NatSCA Digital Digest – May 2022

Compiled by Claire Dean, Curatorial Assistant at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle, and MA Preventive Conservation student at Northumbria University.

Welcome to the May edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Sector News

The countdown is on to the SPNCH/NatSCA/BHL Conference 2022, which is being held in Edinburgh and online. Early Rate registration has now closed but a Late Rate registration fee is still available, with NatSCA members eligible for the Standard Member rate. The programme runs from Sunday 5th to Friday 10th June and is available to view here.

If your work involves (or if you are considering) citizen science, community science, or other forms of research collaborations with the public, you may be interested in joining the virtual C*Sci2022 conference, May 23-26th.  Registration is now open and the full programme is available here.

Brighton’s Booth Museum has received funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund for an exciting new project to create a modern diorama to reflect changes in UK wildlife since E.T. Booth’s death in 1890. The project will also involve improving their educational offers and increase audience participation. Due to run from 2022-2024, you can find out more about the project here.

The Cole Museum of Zoology has now reopened after their relocation to a new Health and Life Sciences building! See their Visit Us pages for the latest information.

Abstract submissions are open for Collections focus issue: Natural history collections come in from the cold (Arctic Collections in World Museums). Guest Editors: Consuelo Sendino & Svetlana Nikolaeva, Natural History Museum, London, are looking for articles and case studies of 15-25 pages, reviews and technical columns on Arctic natural history collections, fossil or recent, of any phylum, and geological samples kept in museums, universities, geological surveys, or other institutions. They’re aiming to show diversity and importance of these collections, to facilitate the accessibility of these specimens to researchers, and to provide guidance for policy makers to create new measures to protect and manage the Arctic seas, their biodiversity, and geodiversity. Authors should express their interest by submitting a 150-word abstract to the journal editor or guest editors by June 1, 2022. The deadline for the submission of final papers is August 1, 2022. Publication is anticipated for volume 19 with an issue date of 2023. For more information contact the journal editor, Juilee Decker, jdgsh@rit.edu, or the guest editors, Consuelo Sendino at c.sendinolara@nhm.ac.uk and Svetlana Nikolaeva at s.nikolaeva@nhm.ac.uk.

7th-15h May is GeoWeek! The aim is to promote ‘active geoscience’ via a nine-day ‘week’ of fieldwork activities. There’s a map of events taking place right across the UK here. Up here in Cumbria, Tullie House and a wide range of other museums and societies are putting on exciting geology activities for all. More info on this county-wide programme is available here.

Where to Visit

Butterflies Through Time: Using wildlife of the past to guide conservation of the future is on at University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge until 18th September 2022. This exhibition uses UK butterfly specimens to showcase the natural world and environmental change. It highlights the research that conservationists today are undertaking to reverse long-term declines, including people based in the Museum. An accompanying online resource details the population changes of all of Cambridgeshire’s butterfly species over the last 200 years. This work is supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, run by the Museums Association. 

A Northumberland Menagerie involves new animal-themed exhibitions across four museums. You can discover stories of Northumberland’s animals – past and present, real, and imagined – through artist Bethan Maddock’s magical, paper-cut installations until Sunday 30th October 2022.

The Wellcome Collection’s Rooted Beings invites you to embark on a meditative reflection on the world of plants and fungi. The exhibition considers what we might learn from plant behaviour, and the impacts of colonial expeditions on the exploitation of natural resources and indigenous knowledges. While at the Barbican’s Our Time on Earth you can imagine sitting down to eat next to diners from other species, commuting through a rewilded city, over a bridge made of roots, and immerse yourself in the magnificent underground world of soil. Both are on until 29th August 2022.

Online Events

NatSCA’s monthly chats are held at 12:30pm GMT on the last Thursday of every month, the next being the 26th May 2022, are supposed to be informal, no fancy equipment is needed, it will be put out over the NatSCA Zoom platform and there is no fixed format. There will be shaky walks through stores by mobile, demos, plain pieces to camera or traditional PowerPoints if that’s the best way to share images and info.

The next talk will be from Hannah Clarke, talking about the work she’s doing on the Marvellous Molluscs project using Bill Pettit Memorial Award funds. Bring your sandwiches and a cuppa and we hope to see you on the day! All members will have received a link to join via Zoom – if you haven’t get in touch with membership@natsca.org.

You can find out more from the researchers featured in the Butterflies Through Time exhibition in a series of online talks. These are taking place every Wednesday at 7pm on Zoom for six weeks and will be made available afterwards online.

The next Habitat talk from the London Natural History Society on May 19th could be helpful if you want to brush up on your wetland species.

In online lecture, How to Love Animals, on 25th May, journalist Henry Mance will be asking why when so many of us consider ourselves animal-lovers, is our society bad at making life better for animals?

What To Read

Volume 10 of the Journal of Natural Science Collections landed in members’ inboxes in early April, have you had a chance to read it yet? Dig in for fascinating papers on decolonising collections, collections research, conservation, displays, and using collections.

The NatSCA blog also has an inspiring new post from Assistant Curator Hannah Clarke on the Marvellous Molluscs project at The University of Aberdeen’s Zoology Museum.

Curious about how to maximise your chances of becoming a fossil? Find out more in this intriguing BBC Future article.

Have you ever encountered a walking yew? This Guardian article is a great taster for Tony Hall’s new book from Kew Publishing – Great Trees of Britain and Ireland.

Where To Work

The Sedgwick Museum is looking for a Collections Assistant with some experience of collections management and/or collections migration to play a key role in the development of the Museum’s new Collections Research Centre. This post is fixed term for one year and the deadline is 14th May.

The Natural History Museum has a number of roles available, including a National Programmes Co-ordinator vacancy that has a deadline of 16th May.

Make sure you keep up-to-date with vacancies between bulletins by checking the NatSCA jobs page: https://www.natsca.org/jobs

Before You Go…

If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org. Similarly, if you have something to say about a current topic, or perhaps you want to tell us what you’ve been working on, we welcome new blog articles so please drop Jen an email if you have anything you would like to submit.

Wikipedia, Museum Volunteers And The New Normal

By John-James Wilson, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, World Museum, National Museums Liverpool.

Like most museums across the country, World Museum suspended its volunteer programmes shortly before the first national lockdown in March 2020. This was meant to be a short-term measure but with curators continuing to work hybridly our volunteers haven’t yet returned. Organisations like Volunteer Scotland have advised volunteers to consider if and how they can work remotely.

While some museums had existing remote volunteering activities (see great examples here and here), which saw increased participation, World Museum’s vertebrate zoology collection didn’t. An additional challenge for us has been that remote access to our collections database is limited to staff with a VDI. With the pandemic still with us for some time to come (Chris Whitty has said it will be 5 years) we have started exploring ways to engage both new and long-serving volunteers with the collection online.

During lockdown, Auckland Museum published a Wikimedia strategy citing the provocative 2018 talk by Adam Moriarty which championed the importance of collection information featuring, not solely on museum’s own webpages, but in places like GBIF and Wikipedia. This reinforced our view that we need to improve the collections’ presence in Wikipedia. Wikipedia articles are created by volunteers and can be edited by anyone with a standard web browser, potentially providing a valuable activity for remote volunteering.

Our expectation was that the process of editing a Wikipedia article is relatively easy to learn, but the challenge for volunteers could be finding reliable, citable information about the collection to add to articles. Using the Wiki Education Program & Events Dashboard we designed an edit-a-thon event where participants could find information about specimens in the museum’s bird type catalogue, find citations for original species descriptions in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and then add this basic content to a Wikipedia article. Participants would also be able to add specimen images from a collection in Wikimedia commons.

Attendance at Auckland Museum’s Wikipedia meet-ups and edit-a-thons has ranged from 5-14 participants, so we were realistic that even 1-2 participants would be a good start. We held our first edit-a-thon – Parrots and Pigeons of World Museum – on the evening of December 1st 2021 with three participants, two staying until the end and successfully editing articles. The reach of Wikipedia is impressive, our 46 images in Wikimedia commons have been used in 19 articles and had more than half a million pageviews in 2021.

Course stats from the edit-a-thon were as follows:

https://outreachdashboard.wmflabs.org/embed/course_stats/National_Museums_Liverpool/Parrots_and_Pigeons_of_World_Museum_Edit-a-thon_(December_2021)/home

We’re keen to build from this and would love to hear about the experiences of other UK natural science collections experimenting with Wikimedia and remote volunteering.

Giving Collections An Extra Life – Making Video Games That Promote Collections Engagement (For Free)

Written by Glenn Roadley, NatSCA Committee Member, Curator of Natural Science at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

(Note: this article includes interactive games. If they don’t work, your organisation may have blocked game websites through your network)

You might think that playing video games falls at the opposite end of the hobby-spectrum when compared to getting engaged with nature. But the immersion and creativity allowed often provides many of the same benefits, and nature is used as inspiration for many of the most popular video games. In this way video games can become a gateway to learning about nature in the real world – did you know that the highest grossing media franchise of all time (step aside, Marvel) started as a video game about collecting fictional animals to help a scientist with their biological recording project? You’ve probably heard of it. And the Animal Crossing franchise, a game series where a core activity involves collecting insects and fish to donate to the local museum, has sold over 70 million copies.

Games like Pokémon and Animal Crossing show that natural science collections are already on to a winner when it comes to subject matter and gaming. The collections are full of characters and stories, and games should be considered as another way to provide access to these.

The benefits of games are well-established (stress relief, improvement of memory and development of problem-solving skills are among the benefits often cited) and Learning Through Play is already a central part of how museums engage with their audiences. Many museums have used computer games to bring their interpretation to life (https://www.museumnext.com/article/how-can-games-in-museums-enhance-visitor-experience/).

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Many Hands Make Light Work

Written by Milo Phillips, Assistant Curator of Entomology at Leeds Museums and Galleries.

The past couple of years have seen a significant shift toward digital alternatives throughout the museum sector, from online exhibitions to webinars and remote conferencing, with our collections and their stories reaching a potentially global audience, more so than ever before. While much is being done to boost engagement with collections in new and exciting ways, museums on the whole have yet to harness the power of this shift when it comes to collections management.

The value of our natural science collections lies in their accessibility, in how open they are to this growing audience, from our local schools to researchers around the world and everyone in-between.

As our collections grow and our technology improves, digitization has become an important part of maintaining natural history collections. Using a citizen science approach, and bringing museum audiences on-board, we can turn collection management into a way of improving our collections, while simultaneously facilitating a deeper and more meaningful level of engagement with our objects and their stories.

Zooniverse is a free online platform built to facilitate a crowdsourced approach to large data sets and, while traditionally used by academic research groups, is an ideal solution to tackling tasks with much more efficiency than lone curators or even dedicated teams might be able to achieve. Projects can either be restricted to a specific group of users or opened up to the public for anyone to contribute their time to.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – July

Compiled by Lily Nadine Wilkes, NatSCA Volunteer.

Welcome to the July edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. We are really keen to hear more about exhibition launches, conferences (live or virtual) and webinars, and new or interesting online content. If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

What To See & Do

The ‘Insectarium: Fascination and Fear’ exhibition present artwork on the feelings that insects inspire in us. If you can’t make it to Aberlady, Scotland, you can view the art online here.

If you’re looking for something crafty to do there are plenty of online workshops to take part in. With the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on 14th July at 8pm participate and enjoy ‘Drawn to Nature: Conservation’. In this online event you will hear about the art of conservation before taking a chance to draw some natural history specimens. The Natural History Museum are offering making sessions where you can create a crochet dinosaur or make your own plant pot.

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