Collections 2030: What’s Next for Museum Collections?

What does the next decade look like for museum collections in the UK? This is the question that the Museums Association’s new research project, Collections 2030, is asking.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be working with museum workers, researchers and users to think about the big issues that the sector needs to have on its radar as we plan for the next decade. What trends do we need to adapt to? Will the way that we treat and value collections change? What are the implications of a new generation taking charge in our museums? And will we have the infrastructure that we need not only to pass on collections, but to make them valued by the wider public?

When asked about the future, it can be tempting to let our imaginations run away with ourselves.

But if we’re going to consider what museum collections might look like in 12 years or so, it’s worth casting our minds back the same distance. Over that period, technological changes have been huge, and have led to much experimentation in museums but not always greater impact. The financial crisis has radically changed the workforce and business model for many museums, with major implications for collections knowledge and management.

But our museum collections themselves can seem oddly absent from this picture of change.

Collections have not grown much, and to the extent that ‘pure’ collections issues enter into our discussions, we have seen a period with much to talk about. But not a huge amount of change in practice, about disposals, about storage, about where to put everything, and occasionally, and with much trepidation, whether we should give some of our stuff back to those who made it.

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In the Blogosphere

Our conference has drummed up a lot of blog interest. The Museums Association and Museums & Heritage Advisor both ran posts on it, written by our wonderful members. Also see Rachel’s piece Tweeting up a Storm on the conference and the power of social media hashtags.

Claire Madge has written an excellent piece on her experience of volunteering. Regular readers will remember Claire from the interview she gave on autism and museums last year.

Upcoming Events

The Cheltenham Science Festival has begun and will be continuing until the 7th June. If you’re free this weekend, pop along. Among the many reasons to go, seeing NatSCA patron Ben Garrod quiz palaeontologist Jack Horner has got to be right up there.

Professor of Zoology Matthew Cobb at Manchester University will be giving a talk with evolutionary biochemist Nick Lane on the 11th June at the Royal Institute called The Story of Life – a look at how genetics has impacted our understanding of biology.

 


There are some exciting things in the pipeline, which I want to tell you about here but I can’t yet *sits on hands*. Just watch this space.

Content assembled by Samuel Barnett

Can the natural science collection community really do anything about climate change?

MAconf2013I attended November’s Museums Association conference in Liverpool to talk, for NatSCA, on how having a natural science curator in your midst will help your museum to be greener. The session I was involved in, ‘Dead Zoos’, looked at addressing environmental issues from the natural science collection viewpoint.

Both Darren Mann and Henry McGhie spoke eloquently and sensibly about our unique position as natural scientists. We can engage all walks of life with nature and, as a consequence, we can also instil a sense of protectiveness. This, of course, includes caring about our changing climate.

I’ve heard him speak about this before but Henry’s admiration of the RSPB’s ‘giving nature a home’ campaign is always thought-provoking. The RSPB have set out to give people a framework for helping nature directly, and the public have responded.

Several of the questions from the floor asked for practical help in using their natural science collections (with or without a specialist curator) to open up discussions on green issues in their museums. Engaging people – on a wide scale – with nature is easy, a hedgehog really does speak for itself. Natural science specimens need little curatorial input to be engaging and so interpretation can easily be turned to thinking about protecting the environment. Case studies abound from Darren’s entomology collection as well as examples like the Yorkshire Museum’s Tansy Beetle reintroduction in the museum’s garden.

Last but not least it was great to attend a natural science session devoid of whinging. We talked about the positive future, not the negative past. Attendance wasn’t phenomenal, 45ish, but it wasn’t terrible. I would like to see future MA conference sessions that don’t necessarily concentrate on natural science but instead include it as an integral part of a wider topic. That would be progress.

Clare Brown