Meet the NatSCA Committee – Paul A. Brown

Meet the NatSCA Committee: Archivist

Name: Paul A. Brown

What is your role on the NatSCA Committee? I am the Archivist, responsible for collecting together the archives from our previous incarnations; The Biology Curators’ Group and The Natural Sciences Conservation Group and more recent NatSCA documents. Most of this sits by my desk. Do any of you membership have anything that could be added?

Job title and institution: Senior Curator, Hemiptera (Sternorrhyncha), Thysanoptera, Phthiraptera, Psocoptera, Collembola, Thysanura, Archaeognatha, Diplura & Protura, Insect Small Orders section, Life Sciences Department, Natural History Museum, London.

Twitter username: I am too old to learn how to have one!

On field work at Scolt Head, Norfolk

On field work at Scolt Head, Norfolk

Tell us about your day job: I am presently responsible for part of the ‘small’ orders listed above. This entails re-curating and data-basing the mostly microscope slide collections and dealing with scientific visitors, loans of material and answering enquiries. I still do some research into the taxonomy of Aphids in particular (see research-gate). Almost 40 years in Museums so according to some, I might know something? If you have problems with microscope slides then who ya gonna call, ‘slide busters?’!

Natural science collections are very popular with visitors. Why do you think this is? The public want to see real or proper models of objects to which they can relate to. Museums are not so much dead zoos as a way to show what there is out there, without having to get your boots muddy during long hours of waiting to see the living things which may only be a fleeting glimpse, in the wild or even in a zoo.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now? Even the National Museums have an uncertain future so there are many great challenges to keep our NatSCA profile high with government and funding bodies so as to continue a proper level of care of and access to our collections. During my working career, there has been a steady erosion of curatorial and conservator expertise and staffing levels and knowledge of the taxonomy of our objects which greatly saddens me. Please do look for information on our website at collections at risk, and join us in defending ours and the nations’ natural heritage.

What would be your career in an alternate universe without museums? Over and above my knowledge of Natural History, I have an interest in writing, photography, drawing genealogy, geomorphology, molinology, ancient buildings, archaeology and history and have been a farm labourer and forester (I still wield a chainsaw). So, without museums, I would probably be a reserve or historic site warden of some sort somewhere in the world.

What is your favourite museum, and why? It has to be the Smithsonian as they have so many real specimens on show and excellent dioramas which have such a ‘wow’ factor and must stimulate visitors to have a love of nature much more than any other museum I have visited! Otherwise maybe H.M.S. Belfast (2nd World War Cruiser) because it is a museum object in its own right and all the problems that this entails, as well as being a ‘museum’ full of objects.

Written by Paul A Brown, Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum, London

Meet the NatSCA Committee – Rachel Jennings

Meet the NatSCA Committee: Editor

Name: Rachel Jennings

What is your role on the NatSCA Committee? I am the Editor, responsible for managing our published content: Journal of Natural Science Collections, and NatSCA Notes & Comments.

Job title and institution: Documentation Assistant, Horniman Museum and Gardens.

Twitter username: @rachisaurus

Tell us about your day job: I work across the collections at the Horniman, but at the moment I am mostly focused on cataloguing and photographing objects selected for a major redisplay of our anthropology collection. I get to work with a fascinating variety of objects from all over the world. I’m really excited to see the new World Gallery when it opens next year.

Natural science collections are very popular with visitors. Why do you think this is? I think people love being able to experience aspects of nature that they’re unlikely to see in the wild. Museum collections can give them up-close encounters with the rare, the exotic, and the long-extinct. And, of course, there’s the cute factor!

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now? Museums in general are facing very uncertain times at the moment, with the funding landscape shifting constantly under our feet. Natural science collections are at risk due to loss of staff and expertise, and if the collections are lost, that would represent a huge loss to science. NatSCA is working to champion natural science collections, and advocate for the people who care for them. We collect information on collections at risk, and lobby for resources to maintain those collections.

What would be your career in an alternate universe without museums? The only other things I’ve ever wanted to do were to work with animals, or be a writer. So, I think that if I didn’t have museums, you’d probably find me in a zoo or out in the field on a conservation project. Or holed up in a cabin somewhere, still struggling on my first novel!

What is your favourite museum, and why? I have an enduring soft spot for Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, as it is where I got my first introduction to museum work. They have amazing collections and staff, and I will always be grateful for the experience.

Written by Rachel Jennings, Documentation and Collections Assistant, at the Horniman Museum and Gardens

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.

The top ten most read blogs in 2016 are as follows:

1- Project Airless (2016)

2- Micromuseum: The slide collection of J T Quekett (2016)

3- Cold Case Curation (2016)

4- Vote for the NatSCA Editor (2016)

5- Curators of the Caribbean (2016)

6- How to Store Taxidermy (2016)

7- Margaret Gatty’s Algal Herbarium in St Andrews (2013)

8- Bournemouth’s ‘New’ Museum (2016)

9- Art, Nature, Engagement, and Rural Life (2016)

10- Handle with Care: Bringing Museum Egg Collections to Life (2016)

Of course, the top ten most read blogs in 2016 is different from the top ten blogs OF 2016. As you can see from the dates, only eight of the above ten were published last year. If we discount this archival material, then in ninth place would be Meet the NatSCA Committee: Paolo Viscardi and in tenth place, I was overly excited to see, is the NatSCA Digital Digest; October 2016 (smug face).

2017 has already seen the publication of four blogs posts (five including this one), and a host of exciting goodies are awaiting your perusal in February. You lucky, lucky people.

As editors, my colleagues and I are always looking for new content and avenues of excitement to merrily skip down. So if you would like to get in touch, please email us at blog@natsca.org.

A fond thank you

The number 8. A significant number in many different cultures around the world. It is the number of balance for the Ancient Egyptians, and in China it represents fortune. It’s a common number in the natural world too, and appears to be important in the genetic make-up of some groups of animals. Spiders have 8 legs (and the Orb-weaver spiders have 8 eyes). Octopuses (or octopodes) have 8 arms, and comb jellies have 8 tiny plates with which they use to swim.

For me the number 8 is particularly significant. I was 8 years old when I first watched The Land Before Time; the film that cemented my passion for dinosaurs and the natural world. More recently, and more relevant to this blog post, I was the Editor for the NatSCA committee for 8 years. At the last NatSCA AGM, we had our first ever vote for a committee member resulting in a new Editor for NatSCA.

The postrer for The Land That Time Forgot. It certainly was an adventure I never forgot! (Poster of teh film by Tom Chantrell. Public Domain)

The original poster for The Land That Time Forgot. It certainly was an adventure I never forgot! (Poster for the film by Tom Chantrell. Public Domain)

With 8 years of being your Editor, I thought I would write this little post. Not as a farewell, but as a thank you.

Starting back in 2008, I worked on the more informal NatSCA newsletter, NatSCA News. There were two, or sometimes three, issues of NatSCA News a year. Behind the scenes, it was a lot of work: formatting Word files into Publisher, sizing up images, font sizes, boarders, editing, references… It sounds glum, but really it was a great job to be involved in. I loved reading about other people’s projects, and networking with so many curators and other museum staff across the country.

Do you remember this? The old NatSCA newsletter,

Do you remember this? The old NatSCA newsletter, NatSCA News.

I remember the article in NatSCA News that changed it all. (Obviously I won’t say which one, but this sweet article was full of holes.) Authors would send me papers, and then I would check them and format them for NatSCA News. My background is geology, so I know my rocks, minerals and fossils. But best practice in microscope slide conservation? What about standards in care of herbaria specimens? I wasn’t an expert in those areas. Something had to change.

I wanted to create something new. Something that would be a good source of information for people working with natural science collections. Many curators, particularly in the regional and independent museums look after such a huge variety of collections, from plants to rocks. Talking ideas through with the committee, we decided to put together a new Journal. A Journal that people could really use to help with their every day work.

The First Volume of

The First Volume of the Journal of Natural Science Collections. Just beautiful.

In 2013 it came. My baby; the new NatSCA Journal. Surprisingly the name of the Journal did take several emails back and forth before it was finalised: The Journal of Natural Science Collections. The new Journal is a big step up from NatSCA News. All articles are peer reviewed by two reviewers. Comments and recommendation are given to authors to improve and clarify points. Articles are written clearly for any curator to understand, even if it is not their area of specialism. Some articles have been rejected. The Journal is something which is accessible, and more importantly, useful, to those working with natural science collections.

Eight years as Editor. I am proud of the new Journal. Proud of how it looks, and proud of the high quality articles it contains. It is not easy work being an Editor: finding peer reviewers, chasing authors, formatting, sending off proofs and endless other little bits. Without the ongoing support of the fantastic NatSCA committee, and amazing volunteers, the Journal would not be what it is today.

More than half of the wonderful NatSCA committee.

More than half of the wonderful NatSCA committee in the Micrarium at the Grant Museum of Zoology. (Photo by Donna Young)

Behind the scenes the committee are working hard throughout the year, organising training, conferences, and grant applications to support the work you and I do every day, so we can do it better. They work hard at making sure they update us with the latest issues that may affect us and our collections. Perhaps more importantly, they make sure we all stay connected. Without our wonderful network of friends and colleagues, I know I would be very lonely.

I am still on the NatSCA committee, dipping my hand into other projects. I am now looking after the NatSCA blog, which is my new baby to help develop and grow. The blog is a great place for us to share projects we are working on, hidden collectors, quirky stories, or interesting training. The most wonderful thing about the blog is that it not only shares with our peers, but also the general public too. The blog is one way to reach new audiences, potentially worldwide.

I joked in the last committee meeting that there would be tears when writing this post. There may well be tears behind this writing. I have immensely enjoyed being Editor, and truly honoured to have stood for eight great years. I have been lucky enough to have met countless other curators through the role, and discover the exciting things they have been working on. There were difficult times, and late nights, formatting, proof reading, editing. But it has been a true pleasure to have served as your Editor.

This is Jan Freedman, NatSCA Editor from 2008 to 2016. Signing off. (For now).

Jan Freedman

Curator of Natural History,

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery