Meet the NatSCA Committee – Lucie Mascord

Meet the NatSCA Committee: Ordinary Member

Name: Lucie Mascord

What is your role on the NatSCA Committee? I am the new Conservation Representative

Job title and institution: Conservator of Natural History, Lancashire Conservation Studios

Twitter username: @LuceGraham

Tell us about your day job: I am a specialist natural history conservator, working for a museums service and my own business. In both, I provide conservation services to the heritage and private sector. This is mainly in the North West – everywhere from Cumbria or to Cheshire, but my work has taken me all over the country which means I get to visit lots of new collections.

My role covers all scope of natural history collections but I specialise in bone, fluid preserved collections and taxidermy. My work is incredibly varied; as well as a conservator I am a preparator – preparing bone, skins, taxidermy and fluid preserved material. I can spend 200 hours plus conserving a single specimen, or carry out a whole collection survey in 72 hours! I also provide training to institutions in natural history collections care.

 

Visiting the Galerie de Paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée

Natural science collections are very popular with visitors. Why do you think this is?

Overall, I think it is about innate curiosity – the natural world is deeply fascinating and diverse. The reason natural history collections are popular with children is they are still in that stage of uninhibited curiosity.

Our interest and relationship to natural history collections has changed and evolved over time, but I have also observed that some of those traditional links with natural history collections are being revived. I think hobbyist specimen collecting and preparing is having a resurgence; there are more curiosity shops and natural history dealerships popping up; and natural history has been all over interior design for years now. It is very evident that we are in a taxidermy popularity peak at the moment, unfortunately it’s for reasons I don’t much like – the morbid factor. Isn’t it fashionable to be macabre! This very much celebrates badly crafted and poorly preserved specimens (very Victoriana). On the other hand, this is an engaged audience whom we can positively interest in our collections.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now?

I think everyone in the community would agree that the loss of specialist knowledge and skills is really concerning. I am particularly concerned that these are also undervalued. We are continually having the conversation about whether we need them, and I think “specialists” within the museum community can often be characterised as inflexible, uncompromising and routed in “old-fashioned” practice when it comes to the use of our collections. This is an erroneous stereotype. Natural history collections, more so than any other, have to progress with research and science so not to become redundant.

With natural history conservation, these risks to skills are further magnified. There are very few specialists nowadays, and little appreciation of how vital the skills involved are. In many museum roles, we all find ourselves asked to take on more, this may sometimes manifest itself in untrained staff taking on conservation work on natural history collections. This would never be considered acceptable on oil paintings, so why should it be acceptable on other materials! Even within the conservation sector the specialist role can be overlooked.

We need to stand firm on our position on the need for specialist skills, and demand that our specialists are utilised in the work with our collections, and in training.

What would be your career in an alternate universe without museums?

I never wanted a 9-5 job or a desk job. I studied in human anatomy, and rather fancy myself as a forensic pathologist. I also wanted to pursue my art and anatomical illustration. In many ways, my current career is a good mix of all those things.

What is your favourite museum, and why?

I have a soft spot for the place I started my career as a volunteer, the Victoria Gallery and Museum at the University of Liverpool. It is worth visiting alone just to see the incredible Waterhouse architecture and glazed tile interior.

My favourite natural history collection is the Galerie de Paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée in Paris, but the top spot has to go to the People’s History Museum in Manchester – sometimes it’s good to have a break from natural history. It’s invigorating to visit a museum that challenges you and inspires change.

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

Top Ten Most Read Blogs of 2016

Blogs to shout about (Dakshin, 2013, image in public domain)

Blogs to shout about (Dakshin, 2013, image in public domain)

2016 was a busy year for the NatSCA blog, we published 27 blogs from a super range of authors on an exciting variety of topics. When looking at the analytics of the blog to see what’s popular, it became apparent that people don’t just read what’s current in terms of publication date, they read what’s relevant to them at the time. This means that on top of the 27 blogs published last year, a further 102 blogs dating back to 2012 were also viewed from our archive, in 2016.

Since its inception in August 2012, there have been 182 blogs published on the NatSCA website, and so with such a large number, it’s really interesting to see what grabbed people’s attention, or search engines, the most. Continue reading

Meet the NatSCA Committee: Jack Ashby

Name: Jack Ashby

What is your role on the NatSCA committee?

I tend to have more of a focus on matters relating to audiences and communication, but to be honest as an “Ordinary Member” of Committee I really enjoy getting involved in every aspect that I feel I can be useful in. Working in a small museum means I have a fairly broad experience across the different kinds of work our members might be involved in, from collections management, media and learning (which is where I started my career) to strategic direction. NatSCA is doing loads of great stuff at the moment – it’s nice to have such a range of projects to feed in to.

Job Title & Institution: Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL

Twitter username: @JackDAshby

WA 03-04.15 (95)

Tell us about your day job:

I have strategic overview of all our varied activities – developing the Grant Museum as both a valuable academic resource and an excellent public venue, while caring for our collections responsibly. A big part of my job is to develop and oversee ways for the museum to become a gateway for between the public and academia (I take the lead on exhibitions and most public-facing research projects, while the fantastic learning staff focus on events), and find opportunities to integrate the collection into more university courses. I’m responsible for our finances and income generation, staff management, interpretation, venue and marketing. I also spend a fait bit of time trying to ensure that we are having an impact on the museum and university sectors. I don’t really know how to describe a normal day.

Natural science collections are very popular with museum visitors. Why do you think this is?

Natural science are easy to interpret and they’re visually striking. There are far lower barriers to access – the level of knowledge even the least engaged visitor walks down the street with is more than enough to get something out of a museum visit. Unlike some other disciplines, which often expect and require their visitors to know things that aren’t easy to acquire (while not always doing enough to help them acquire that understanding), natural history is everywhere. Even if they don’t recognise a specimen instantly, in many cases all we have to do is say “that’s a rhino”, and the visitors have all they need themselves to make some meaning from what they see.

And also a lot of our stuff looks weird.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now?

Sadly, challenges often comes from within the museum sector, or at least those close to it, like governing bodies. No sector has it rosy at the moment and it’s critical we work together and learn from each other. I think often if the individuals who are making the decisions aren’t sympathetic to the value of our collections, we can suffer from their inability to see the value of our work. Perhaps because natural history is so easily accessible, it can be easy to write us off as “just for kids”. Conversely, the disciplines that could be seen as being more elite or grown-up can somehow be viewed as more valuable. We can also (unfairly) be tarred with the “old-fashion” brush. This is often a result of under-investment in refreshing our galleries, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s so frustrating as we have demonstrated time again that natural science collections are far-and-away the most popular among visitors, and also arguably the discipline that has the most potential to change the world through our roles research around genuinely global challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss.

What do you love most about working with natural science collections?

So much. Seeing how every lump and bump on a specimen translates into how that animal survived in its habitat always gets me going.

It’s a delight to work in a sector that gives people opportunities to get genuinely excited about the natural world. My office sits directly above the Micrarium in the Grant Museum. Every time I hear someone say “Wow!” I smile.

#CheesyButTrue

What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?

I spend a couple of months a year as a kind of expert volunteer on fieldwork in Australia, trapping small mammals, reptiles and frogs with wildlife NGOs and universities with conservation agendas. It’s probably an even more competitive field that the museum sector, but I could see myself doing that full time if museums didn’t exist.

What is your favourite museum, and why? (It can be anywhere in the world, and doesn’t have to be natural science-related!)

Am I allowed two? The Biologiska Museet in Stockholm makes me very happy every time I go out there, for a reason I can’t really explain as it’s impossibly old-fashioned. It’s a single wooden building from the 1890s with one huge diorama running around the inside of the whole building (it’s more or less the only thing in there), over two stories high. You go up a wrought iron staircase through the middle. As you walk round the wall, each of the Nordic biomes are represented with all their animals in an original diorama setting. There’s no interpretation except for a type-written piece of paper with a list of every species (hundreds) visible from each numbered pane of glass.

Also in contention is the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby. It’s an amazing example of how professional a volunteer-run museum can be, and I just love age of exploration and voyages of discovery. I was working with them on a big partnership project over the last couple of years and it’s been an absolute pleasure. I’ve learnt a lot.

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

Jan

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

RachelProfilePic

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!

Meet the NatSCA Committee: Paolo Viscardi

Name: Paolo Viscardi

Job Title & Institution: Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL

Twitter username: @PaoloViscardi

Paolo Viscardi, in the Grant Museum's amazing Micrarium

Paolo Viscardi, in the Grant Museum’s amazing Micrarium

What is your role on the NatSCA committee?

I’m the Chair of NatSCA and my role is to oversee the strategic activities of NatSCA, making sure that we are able to respond to the changes in the wider sector. This involves discussion with other organisations, developing funding bids and working with the rest of the NatSCA committee to provide a sounding-board for ideas, suggestions for ways of approaching problems and decision-making when needed.

Natural science collections are very popular with museum visitors. Why do you think this is?

Natural history collections are accessible for a broad range of audiences. Most people have some connection with other living organisms, either through their pets, the wild animals and plants in their gardens or through what they get to see in the countryside or on wildlife documentaries; I think that the popularity of natural history collections is partly an extension of this.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now?

At the moment there are a variety of challenges facing natural science collections. The obvious one is funding cuts, particularly to local authority museums. However, there are also issues arising from reductionist approaches to biology that have dominated for the last few decades, shifting scientific focus (and funding) away from whole organisms and ecology towards genetics and bioinformatics.

While these fields are important and exciting, their rise has led to a decline in specimen based research and recording, with natural history becoming marginalised. This is a real concern, since future research will presumably shift focus in order to link genetic and population modelling work with whole organisms in order to provide a context for the observations made. The damage done by the neglect in training of naturalists, the running down of collections and the reduction in active collecting over the past few decades will become a severe limitation to this endeavour.

What do you love most about natural science collections?

I love skulls. They’re beautiful examples of the compromise between inheritance and function, which I find fascinating.

Gibbon

Gibbon skull from the Horniman Museum & Gardens

What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?

There are plenty of things I could do, but I’m not sure I’d want to do any of them enough to really consider them a career!

What is your favourite museum, and why? (It can be anywhere in the world, and doesn’t have to be natural science-related!)

The Galerie d’anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie in Paris. The ground floor display is basically my idea of the perfect place!

The Galerie d’anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie, Paris

The Galerie d’anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie, Paris