Caring for Natural Science Collections – My First NatSCA Conference

Written by Hannah Clarke, Curatorial Assistant (Collections Access) University of Aberdeen, Museum Collections Centre.

This October I was lucky enough to attend my first ever NatSCA conference, thanks to funding from one of the NatSCA bursaries. I was originally a little daunted, as this was my first Natural History Conference, but I knew that I had to throw myself in the deep end!

However, these worries soon dissolved, as everyone was really friendly, passionate about their specialism and eager to share their knowledge and experiences with everyone else in the room. Not only this, but the setting at Oxford University Museum of Natural History was a real treat, and I had a chance to take in the collection from above during coffee breaks.

View from the first floor at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, showcasing the impressive architecture and collections below. © Hannah Clarke.

Having originally trained as a conservator, I am now working in a collections access role, with responsibility for the upkeep of the Zoology Museum within my institution. Having been more focused on collections care in the last few years, I was keen to learn more about current advances in the conservation of natural history collections.

There were many highlights from the day, and as always at these kinds of events, new connections were made and advice offered openly to those with questions in the audience.

I found Anastasia Van Gaver’s presentation on the conservation of a taxidermy tortoise, really innovative, and particularly liked the idea of mixing papier maché in with fill material to allow a longer working time and deliver texture to an area of loss.

The use of needle felting by Natalie Jones for areas of hair loss, was also an eye opener for me, and I’m sure for many others at the conference too! I was also astonished by Nigel Larkin’s work on ‘Driggsby’ the whale at Tullie House Museum, which not only was an incredible feat of engineering, but also gave me a new perspective on the use of manure in the preparation of skeletal specimens!

The first presentation of the day, ‘Developing strategies for controlling pests and moulds in a large skeletal collection’. © Hannah Clarke.

With only a little knowledge and a handful of experiences of working on natural history specimens myself, I was delighted that I was able to attend the conference in order to learn new skills from specialists in this area. By the end of the day, I left feeling like part of a much larger supportive network, and I wasn’t afraid to try some of the new techniques and processes I’d learnt and to share what I’d learnt with my colleagues.

I’m looking forward to being able to attend more NatSCA events in the future, as they offer a wonderful opportunity to expand your knowledge base through short, sharp presentations, and of course, meet other like-minded professionals in the sector!

NatSCA Digital Digest – December

Written by Jan Freedman, NatSCA Committee Member and Curator of Natural History at Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Festive celebrations are beginning, and this monthly digest is a bonanza of great things!

What Should I Do?

Big Natural Science conferences: Dates for your diaries!

Dead Interesting: Secrets of Collections Success: The NatSCA 2019 conference and AGM will be held at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin between 1st and 3rd May 2019. The conference aims to unlock the secrets of collections success by sharing how we have used collections to benefit their organisations, communities and the wider world. The conference will focus on three themes:

  • Collections: Reveal your collections care, research and access secrets.
  • Engagement: What are your engagement success stories and how did you make them happen?
  • Museums and Tech: How has technology helped you unlock, understand and unleash your collections?

The call for abstracts is open, so have a look and present some of your amazing work to colleagues! All the information is here.

Making the Case for Natural History Collections: The annual conference for the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) is happening in Chicago between 25th and 31st May 2019. The theme is focusing on what curators and collections staff do and why their collections are so important. More information about the conference is here. A long way to travel? Don’t worry, there are travel grants available.

Trading Nature: The summer meeting and AGM of the Society for the History of Natural History, is this year being jointly organised with The Geological Curators Group. It will be held at the King’s Manor, University of York between 4th and 5th June 2019. The interesting theme will look at the role of agents, dealers and commercial enterprises in the history of natural history.

NatSCA have organised a seminar day on fundraising, to take place on Wednesday 30th January 2019. The seminar, Finding Funds for Fossils, Ferns and Flamingos: How to secure money for museum collections, is packed full of interesting talks which can help us to look for funding for projects. For details and booking, click here.

What Should I apply For?

Fancy a move? The San Bernardino County Museum, in California, is looking for a Curator of Earth Sciences. Full details here.

What Should I Read?

Sit back, grab a mince pie, and relax. There’s lots to read over Christmas:

Kirsty Lloyd, CryoArks Technician at the Natural History Museum, London, has written about Making Replicas of your Specimens on the Geological Curators’ Group blog– Forget 3D printing, this is the cheaper, original, and still very detailed way of doing it!

Nadine Gabriel wrote about an interesting one day event focusing on Collectors, Collections and the Geology of SW Britain. From map makers to Ice Age animals, there’s a lot happening in the South West!

Jan Freedman, Curator of Natural History at Plymouth Museums, Galleries and Archives, wrote a little about label writing in museums: can museum labels be more fun and engaging?

Brian Switek talks about the many ways women get left out of palaeontology. A really interesting, mind-opening read.

From Adam Koszary, social media manager at The Merl, Seven broad statements that may or may not help your museum do a bit better at social media. A great and interesting read.

Or why not just browse through our growing Notes & Comments, online publications, from book reviews to exhibitions, there’s some nice articles to get your teeth into.

From all the NatSCA committee, we wish all our members a very happy and relaxing Christmas break!

And the Winner is…

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

Through August to October this year, NatSCA ran its very first competition. Running up to the Caring for Natural Science Collections one-day conference at Oxford University Museum of Natural History (on 17th October 2018), the competition asked participants to post natural history conservation themed photographs to Twitter with the hashtags #NatSCAConservation and #photocomp.

Whilst it took a little while to warm up, buoyed by some fantastic images posted by the NatSCA conservation working group, we received some excellent entries, resulting in a close competition for first place.

The entries ranged from geology to taxidermy, from the humorous to the technical. This was the exact response we were looking for, illustrating the variety and accessibility of conservation.

When it came down to it, the winning photograph was an excellent composition, highlighting the complexities of conserving an unusual object.

The winner is this fantastic entry from Anastasia van Gaver, which features Anastasia and her colleague Samuel Suarez Ferreira on their first day at work at the Museum of Zoology, University of Cambridge, (@ZoologyMuseum), image taken by Natalie Jones. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end with this monster of a giant spider crab. Both Anastasia and Sam attended the conference in October and gave talks on specific conservation experiences during their contracts at the Museum of Zoology. To be able to spotlight emerging professionals working with natural history collections was one of the main achievements of the conference and competition.

The winning entry from Anastasia van Gaver, Natalie Jones, and Samuel Suarez Ferreira. © Museum of Zoology, University of Cambridge.

Anastasia says; “The Cambridge University Museum of Zoology reopened in June, following a major HLF funded redevelopment. I was lucky to be one of the conservators to join the team for this project and this picture was taken on my very first day at the Museum, in August 2017. Having just visited the stores and the lab, my new colleague Samuel Suarrez Ferreira and I got given the task of making this Japanese spider crab fit for display! I submitted this picture for the competition not only because of the great memories I have of the best possible first day a natural sciences conservator could ask for, but also because it is a good example of team work: Sam and I decided on treatment together, then each conserved one side of ‘Krabby’, before the mountmaker Rebecca Ash designed an intricate bespoke metal support for it.”

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NatSCA Digital Digest – August

Welcome to the slightly late August edition of the NatSCA Digital Digest!

What Shall I Do?

Don’t forget to book your places for the Caring for Natural Science Collections workshop on the 17th October, if you haven’t already. It’s being held at the Oxford Museum of Natural History and should be lots of fun.

If you were planning on attending TetzooCon this year, time is running out: the dinner is already booked up (there is an alt-dinner, speak to Beth Windle for details) and I’m given to understand that over half the tickets have been sold already. Don’t miss out, it’s going to be bigger and better than ever.

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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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NatSCA Digital Digest – June

The beautiful mineral Cuprite, from Phoenix Mine, Cornwall. (© Plymouth Museums, Galleries, Archives).

Post-Conference Blues

It’s been a few months since our 2018 conference and AGM at Leeds City Museum. It was wonderful to see so many people there – to catch up with old friends and to meet new ones. And as always, I am so sad when it is over. I guess this is why it’s nice to revisit what went on for the two days. There have been a few different write ups about the conference:

David Waterhouse, Senior Curator of Natural History, Norfolk Museums Service, wrote his first blog post ever all about his time at the conference here.

Glenys Wass, Heritage Collections Manager at Peterborough Museum wrote about her summary of the conference talks here.

Jan Freedman (me), Curator of Natural History, at Plymouth Museums, Galleries, Archives, shared my experiences of the conference here.

Plus, the talks from the conference will be written up either for the NatSCA blog, the Notes & Comments, or the Journal of Natural Science Collections.

The Future of Museum Collections

Leading on from the conference, one talk by Alistair Brown at the Museums Association, looked at where collections will be in 2030. This new research project will be working with museum staff to understand issues that currently face museums and where they want them to be in less than 15 years time. A write up of the Collections 2030 project can be found here.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – April

Dear Digital Digest-digesters, it has been an extremely busy month but there are just enough hours in the month to put out the April edition. Continue reading for a round up of all the things you need to know…

What Should I Read?

After much to-ing and fro-ing and panicking from various factions, it has been announced that “accredited museums and galleries will be granted an exemption in legislation… that bans the trade of elephant ivory in almost all circumstances”. This is great news for museums. Read the full story on the Museums Association website here.

There has been a lot of coverage of the dinosaur tracks found in Scotland, but if you missed it all, here’s what the BBC had to report. Both sauropod and theropod tracks are present and they’ve gotten everyone all excited.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is in the news for another year as another photographer falls foul of either not reading, or else ignoring, the rules. The anteater in one of the winning images has been investigated and concluded to be a taxidermy specimen. The image was therefore disqualified and the photographer told to er… get stuffed.

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