NatSCA Digital Digest – December

Save the Date!

The NatSCA conference and AGM will be at Leeds City Museum on Thursday 26th and Friday 27th April 2018!

The conference theme is: The museum ecosystem: exploring how different subject specialisms can work more closely together.

This conference aims to lead us outside our comfort zone and explore how working closely with different disciplines and departments can not only strengthen our own areas of expertise, but museums as a whole. The museum ecosystem is vast and not limited to just museums as it includes universities, local organisations, funding bodies, artists, communities and many other stakeholders.

We are inviting you to propose presentations and posters that focus on sharing ideas, tips and mechanisms that will help inform the work of other attendees. Proposals are welcome from colleagues across all disciplines (not just natural history!)

To submit your abstract, please download and complete a submission form and send your completed form to

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Making the Most of a Move

Making the Most of a Move: Geological Curators’ Group Conference, Day Two

We like to share the goodies in the field of natural history, so in the first ever cross-over of its kind, Part I (comprising Day One) of this blog can be found over on the Geological Curator’s Group website. No need to take the time to google it, let me give you a hand over there.

Night Early Morning at the Museum

The only thing that beats going to a natural history museum is visiting it when you’re not meant to be. The trump card of such a visit, is when you’re allowed to go to parts of the collections, not normally accessible to the general public. After a day in the lecture theatre, the 35+ members of the “Making the Most of a Move” conference assembled the following morning outside the Natural History gallery of the National Museum of Ireland, in order to tick off every one of the above, on the Museum Treats Bingo Card*.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – November

What’s been Happening?

The 2017 GCG Conference in Dublin was a resounding success. Our resident blogger Emma-Louise Nicholls has been co-opted onto the GCG committee – well done Emma!. I was unfortunately unable to attend the conference but I’m hoping that someone who did will volunteer a write-up for us.

Museums everywhere have been going all spooky for Hallowe’en. The Horniman Museum in Forest Hill turned their monthly lates event into the Bloody Late, a tour-de-force of spooky music and blood-curdling tours.

The Tetrapod Zoology Convention doubled the turn-out of previous years – made possible in part due to the venue change from the London Wetland Centre (near Hammersmith) to The Venue (near Holborn). NatSCA member Heather’s talk on the History of Zoos was great, as was our patron Ben Garrod’s account of working with David Attenborough and other windows into the world of TV science communication. There were lots of other great talks besides, which we will mention as we go along. The palaeoart workshop this year was mural-themed and presented an interesting challenge to create multiple species to scale across geologic time. My animal was a Microraptor, which I drew in the foreground because it was so small. Other people had sauropods in the background and they were still so big they were escaping the paper in places. Several write-ups of this event have been made – you and find some of them here and here. If you want to be kept informed about next year’s TetZooCon, I encourage you to join the Facebook group – they already have all the speakers lined up for next year if it remains a one-day event. They might stretch it to two if there’s enough interest.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – September

(Image from the collections at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery)

What  should I read?

Love the posters at this years NatSCA conference? Want to read and admire them in more detail? You can! Read them with pleasure at your leisure, because they are now all available free to look at!

Did you know there were ten different species of mammoth? A long read over your lunch time, spanning 5 million years in fact, visiting some very big and some very small mammoths!

A great piece by Mark Carnall, Life Collections Manager at Oxford University Museum of Natural History , looking at rudely shaped rocks! A fun piece with giants, owls and very early palaeontology.

What do you call woodlice?

Just one of the many species of woodlice. Or is that roly poly, or sow bug, or …. (Image by Franco Filini, Public Domain)

A little map of woodlice names was shared on BBC’s Springwatch blog earlier this week. It has led to dozens more names of woodlice. Jan Freedman (that’s me!) is gathering up names and wants to update the map, so do get in touch if you know of any historic references or names.

What can I see?

The Dinosaurs of China exhibition at Wollaton Hall is on until the end of October. Visit beautiful grounds with deer, and explore some truly magnificent creatures in the exhibition, from the time of the dinosaurs.

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‘Provocative Practice’: New Ways of Working with Natural Science Collections

A 70 foot long whale skeleton hangs overhead a fantastic ‘collection’ of natural science curators, collection managers, conservators, and education and museum professionals, busily gathering around and eagerly greeting each other at this year’s annual Natural Sciences Collections Association (NatSCA) conference. As Natural History Museum ‘fly’ specialist Erica McAlister tweeted: “If that fell that’s most of UK’s natural history curators & conservators wiped out”.

NatSCA delegates gathering below the newly hung Fin Whale. Photograph by Simon Jackson, shown thanks to University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge.

This year’s event (#NatSCA2017), at the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, had a record 110 delegates, and as such was the biggest NatSCA conference to date. At the heart of the conference was the new Whale Hall, part of an enormous redevelopment project of the David Attenborough Building. As many of us marvelled at the huge leviathan overhead, the rest of us rushed between advertising sponsor stalls, exchanged ideas, caught up with one another and most importantly, fuelled up on coffee!

Feeling inspired, we were ready to begin this year’s talks on the theme: “Evolving Ideas: Provocative New Ways of Working with Collections” as Paolo Viscardi, NatSCA Chair, keenly ushered us in to the main lecture theatre. Continue reading

SPNHC Annual Meeting 2016

The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) Annual Meeting – Berlin, Germany June 2016

Green Museum – How to Practice what we  Preach

The 31st annual meeting of SPNHC was jointly hosted by the Museum fur Naturkunde (Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science) and the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum, Berlin (Freie Universitat Berlin).  The GGBN conference on genomics ran in parallel with a joint opening session, trade show and dinner at the Botanical Garden; in all there were probably around four hundred delegates.

The venue was Hotel andel’s with its substantial conference facility, on the northeastern side of the central part of the city.  Unlike the five other SPNHC annual meetings I’ve been able to attend, on this occasion, the conference poster, trade fair and presentations and most of the delegates (other than those of us who sought out cheaper accommodation) were based on one site.  That this was not a museum did feel a bit strange. Evening networking was aided by some great organised activities – a pub quiz at a beer garden in Spandau, a bicycle tour of the city centre (including a stop at the reconstructed section of the Berlin wall) and a meal and dancing at the Botanical Garden.  Museum tours were available in conjunction with the icebreaker session on the Friday afternoon.  The main conference ran from midday Tuesday to midday Friday. The extensive poster display was located within the trade fair and lunch venue so was easy to access.  Voting slips and prizes for the best posters encouraged delegates to engage with this part of the conference.  Unfortunately, I was not able to stay for the weekend of post-conference workshops or enjoy any of the pre-conference trips.

A view within the Botanic Garden, Berlin. (Mauruszat, 2006, image in public domain).

A view within the Botanic Gardens, Berlin. (Mauruszat, 2006, image in public domain).

My reason for attending was to update my knowledge of digitisation and find out what other natural science museums had tried out and succeeded within this field, as well as to promote the geology collection digitisation project at Ludlow Museum via a presentation.  I therefore attended mainly imaging and digitisation sessions.  Sessions covered preventative conservation, iDigBio, SYNTHESIS, GBIF, collections for the future and the Green Museum theme.  By Thursday, in order to accommodate the large number of practitioner presentations, the number of parallel sessions and different themes became rather overwhelming.  Although sessions largely kept to time allowing delegates the option of planning a ‘play-list’ of presentations to attend, the number of concurrent sessions, late nights, 8.30am starts and possibly also the acronyms, meant that audiences were a little sparse in some sessions.

At 200 pages long, the conference publication contained the programme, normal length abstracts of the posters and something I’ve not come across before; two or three page short papers complete with illustrations and references for most of the oral presentations.   This has allowed me to check back, post-conference, on what it was that I missed. However, it was really rather too dense to absorb during the meeting itself.

Highlights – as ever, the multidisciplinary nature of SPNHC meant that people from all branches of the natural sciences and all museum roles were at the meeting allowing for a rich free flowing of ideas.  Paul Mayer of the Field Museum Chicago presented on how digitisation tamed the Tully monster, describing how in three weeks, digital images taken in low angle and polarised light of 1305 specimens in siderite nodules from the US Mazon Creek Formation, Westpahlian D, were used to identify the frequency of morphological features.  The result was the classification of a creature, well known from specimens (and presentations at at least two previous SPNHC meetings) but until this project, un-classified, as an Agnathan fish. This really jumped into focus standing next to Paul looking at hammerhead sharks in the fluid collection gallery on the Museum tour.  Personally, I  was also able to catch up with friends and former colleagues from across the world, some of whom I  haven’t seen for more than a decade.

Presentations ranged from the cutting edge and erudite, through practical solutions, to the wicked issues of collections management.  I learnt that babies could be carbon positive if nappies were cellulose based and recycled into compost, that the synthetic black delegate bag was probably the least green thing about the conference and that as well as benefiting biodiversity, garden based agriculture was far more efficient than large scale agribusiness.  In a twist on the usual apes and human statistic, I was pleased to hear that Homo sapiens and elephants share 70% of the same DNA.  I was also taken back to a task I was allocated in 1988 by ‘a rock is just a rock if it has no data’ in a presentation covering the rationalisation and curation of university Ph.D. research collections.  I was pleased to hear that tight climate control in museums is slowly coming to be recognised as potentially damaging due to rapid fluctuations around the set point, unnecessary and too expensive to operate.  In the refurbishment of the upper floors of the Museum fur Naturkunde it is also deemed to be un-affordable.  The solution developed in the fluid collection gallery is cooling of the gallery walls with buried pipes routing chilled water, and in the upper floor areas currently being refurbished, a sorbent earth based render and plaster wall finish (described as loam) which will serve to buffer extremes of relative humidity.  The pressure to use resources effectively (including the knowledge and ideas to achieve this) was a common theme across all types of museums present at the meeting, with austerity worldwide a key driver – a very different feel to annual meetings I attended early in my museum career where good practice (but also a degree of one upmanship) was the main driver and financial considerations for larger institutions didn’t really come in to it.

Humans and elephants share 70% of the same DNA. (Franklin, 2005, image in public domain).

Humans and elephants share 70% of the same DNA. (Franklin, 2005, image in public domain).

The SPNHC business meeting included a well-deserved award to David Pinniger for his work in developing Integrated Pest Management systems for museums.  It also provided the opportunity to showcase the venue for SPNHC 2017 (Denver, Colorado) and for the team from Otago, New Zealand to present on their proposal to host the meeting in a few years’ time.

Organising a SPNHC annual meeting and conference is a hugely complex process. This meeting was one of the biggest natural history meetings I have ever attended, so must have been especially difficult.  Congratulations must go to the local organising committee, I hope they enjoyed a well earned rest before getting back to their museum jobs.  I would also like to thank the Friends of Ludlow Museum for supporting a significant part of the cost of my attendance at the meeting from the FISH digitization project funds and NatSCA for a training bursary.

By Kate Andrew


Vote for the NatSCA Editor

At the end of this week we have our annual conference and AGM, which will be held at the Silk Mill in Derby. The conference is always a great opportunity to mix with other natural history and museum professionals, catch up with what’s going on and elect the committee members who will keep NatSCA on an even keel.

This year, for the first time, we have two people standing for the Editor position so we will be holding a vote. In order to provide you with a bit of background to help make your voting decision, so below is a brief overview from each candidate (in alphabetical order).

Jan Freedman


I am the curator of natural history at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. One of the most wonderful things about our job is the variety of work we get involved in: from conservation of specimens to using collections to engage with the public. For us, who look after natural science collections, we are constantly improving our knowledge of how best to care for and promote our collections. One way of doing this is by contributing to, and reading, the Journal of Natural Science Collections, which includes the latest up-to-date case studies and information to help.

I have been very proud to have been the Editor for NatSCA for some years now. I was the editor for NatSCA News, which included more informal articles, but I wanted the NatSCA membership to get more from their Journal. Along with the support of the NatSCA committee I have developed a high-quality journal with fully peer reviewed and up to date articles from colleagues in the sector; your Journal of Natural Science Collections.

I really enjoy networking with international colleagues to bring the membership the most useful and interesting articles. For the majority of the time, curators and other museum staff do work alone, and I believe that the excellent work that we are doing should be shared amongst colleagues. As well as articles being sent for the Journal, I have approached people to write articles which will be interesting for others to read. The Journal is for the membership, and I have strived to make your journal as tool you can you in your work.

I enjoy being on the NatSCA committee, with such wonderful committee members. As a committee member, I not only format and edit the journal, but contribute to other areas of NatSCA business. I have been privileged to be involved with some exciting projects over the years, and would be truly honoured to be a part of where NatSCA is going in the future.

I would be delighted if you were to vote for me as the role of Editor on the NatSCA committee.

Rachel Jennings


I have volunteered for NatSCA for the last few years, and would like to join the committee as Editor so that I can contribute more to the organisation, and help give our members a stronger voice to advocate for the importance of our work and collections to the wider museum sector.

As a volunteer, I have acted as Facebook Editor since 2013, advertising NatSCA events and finding natural science-related content to share that is interesting and engaging. During my tenure as Facebook Editor, the number of likes on the page has trebled, increasing our public reach. I set up a Storify account for NatSCA last year, and have created stories for the 2015 Conference and other events, so that those who couldn’t be there can still enjoy them!

I also joined the editorial team on the NatSCA blog last year, responsible for sourcing content, liaising with authors, editing and scheduling posts. I have really enjoyed this role, and I’d love to be able to take the next step and be your new NatSCA Editor!

We hope to see you at the AGM on Thursday, ready to cast your vote!