounts of knowledge about the collections they were custodians of. In many cases collections have been left vulnerable, open to poor treatment, terrible conditions, or disposal. With greater demands on smaller pockets, we are all expected to justify the relevance of our museums, the collections, our research, and science.
What do you love most about working with natural science collections?
There are so many things! Of course, the incredible collections. I am very aware of the privilege and honour it is to work with such great specimens. There is always something new to discover, something weird you didn’t know about. The people. I cannot state how much respect I have for all of my museum colleagues, for their dedication and amazing enthusiasm. Finally, the buildings! Generally, they are old, beautiful, full of character, history and stories.
What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?
What a horrible universe that would be! I think a librarian? Which I know is not a million miles away from a curator. If not, maybe an illustrator with a lovely studio in a garden shed in the countryside. I loved art in school and would have so enjoyed pursuing it further. Or run my own tea house.
What is your favourite museum, and why?
I can’t pick an absolute favourite, I think it varies depending on the day or my mood. Close to home, I would choose St Fagans National Museum of History, just outside Cardiff. It’s an open-air museum where historic buildings from across Wales have been taken down and re-erected piece by piece by piece. It is fantastic for a day out, not only to see the beautiful buildings but also the wildlife; great wild birds, lesser horseshoe bats and great crested newts are all present on site.