NatSCA Digital Digest – September

Lost Treasures- A Statement from the Chair

Dear all,

As most of you will no doubt be aware, the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, suffered a catastrophic fire that started in the evening of 2nd September 2018. Fortunately no people were killed in the blaze, but the majority of the collections housed in the building are thought to be lost. While the cause of the fire is still as yet uncertain, a significant proportion of the blame for the devastation caused has fallen on the Brazilian government, due to ongoing under-investment in the Museum’s infrastructure. This serves as a stark warning of the dangers faced by museums with inadequate support.

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NatSCA Conservation Photo Competition

#NatSCAConservation #photocomp

In the run up to the NatSCA Caring for Natural Science Collections one-day conservation conference (Oxford University Museum of Natural History, 17th October 2018) we are running a social media photo competition.

We are looking for your original photographic entries featuring the conservation and collections care of natural history collections particularly those that focus on innovative techniques, modern advances, shared skills and preventative conservation.

We encourage entries from conservators (specialists, generalists and students alike), curators, volunteers, and anyone working with collections. Natural history collections may include bone, taxidermy, fluid preserved collections, geology, palaeontology, shell, botany, entomology, and more.

Removing oxidised oils from the surface of a Minke whale skull. ©Lucie Mascord.

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Impressions of My First NatSCA Conference

Last April I had the opportunity to attend the NatSCA conference at Leeds City Museum. I have been a member of NatSCA since I came to live in the UK three years ago and finally this year, thanks to one of the NatSCA bursaries, I was able to attend the conference. With more than 70 participants from all over the UK and beyond each day, more than 20 talks, interesting stands showing projects and new technology, good coffee and lunch in a uniquely-shaped hall, the event was very successful.

Over the two-day conference, I met colleagues from work, I recognised familiar faces from previous events and the most exciting part was to meet new people and to hear about the amazing projects and experiences from different experts in the museum environment. We also heard about the benefit of working with communities, schoolchildren, teachers, volunteers, undergraduate students, artists and many other groups.

After thinking carefully about what really impressed me (a difficult job with so many good talks), I would like to highlight the following topics.

Facing Challenges and Thinking Up New Strategies to Engage

The first two talks about the exhibition Dinosaurs of China in Nottingham really impressed me. The project involved extraordinary team work in organising the loans, the trips, the installation of the tallest dinosaur skeleton ever displayed in the UK, and the running of a very successful event with large numbers of visitors. The second talk showed brilliantly the role of theatre to enhance the visitor’s experience and engage the public while also showing a good marketing strategy. Moreover, selecting the artist with the required performance skills was very demanding work.

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The Mass Migration of the Cole Museum of Zoology

This article has been reposted from The Mass Migration of the Cole Museum of Zoology blog.

Spreading the word

We’re back!

There has been a lot of progress made in organising the move of our animals, and there will be a series of blog posts here to update you on what we’ve been up to behind the scenes.

In front of the scenes (as it were), some of our invaluable undergraduate volunteers have created and started to roll out an outreach/awareness focused Pop-Up Museum.

The pop-up features specimens (that aren’t part of the official museum collections!) and an information sheet about each species, with members of the public able to pick up and explore them. The volunteers are there to engage in enthusiastic conversation, to educate people about animal life and raise awareness of the Cole Museum itself.

The Featured Image of this post shows Max and Amelia at a local primary school’s summer fair, and below is the huge amount of interest the museum got from young zoologists on its first ever outing:

Max and Amelia at a local primary school’s summer fair. © Cole Museum of Zoology

The beauty of the pop-up museum lies in its portability and flexibility of content; it can include games, sweets and toys for sale if being run in the museum during holidays or at schools but could also include more in-depth specimen information, a more grown-up friendly range of merchandise and quizzes. The whole thing packs into 2 or 3 boxes, and requires only a table to set up.

For the Cole, our pop-up museum encompasses so many things that are really important to us; great undergraduate student experiences, public outreach, inspiring the next generations of zoologists and raising awareness/funds for the Cole Museum and its upcoming move. It’s a win-win-win…win-win…

Written by Meg Cathcart-James, Project Officer at Cole Museum of Zoology

We Are All Experts…

I recently attended a conference where one of the speakers happily declared ‘We are all experts’. I have heard this said a few times, but feel it misunderstands what an expert is, devalues expertise and misses out the joy and benefits of learning new things.

Maybe I would say this wouldn’t I? After all, I am employed as an expert in my field as Curator of Earth Sciences at Manchester Museum and am a NatSCA committee member. But there are good reasons why experts are important and are vital to museums being relevant to society and changing people’s lives for the better.

Installing Manchester Museum’s Nature’s Library gallery showcasing how the collection is used. © The University of Manchester, Manchester Museum.

Everyone brings their opinions, feelings, and ideas about collections, and experts are no exception but crucially experts also bring the knowledge, ideas and understanding of those who have gone before, many of which have been rigorously scientifically tested and challenged.

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Collections 2030: What’s Next for Museum Collections?

What does the next decade look like for museum collections in the UK? This is the question that the Museums Association’s new research project, Collections 2030, is asking.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be working with museum workers, researchers and users to think about the big issues that the sector needs to have on its radar as we plan for the next decade. What trends do we need to adapt to? Will the way that we treat and value collections change? What are the implications of a new generation taking charge in our museums? And will we have the infrastructure that we need not only to pass on collections, but to make them valued by the wider public?

When asked about the future, it can be tempting to let our imaginations run away with ourselves.

But if we’re going to consider what museum collections might look like in 12 years or so, it’s worth casting our minds back the same distance. Over that period, technological changes have been huge, and have led to much experimentation in museums but not always greater impact. The financial crisis has radically changed the workforce and business model for many museums, with major implications for collections knowledge and management.

But our museum collections themselves can seem oddly absent from this picture of change.

Collections have not grown much, and to the extent that ‘pure’ collections issues enter into our discussions, we have seen a period with much to talk about. But not a huge amount of change in practice, about disposals, about storage, about where to put everything, and occasionally, and with much trepidation, whether we should give some of our stuff back to those who made it.

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Waving Goodbye to the Walrus: Reflections on Leaving (and Starting)

To paraphrase that great Disney wildlife documentary, The Lion King: change is good, but it’s not easy.

Leaving any job after a long time is always strange, and I’ve been lucky enough to have spent (almost!) seven years at the Horniman Museum and Gardens. In that time I’ve worked on several large projects, learned more than I thought I ever would about anthropology collections, and made some wonderful friends. But sadly, I have now had to move on. Happily, I’ve been able to move on to the wonderful Powell-Cotton Museum, where I will be spending the next year curating the natural history collections.

This has meant quite a large change: I’ve moved to a different part of the country, and started a new job that is very different to what I’ve been doing for the last few years. I’ll admit to feeling some imposter syndrome – I have been working almost exclusively with anthropology objects for a long time now (not my subject specialism: I studied zoology), and worried that I might have forgotten some of my natural history knowledge! Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to have been the case, and in fact working with anthropology collections has taught me a surprising amount about working with natural history collections… from identifying worked animal materials (such as ivory and bone) to documentation standards and procedures (I was a Documentation Assistant at the Horniman), I have gained skills and knowledge that will be invaluable in my new role.

Sad to say goodbye to the Horniman Walrus. (C) Horniman Museum and Gardens

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