NatSCA Digital Digest

 

A mounted skeleton of a fruitbat leers at the camera

Welcome to the March edition of the Digital Digest! Without further ado…

News

Booking is open for the 2016 NatSCA Conference and AGM, ‘The Nature of Collections – How museums inspire our connection to the natural world‘, which will be held at the Derby Museum & Art Gallery and The Silk Mill on 21 – 22 April.

We have invited papers and posters looking at how museums have inspired and shaped the relationship of visitors and users of the collections to the natural world:

  • Projects between wildlife/environmental organisations/parks and museums.
  • The training & developing of naturalist skills using collections.
  • Artists projects connecting collections/gallery to outside spaces.
  • Looking at the relationship between natural history societies, their collections & museums.
  • Exhibition examples linking preserved specimens and our environment.

The Early Bird deadline is TODAY (Thursday 10 March), so get booking and save money!

If you’re not yet a NatSCA member, now is a great time to join – you can purchase membership and get the member’s conference rate for the same cost as a non-member ticket! See our membership page to join.

If you are a member, email the NatSCA Membership Secretary (membership@natsca.org) for your booking discount code.

Jobs

Geologist, Scarborough Museums Trust. A great opportunity for any rock and fossil enthusiasts! Application deadline: Friday 8 April.

Research and Data Coordinator in Science Policy (CITES), Kew. One of a selection of interesting posts currently on offer at Kew, the application deadline for this post is Wednesday 16 March.

Around the Web

A taxidermy warehouse in London was broken into on Tuesday this week, and 18 specimens were stolen. The Met police are appealing for information: http://news.met.police.uk/news/help-needed-to-trace-stolen-stuffed-animals-154850

DNA from museum specimens confirms a new species of forest thrush.

Why was the pink-headed duck’s head pink? Museum specimens reveal the secrets of this extinct species.

Museums Unleashed #NatSCA2015

Next Thursday NatSCA will be holding our annual conference in Bristol. This meeting tends to be the highlight of the year for many natural history collections staff – a chance to catch up with colleagues, make new contacts and help shape the direction of our sector.

NatSCA conference attendee group photo from 2012. Image by Rachel Jennings, 2012

NatSCA conference attendee group photo from 2012. Image by Rachel Jennings, 2012

This year the conference is called Museums Unleashed, and the theme is sharing collections using a variety of media – from the traditional television, radio and print to newer digital and social media. This topic has a much broader relevance to the museum sector than the usual NatSCA theme and so there will be a broad diversity of speakers from broadcasting, journalism and a variety of different museum disciplines – check out the full programme and list of abstracts.

Museums Unleashed #NatSCA2015

This broader focus of the meeting will allow the NatSCA membership to learn lessons in engaging audiences from different perspectives and really make the most of our collections in order to advocate for the ongoing use and support.

Of course, this broad speaker base will also allow non-natural-science-specialist to benefit more from the meeting, providing an opportunity for the increasing number of generalist museum staff to break the ice with specialists who can help support them in their role – be it collections focussed or more outwards-facing.

If you haven’t booked a space there is still time, as bookings close on 19th May – although spaces are running out! Just head to the NatSCA website and book online.

If you want to attend the conference meal you’d better be quick though – orders need to be with the restaurant by Wednesday.

We hope to see you there, but if you can’t makes it, be sure to follow the hashtag #NatSCA2015 to keep updated!

NatSCA Digital Digest

mothdigest

In the blogosphere

For those of us that missed the Progressive Palaeontology conference, Elsa Pancroft, aka Giant Science Lady, has done a great write-up of it. I urge you to take a look.

Delicious news for the GCG: The Geological Society are running their annual bake-off again this year. No lawyers were harmed in the making of these cakes, unless they forgot their oven mitts.

 

In the news

The appreciation of skeletal form is spreading: first Trafalgar Square’s Gift Horse, now the City of London Academy has unveiled a 13 metre chicken. If anything will stop a person eating meat it’s being killed by a giant chicken.

 

Conferences and Workshops

Today marks the first day of the Linnaean Society’s two-day Digitisation Seminar. I’m looking forward to hearing from people attending, as it fits quite nicely into this year’s NatSCA Conference theme. Also really looking forward to seeing you all there.

 

Content assembled by Samuel Barnett

NatSCA Digital Digest

ChameleonYour weekly round-up of news and events happening in the world of natural sciences

 

Conferences

Conference season is well and truly upon us! Here are some dates for your diaries:

The National Forum for Biological Recording and the British Ecological Society are holding a joint conference at Sheffield University on 23rd – 25th April.

The conference of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections will be held at the Florida Museum of Natural History this year, on the 17th – 23rd May. The theme is ‘Making Natural History Collections Accessible through New and Innovative Approaches and Partnerships’.

Refloating the Ark: Connecting the public and scientists with natural history collections. A two­‐day meeting at Manchester University on 17th – 18th June, exploring how natural history museums can contribute towards environmental sustainability by engaging effectively with the public and the scientific research community.

 

Workshops

The Linnaean Society is holding a workshop on Digitising Natural History and Medical Manuscripts on 27th – 28th April.

The 2nd International Conservation Symposium-Workshop of Natural History Collections will be held in Barcelona on 6th – 9th May. The Symposium-Workshop will emphasize concepts relating to the protection and conservation of natural history collections.

Risk Management in Collections Care is a one-day seminar at Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow on 21st May, discussing how heritage organisations can use risk management to set priorities and efficiently allocate limited resources to reduce risks to collections.

As always, keep an eye on the events page of our website for more upcoming conferences and courses!

 

In the Media

Illustration of a Brontosaurus skeleton by Charles Othniel Marsh

This week’s big news: Brontosaurus is back! A new specimen-level cladistic analysis of diplodocids found strong support for Brontosaurus as a valid genus distinct from Apatosaurus. The internet rejoiced.

Entomologists from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County found 30 new species of fly in urban gardens.

Skeletal collections can tell us about the history of welfare standards in captive animals (warning: the paper is behind a paywall, but the abstract is free).

Brian Switek revisits his old fossil friend Teleoceras.

Three new species of wood lizard have been discovered in Ecuador and Peru by museum researchers.

 

Got a submission for the blog or Digital Digest? Email us at blog@natsca.org

#MuseumWeek on Twitter – what’s the point?

The last few days have seen Twitter alive with activity centred on museums, with the 2015 #MuseumWeek hashtag providing an opportunity to celebrate culture using images, videos and a maximum of 140 characters.

MuseumWeek

This Twitterstorm in a teacup may seem a bit pointless to some, but it’s difficult to fully appreciate the value of social media until you really use it and experience the benefits first hand.

That’s why this year’s NatSCA conference ‘Museums Unleashed’ is partly about getting everyone up to speed with what’s out there, how it works, and what people are using it for – to make sure that our members aren’t left behind as the museum sector increasingly embraces the digital age.

natscabristol2015

Social media provides an incredibly powerful medium for communicating with other subject specialists, and it also provides a mechanism for developing genuine dialogue with audiences. Hashtags like #MuseumMonday and #FossilFriday allow objects from behind the scenes to be shared around the world quickly and easily, bringing otherwise hidden collections into the public consciousness.

The playful and informal nature of these online interactions may be a significant departure from the authoritative and reserved image projected by some museums, perhaps causing a little discomfort for some, but that informal interaction is the very thing that makes social media such a fantastic mechanism for developing dialogue and bouncing ideas between peers.

Finally, it never pays to underestimate the power of the public as advocates for your collections. A museum with a facilitative approach to social media in its gallery spaces can benefit from the buzz created by people wanting to create and curate their own digital content, inspiring others to visit and generating a deeper interest in the museum’s activities – with minimal input required from staff.

I strongly suggest that you take a look at the various interesting subthemes within #MuseumWeek to see if you can contribute. Today is #familyMW, Saturday is #favMW (for your favourites) and Sunday is #poseMW (maybe put that selfie stick to good use?), so you still have time to get your phone out and get involved!

NatSCA Digital Digest

Gorilla skull on a black background

Your weekly round-up of news and events happening in the wonderful world of natural sciences!

 

Jobs

Unusually, there are a few natural science jobs out there in the UK at the moment:

Curatorial Assistant (Human Remains and Repatriation) – Natural History Museum. Applications close 29th March.

Curator/Lecturer in Vertebrate Palaeontology – Cambridge University. Applications close 3rd April.

Several interesting posts at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including an Assistant Curator (applications close 7th April).

And, just in case you haven’t already seen it:

Collections Manager (Life Collections) – Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Applications close 10th April.

Events

Simon Moore’s renowned fluid preservation course will next run on 1st – 4th June at the Horniman Museum & Gardens. The four-day course costs £300 (NatSCA members can apply for a bursary). See here for details and booking.

A fluid-preserved specimen in a jar is held up to the camera. Image: Russell Dornan

Learn the skills to care for fluid-preserved specimens (Image: Russell Dornan)

The Society for the History of Natural History (SHNH) has put out a call for speakers for their annual conference, to be held at Wakefield Museum on 31st July – 1st August.

The Museum Ethnographers Group (MEG) 2015 conference is entitled Nature and Culture in Museums, and will explore the relationship between natural science and ethnography. It takes place at the Powell-Cotton Museum on 20th – 21st April, and booking is open now!

In the Media

Today is Taxonomist Appreciation Day, a holiday devised by Dr Terry McGlynn, of California State University Dominguez Hills, to highlight the decline in taxonomic skills and the importance of museum collections.

These taxonomists definitely deserve some appreciation: A census of all known marine life by WoRMS (the World Register of Marine Species) has added many new species and removed 190,400 duplicates!

Darwin’s ‘strangest animals ever discovered’ finally find their place in the tree of life.

 

Got a submission for the blog or Digital Digest? Email us at blog@natsca.org!

State of the Union! Natural History Museums 2014

Author Mark Carnall, Curator, Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL
#NatureData Coordinating Committee
All views are the opinion of the author. August 2014.

‘After visiting the recent natural history museum community conference in July: SPNCH 2014, Cardiff, Mark Carnall reflects on what the sector internationally is thinking and doing – in particular what’s happening digitally and what people’s thoughts are on a UK natural science database’.

Primate skeletons in the Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL ©UCL, Grant Museum of Zoology and Matt Clayton

Primate skeletons in the Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL ©UCL, Grant Museum of Zoology and Matt Clayton

At the end of June was a rather special event; the coming together of three subject specialist networks (SSN), the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), the Natural Sciences Collections Association (NatSCA) and the Geological Curators’ Group (GCG) hosted by Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales. Between them, these three networks represent a sizeable chunk of curators, conservators, directors and educators who work in and with natural history museums and collections. Each SSN has yearly meetings but a syzygy rarely happens.

The full conference was a six day affair packed with field trips, stores tours, talks, workshops, demos, poster sessions and discussions attended by over 250 delegates from almost as many natural history institutions. This provided a great opportunity to catch up and meet friends, facilitated the catharsis in sharing frustrations unique to natural history museums and offered a rare chance to establish a sense of ‘the state of the union’ in natural history museums across Europe, North America and elsewhere.

 

The broad theme of the conference was historic collections and future resources and many of the presentations were about off-label uses of collections, advocacy and digitisation. Inspiringly, the conference was kicked off with a series of keynotes which carried the resounding message of “get over it” when it comes to the communities’ existential crisis in demonstrating value and worth with a rousing series of presentations from Professor Paul Smith and Dr Chris Norris setting the tone for the rest of the conference.

Off-label use of collections, a term borrowed from accidental discoveries of secondary beneficial side effects in the pharmaceutical industry, came up time and time again. Cynically, as the curator of a small museum it’s nice to finally be joined by colleagues from some bigger museums who, without having to face the “use it or lose it” challenge to keep a museum in existence, have cottoned on to the notion that perhaps collections have uses beyond the 10% of material that has a function in alpha taxonomy and (often low impact) taxonomic research. Colleagues presented example after example of natural history collections being used for research into environmental change. One question that wasn’t satisfactorily answered was about how this use of collections can be procedurally built into research. Many of the examples were incidental discoveries (hence off-label) rather than arising from researchers deliberately thinking of uses of collections in the first instance. However, advocates for the importance of natural history collections now have a new suite of examples to convince decision and policy makers about unique insights into the natural world which can only be gleaned from scrutinising collections.

When it came to advocacy, unfortunately the community fell into the trap of talking about scientific research use of collections almost to the exclusion of all other audiences. I’ve written before about how natural history museums need to celebrate and contribute more to being a part of the cultural sector, especially for museums which don’t hold scientifically important collections and specimens. Myopia aside, the community seems to have come on to some degree, telling each other how important natural history collections are, which came out in a panel discussion on advocacy. There are still a lot of stereotypes about what museums are and what they do that need to be pulled down, but there’s a danger in evangelising which can be quite divisive. Another general theme that came out across the series of talk days is that we need to get more sophisticated and generally get better at demonstrating what we do well. The finding of the NatSCA and Arts Council England study into the popularity of different kinds of museum galleries was presented, demonstrating that natural history collections are the most popular, but put some audiences off if they don’t appear to be well maintained or invested in. Natural History Near You was also presented, finally making headway into ascertaining exactly where all the natural history collections are, a fundamental piece of information that has eluded several generations of natural history collections workers. Interestingly, one of the contrasts between the UK delegates and those from the rest of Europe and North America was that with a handful of exceptions, the majority of the social media generated around the conference came from UK colleagues. It seems that social media is yet to take off as a promotional, professional networking and advocacy tool for museum professionals elsewhere.

Lastly, there was a cornucopia of presentations on digitising collections. It’s uncontroversial to say that museums in general are far from being digital – let alone post digital – and that natural history museums and collections as a group are lagging behind the rest of the museum sector. It seems that colleagues in North America and from the rest of Europe are making huge advances in all aspects of digitisation from technical advances, standards in digitisation, data capturing pipelines and networks, and databases linking specimen information. Embarrassingly, UK museums are somewhat left in the dust, contributing little to the 20 or so European and International data repositories and the data that does exist is incomplete, hard to export, manipulate or in many cases even locate – let alone scrutinise. This is in part what the #naturedata project hopes to solve, with “one portal to rule them all” in the UK at least. The need for this is even more pressing thanks to worryingly vague requirements for databases required for compliance with the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing. Three conference sessions on the Nagoya Protocol valiantly tried to deconstruct the bureaucratic layers represented by this legislation but it looks like the practicalities of compliance will be causing headaches for generations of museum professionals yet.

Overall, the conference was an excellent set of days. Networking and socialising with enthusiastic, passionate and brilliant colleagues really is the best way to recharge the batteries and reinvigorate the soul. Throughout the presentations the niggling thought I kept returning to was that all the innovative, experimental and inspiring ways we use to get the most of our collections are still hamstrung by our fundamental issue of getting a handle on what we have in our collections. The curse and gift of natural history collections is their vast size, but it’s no longer good enough to use the size of our collections as an excuse for not getting to grips with every single specimen we have and making them available to the people for whom we keep them in trust.