NatSCA Digital Digest – January

Compiled by Dr Emma Nicholls, Deputy Keeper of Natural History at the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

What Should I Read?

Prolific author Darren Naish (of TetZoo) has pulled together a collection of exciting tetrapod-based scientific discoveries of 2018 in his latest article The Most Amazing TetZoo Themed Discoveries of 2018.

The government of New Zealand is under pressure to act on the trade of moa bones. This article is good food for thought re private sales of fossils; Moa for sale: trade in extinct birds’ bones threatens New Zealand’s history.

Of interest to many more of us than just curators, the top three most popular 2018 blogs posted on the Geological Curators’ Group website are:

1) Pyrite Oxidation: Where Are We Now? an excellent and informative article on the menace of pyrite decay

2) Up Inside Historic Dinosaurs about the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, and

3) Contradictions, Conundrums and Lies which looks at the issues we face in museums!

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Caring for Natural Science Collections – My First NatSCA Conference

Written by Hannah Clarke, Curatorial Assistant (Collections Access) University of Aberdeen, Museum Collections Centre.

This October I was lucky enough to attend my first ever NatSCA conference, thanks to funding from one of the NatSCA bursaries. I was originally a little daunted, as this was my first Natural History Conference, but I knew that I had to throw myself in the deep end!

However, these worries soon dissolved, as everyone was really friendly, passionate about their specialism and eager to share their knowledge and experiences with everyone else in the room. Not only this, but the setting at Oxford University Museum of Natural History was a real treat, and I had a chance to take in the collection from above during coffee breaks.

View from the first floor at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, showcasing the impressive architecture and collections below. © Hannah Clarke.

Having originally trained as a conservator, I am now working in a collections access role, with responsibility for the upkeep of the Zoology Museum within my institution. Having been more focused on collections care in the last few years, I was keen to learn more about current advances in the conservation of natural history collections.

There were many highlights from the day, and as always at these kinds of events, new connections were made and advice offered openly to those with questions in the audience.

I found Anastasia Van Gaver’s presentation on the conservation of a taxidermy tortoise, really innovative, and particularly liked the idea of mixing papier maché in with fill material to allow a longer working time and deliver texture to an area of loss.

The use of needle felting by Natalie Jones for areas of hair loss, was also an eye opener for me, and I’m sure for many others at the conference too! I was also astonished by Nigel Larkin’s work on ‘Driggsby’ the whale at Tullie House Museum, which not only was an incredible feat of engineering, but also gave me a new perspective on the use of manure in the preparation of skeletal specimens!

The first presentation of the day, ‘Developing strategies for controlling pests and moulds in a large skeletal collection’. © Hannah Clarke.

With only a little knowledge and a handful of experiences of working on natural history specimens myself, I was delighted that I was able to attend the conference in order to learn new skills from specialists in this area. By the end of the day, I left feeling like part of a much larger supportive network, and I wasn’t afraid to try some of the new techniques and processes I’d learnt and to share what I’d learnt with my colleagues.

I’m looking forward to being able to attend more NatSCA events in the future, as they offer a wonderful opportunity to expand your knowledge base through short, sharp presentations, and of course, meet other like-minded professionals in the sector!

Hands-On Time with the Bird Collections at Glasgow

Written by Maggie Reilly, Curator of Zoology at The Hunterian Museum (Zoology), University of Glasgow.

“Huzzah!” (or something similar) my colleague Adam and I cried as we put the last of our bird skin collection in its new home – the rather swanky Bruynzeel (other brands are available) drawers that are part of the new storage arrangements for the Hunterian at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. We don’t have a huge bird collection here at the Hunterian – well, not by some people’s standards, but we do have some pretty special stuff. Cataloguing is not complete (is it ever?), but to date here are the stats: Bird skins 3,587; Bird mounts ca. 450; National Nest Reference Collection ca. 2000; Eggs ca. 1000; Bones ca. 100?; Wet-preserved>30. I am going to focus on the skin collection here.

New storage at the Kelvin Hall for mammal, bird skin and mount collections. © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow.

Most of the skins were moved along with the rest of the Hunterian’s study collections, over the last two years to our new home the Hunterian Collections Study and Access Centre at the Kelvin Hall. The latter, adjacent to University, is an iconic building in Glasgow which has served many purposes in its 100 year history. It is now a partnership between the University of Glasgow, Glasgow Life and National Libraries of Scotland, to provide access to museum and library collections, and sports facilities.

Organising and moving the collections has been a monumental task and is still underway for other parts of the collection.  Thankfully it has mandated much hands-on time with the collections, previously a rare treat.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – December

Written by Jan Freedman, NatSCA Committee Member and Curator of Natural History at Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Festive celebrations are beginning, and this monthly digest is a bonanza of great things!

What Should I Do?

Big Natural Science conferences: Dates for your diaries!

Dead Interesting: Secrets of Collections Success: The NatSCA 2019 conference and AGM will be held at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin between 1st and 3rd May 2019. The conference aims to unlock the secrets of collections success by sharing how we have used collections to benefit their organisations, communities and the wider world. The conference will focus on three themes:

  • Collections: Reveal your collections care, research and access secrets.
  • Engagement: What are your engagement success stories and how did you make them happen?
  • Museums and Tech: How has technology helped you unlock, understand and unleash your collections?

The call for abstracts is open, so have a look and present some of your amazing work to colleagues! All the information is here.

Making the Case for Natural History Collections: The annual conference for the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) is happening in Chicago between 25th and 31st May 2019. The theme is focusing on what curators and collections staff do and why their collections are so important. More information about the conference is here. A long way to travel? Don’t worry, there are travel grants available.

Trading Nature: The summer meeting and AGM of the Society for the History of Natural History, is this year being jointly organised with The Geological Curators Group. It will be held at the King’s Manor, University of York between 4th and 5th June 2019. The interesting theme will look at the role of agents, dealers and commercial enterprises in the history of natural history.

NatSCA have organised a seminar day on fundraising, to take place on Wednesday 30th January 2019. The seminar, Finding Funds for Fossils, Ferns and Flamingos: How to secure money for museum collections, is packed full of interesting talks which can help us to look for funding for projects. For details and booking, click here.

What Should I apply For?

Fancy a move? The San Bernardino County Museum, in California, is looking for a Curator of Earth Sciences. Full details here.

What Should I Read?

Sit back, grab a mince pie, and relax. There’s lots to read over Christmas:

Kirsty Lloyd, CryoArks Technician at the Natural History Museum, London, has written about Making Replicas of your Specimens on the Geological Curators’ Group blog– Forget 3D printing, this is the cheaper, original, and still very detailed way of doing it!

Nadine Gabriel wrote about an interesting one day event focusing on Collectors, Collections and the Geology of SW Britain. From map makers to Ice Age animals, there’s a lot happening in the South West!

Jan Freedman, Curator of Natural History at Plymouth Museums, Galleries and Archives, wrote a little about label writing in museums: can museum labels be more fun and engaging?

Brian Switek talks about the many ways women get left out of palaeontology. A really interesting, mind-opening read.

From Adam Koszary, social media manager at The Merl, Seven broad statements that may or may not help your museum do a bit better at social media. A great and interesting read.

Or why not just browse through our growing Notes & Comments, online publications, from book reviews to exhibitions, there’s some nice articles to get your teeth into.

From all the NatSCA committee, we wish all our members a very happy and relaxing Christmas break!

Wild About Portsmouth – Discovering Portsmouth’s Natural History Collection

Written by Christine Taylor, Curator of Natural History, Portsmouth Museums

In March 2018 Portsmouth City Council was awarded a £79,700 grant to deliver a ‘Wild about Portsmouth project in order to raise the profile of the city’s Natural History collection. In addition to appointing a curator and an assistant, the project enables the development of natural history advocates and a team of volunteers to work on and promote the collection. The project also aims to engage with people in a variety of ways, from family activities to specialist workshops, with the view of participants helping to inform priorities for collection development and new displays.

As a curator with over 20 years’ experience in Hampshire, I have always been aware of the collection but had very little knowledge of it. The last Natural History Curator was 10 years ago and, apart from the occasional request, little had been done to develop the collection. An initial overview showed that the collection was (mainly) in good condition, packed into archival and museum quality boxes awaiting rediscovery.

One of the first tasks was to get an idea of the scope of the collections and their associated collectors. Another task was to recruit volunteers to assist with rearranging the collections to get them into taxonomic order and to catalogue them or update the Modes database with provenance data. To date 10 volunteers have been recruited and are currently working on the geology, shell and botany collections. Once the entomology collections have rehoused over the next few months (the cabinets are currently stored side-on making access to them rather difficult), volunteers will be recruited to re-stage, re-organise and catalogue them.

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And the Winner is…

Written by Lucie Mascord, Natural History Conservator, and NatSCA Committee Member.

Through August to October this year, NatSCA ran its very first competition. Running up to the Caring for Natural Science Collections one-day conference at Oxford University Museum of Natural History (on 17th October 2018), the competition asked participants to post natural history conservation themed photographs to Twitter with the hashtags #NatSCAConservation and #photocomp.

Whilst it took a little while to warm up, buoyed by some fantastic images posted by the NatSCA conservation working group, we received some excellent entries, resulting in a close competition for first place.

The entries ranged from geology to taxidermy, from the humorous to the technical. This was the exact response we were looking for, illustrating the variety and accessibility of conservation.

When it came down to it, the winning photograph was an excellent composition, highlighting the complexities of conserving an unusual object.

The winner is this fantastic entry from Anastasia van Gaver, which features Anastasia and her colleague Samuel Suarez Ferreira on their first day at work at the Museum of Zoology, University of Cambridge, (@ZoologyMuseum), image taken by Natalie Jones. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end with this monster of a giant spider crab. Both Anastasia and Sam attended the conference in October and gave talks on specific conservation experiences during their contracts at the Museum of Zoology. To be able to spotlight emerging professionals working with natural history collections was one of the main achievements of the conference and competition.

The winning entry from Anastasia van Gaver, Natalie Jones, and Samuel Suarez Ferreira. © Museum of Zoology, University of Cambridge.

Anastasia says; “The Cambridge University Museum of Zoology reopened in June, following a major HLF funded redevelopment. I was lucky to be one of the conservators to join the team for this project and this picture was taken on my very first day at the Museum, in August 2017. Having just visited the stores and the lab, my new colleague Samuel Suarrez Ferreira and I got given the task of making this Japanese spider crab fit for display! I submitted this picture for the competition not only because of the great memories I have of the best possible first day a natural sciences conservator could ask for, but also because it is a good example of team work: Sam and I decided on treatment together, then each conserved one side of ‘Krabby’, before the mountmaker Rebecca Ash designed an intricate bespoke metal support for it.”

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NatSCA Digital Digest – November

Written by Sam Barnett, NatSCA Volunteer and PubSci Committee Member

Welcome one and all to the November installment of the NatSCA Digest. First of all, I hope you’re all enjoying the #Museum30 social media event, which runs throughout November on Twitter. It’s not too late to get involved with it, check out the list here:

The Museum 30 list is compiled by Museum Studies and Archaeology student Gracie Price.

First, an Announcement

It’s that special time of year again when NatSCA release their Call for Papers for next year’s NatSCA Conference. Due to be held in May 2019, the conference will be exploring themes under the banner Collections Success. You have until the 4th of January to submit your abstract, and can find the full details here – we can’t wait to see what you come up with for us next year!

Where Should I Work?

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