Year Of The Student: Attracting College Students To Campus Museums

Written by Patti Wood Finkle, Collections Manager, Pennsylvania State University, based on a presentation with Valerie Innella Maiers, Ph.D., Professor of Museum Studies, Casper College at the joint SPNHC & NatSCA conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, June 2022.

“Year of the Student” focuses on how college and university museum staff can attract students to their museums by employing a variety of programs and collaborations. Like many campuses natural history museums, the Werner Wildlife Museum had difficulty attracting college students who either had no idea it was there, or only remembered it as a dark and dusty place with a towering, menacing polar bear. After attending a few New Student Orientation events (there are several each semester) to chat with incoming freshmen, we realized that we needed to show them that the museum was inviting and relevant. After brainstorming, several ideas came to the forefront. One was to work with the museum studies program, which the museum had done successfully in the past, and another was to develop programs and partnerships that would bring new groups to the museum.

The museum studies class was an engaging group to work with. In collaboration with staff, the most recent group curated both an art show that featured works from the Casper College permanent collection and juried a community art show. The students researched artists, and artwork, designed and produced the exhibition pamphlet, took professional photographs for curation records, and installed both shows. They also planned and executed an opening reception in the museum space. The program attracted the attention of their fellow art students, faculty, and engaged the public who attended the opening.

Casper College Museum Studies student putting the finishing touches on the art show installation. Credit- Patti Wood Finkle

Another program that engaged both current students and the public were creative writing workshops that were offered in the evenings in collaboration with the English faculty. These programs were created to engage a new audience and to utilize the museum in a less traditional (at least to us) manner. Several of the faculty members are published authors who enjoy delving into their preferred writing style and were encouraged to do so in these workshops. Using the specimens in the museum as inspiration during the cold winter nights, participants were able to tap into experiences and creativity that surprised even the most seasoned writers. From poetry to reductive writing, to traditional storytelling, each participant produced works that were gathered and published in house. This publication was the first time some of the students had shared their work with a wider audience.

Other outreach efforts centred around visiting the students where they gathered. We attended more orientation events and developed an on campus “passport” that brought students to the campus museums, the art gallery, the archive, the greenhouse, and other overlooked destinations. Staff started bringing touch specimens to the dorms one evening each month. By the third month, we had a few regulars who would stop by to see what new objects we had brought with us. Work-study students assisted at these events, giving them the opportunity to engage with their peers, which can be less intimidating for the students on both sides of the table.

Casper College Museum Studies students interacting with visitors at the art show opening. Credit- Valerie Innella Maiers & Patti Wood Finkle

These engagement strategies worked well and both campus museums saw an increase in student visitation. The takeaway lesson museum staff learned was that talking to the students one on one, through courses, or in small groups; demystifying the visitor experience through peer-to-peer engagement; and outreach to student dominated areas (dorms, welcome fairs) increased awareness and interest in the institutions. Student engagement is an ongoing process that should be adaptative, interesting, and educational while supporting the museums and the students they serve.

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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NatSCA Digital Digest – March 2022

Compiled by Olivia Beavers, Assistant Curator of Natural Science at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Welcome to the March 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 what you are getting up to, exhibition launches, virtual conferences, training, webinars, and new and interesting online content. If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Sector News

SPNHC / BHL / NatSCA Conference 2022

This summer will see the return of the physical NatSCA Conference – a partnership with the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Early Rate registration is now open until April 8th (after which the Late Rate fee will apply), with NatSCA members eligible for the Standard Member rate.

The programme of events is now available to view.

NatSCA Lunchtime Chats

The new lunchtime chats are for members only and run on the last Thursday of every month. Paolo Viscardi’s talk: Decanting the Dead Zoo, gave us an amazing and informative insight into how the team at the National Museum of Ireland Natural History moved thousands of specimens (from whales and Giant Deer to fragile Blaschka models) to enable work for the conservation of their roof to begin. The next talk: ‘Investigation of a Sperm Whale that washed up in Trinidad’, will be hosted by Mike Rutherford, Curator of Zoology and Anatomy at The Hunterian in Glasgow on Thursday March 31st 2022, 12:30-13:30.

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A Sunfish, a Sheriff and a Register

By Eimear Ashe, Documentation Officer, National Museum of Ireland – Natural History.

NatSCA friends, I’d like to tell you a little about our current Inventory Project in the National Museum of Ireland (NMI) – Natural History. But first, back in 2009-2017, we ran a project that allowed us to catalogue 170,000 specimens in our collections management system (Adlib). We proposed another project to continue these efforts. The start date of the project regrettably coincided with the pandemic as well as the untimely loss of a key colleague (Dr Matthew Parkes). We regrouped and decided to postpone the physical inventory of objects and instead to focus on the work that could be done remotely by the team of inventory assistants.

On this project, I manage a team of three contracted inventory assistants. The cataloguers work on Natural History for two or three days per week, and other NMI projects for the rest of their week. I spend one full day each week doing project-related work, that is, supervision, answering queries, checking work and reporting.

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Databasing Herbarium Specimens and Ease of Use.

Written by Teagan Reinert1* and Karen L. Bacon1

1 Botany & Plant Sciences, School of Natural Sciences, National University of Ireland, Galway; * corresponding author email: t.reinert1@nuigalway.ie

One of the main aims of creating online databases of herbarium images (or any data set) is to increase the ease of access for researchers, educators, and other users who may want to obtain data from the specimens without having to physically travel to an herbarium. Online herbarium databases have become particularly useful during the global COVID-19 pandemic, when many herbaria are not allowing or greatly reducing the amount of in-person visitation.

For many herbaria, online databases are still being constructed and ease of access and use can vary significantly between collections. Additionally, while a database may list a certain number of specimens held by the herbarium, it can often be the case that only a subset of these specimens are actually imaged and available to view online. Some herbarium databases are better than others in actually allowing the user to narrow down their search to get the data they are looking for. The databases range in ease of use from ‘very easy’ to ‘usable but frustrating’. Any databases that are too difficult to use often dissuade researchers from using the digital resources available on that database.

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