How and why to cite museum specimens in research

About once a year, I take the time to comb through the Internet for references in books and journal articles to museum specimens in the collections I manage. Despite the fact that I give all the researchers who visit the collections instructions for keeping the museum informed if/when their research gets published, sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s an innocent mistake: it can be a decade between data collection from specimens and publication and in the tweaking of manuscripts remembering to let the museum know about publications citing their specimens can drop off the priority list. Sometimes however, it seems like researchers failed to listen to what those annoying museum people said and just ‘forget’ or just make it up entirely.

Recently the researchers and collections managers at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History have undertaken a big drive to try to find orphaned citations of our collections going back to 2010 for our reporting cycles and with dogged determination to leave no stone unturned, we’ve managed to find an order of magnitude more citations that weren’t previously linked to the collections.

It’s really fundamental to the scientific process, the future or museums and the legacy of biological sciences that hypotheses and research can be repeated and that we can trace the theory back to the evidence that leads to new conclusions being made. It’s really important to properly cite specimens and here’s why and how. Continue reading

Cephalopod Watch:Weeds of the sea and the <Gene diet

Two bits of cephalopod stuff in the media last week, both of which raised the hackles but for different reasons relating to how the media (in this case mostly online) handles science reporting. I always find this kind of stuff interesting, doubly so since a really interesting talk at NatSCA 2015 Annual Conference where we heard from colleagues at the BBC and science programmers about how documentaries aren’t for those in the know. Both in terms or viewers and critical acclaim, the scientists may hate shoddy science but they aren’t the target audience. This shouldn’t give the media free rein to just report what they like but trying to squeeze complicated, limited and caveated findings into nice black and white narratives leads to more confusion. Things can only be bigger, smaller, disappearing, brand new, oldest, fastest, slowest etc. Biology, (un)fortunately, is rarely that simple.

The first of the bits of news last week was this paper, Global proliferation of cephalopods in Current Biology about estimating cephalopod populations Continue reading

Gamifying Museums- The Logical Extreme

Last week my Twitter feed was all #MWXX which I presume had something to do with Museums and the Web, probably the 20th conference, it may also still be happening such is the opaque nature of the events conference hashtags refer to.

In any case whatever #MWXX was, it seemed to be filled with some of the best and brightest of those working with museums ‘and the web’ but more broadly digital. Ever since my Museum Studies training, I’ve had an interest in museums and the digital as a digital native urghhh, I mean ‘millennial’ but more importantly the incredibly slow pace in which museums are really getting to grips with the interesting stuff that is happening on the Internet and in video games, digital art etc. Last year, there were some very silly suggestions that museums are now ‘post-digital’ and we should stop banging on about the digital as some magical future thing.

Digital is everywhere. It’s just another tool in the toolkit. I’d very strongly argue that with rare, normally uncelebrated good examples, most museums are very much analog and that Digital still equates to a not very good website, crappy gallery interactives, an unreliable app developed circa 2009 and not very good online databases. Which might actually be fine because I suspect that us urghhh ‘millenials’ are actually quite bored of digital. Give us bespoke, handmade, tangible, esoteric and analog. I’m a slave to digital platforms at work and play and I want to spend my downtime away from them. There’s a seed of a thought there that I’ll expand on in another post, maybe. But, as a keen gamer I’m quite sad to see that gamification of museum spaces just hasn’t happened in a very real way. Sure, if you read Reality is Broken in 2012 you’d have believed that by 2016 even our toasters would be recording our high scores and spamming our friends with toasted bread updates but turns out that gamification flourished in the Silicon Valley Petri dishes but didn’t squirm much further.

When you do see museums engaging in games and gamification, it’s often in a very earnest, shallow and eduware kind of way. More Fun School 3 than Never Alone and 100% less interesting, engaging and inspiring than Minesweeper. Museums should skip steadily progressing 20 years behind digital culture and jump right up to date borrowing the scummiest and unethical but addictive and sometimes lucrative practices from current social media platforms and the ballooning free-to-play models that even giants of gaming seem to be pursuing. Introducing the MyMuseum app (working title). Continue reading

Subject Specialist Knowledge: The Answers Part 1

It’s been a hot minute (read two months) since I got back from the Museums Association conference and wrote this blog post about what subject specialist knowledge means when it comes to museum professionals. I felt that the term ‘subject specialist knowledge’ is used so often that the meaning of the phrase has become a bit abstract. Ambitiously, I said I’d upload the ‘answers’ in a couple of weeks but it’s taken me so long to write these up precisely because, those snap decisions that your friendly neighbourhood curator inherently knows when thinking about museum specimens, is such a huge amount of information to type up.

So here are the six objects and the answers to the first half of the 32 questions I posted, that every good curator will know. I’d like to iterate that these are ‘easy’ ones for a natural historian and I’m sure colleagues in other fields can think of similar examples. This is the knowledge you lose when you don’t have the specialist on staff or access to a specialist or specialist network to advice. Continue reading

Why Don’t More Men Work In Museums?

The 20th of January was #MuseumSelfie day, a day I don’t particularly relish nor begrudge, and overall probably a good thing to see museum professionals, who are the majority taking part, let their hair down, the unwary letting their hair down a bit too much but overall no harm done. Being the hilarious individual I am I rather glibly and a smidgen snarkily tweeted:

Why has my feed exploded with images of white women? Ah, I see why.

Ha ha. This led to a perfectly amicable Twitter exchange with two of my favourite geologists about diversity in culture, heritage and museums which I won which even through the difficult short format was clear there were a lot of different opinions and speculations particularly about gender diversity of museum professionals. This planted a bee in my bonnet, so I thought I’d put some thoughts here because writing a blog solves world problems. Continue reading

Museum Careers Advice- How to apply for jobs

Earlier this week, I was very kindly invited to speak at an employers panel at a Researcher Career Pathways Event at Oxford Brookes University. In preparing for the panel, I jotted down some top tips, which I thought I’d share here, kicking off 2016 blog content and continuing in the PSA theme I seem to be developing with the content here. Before I get into the tips, I will say that this is drawn from my experience in working in museums and universities, mostly for natural history and heritage related roles so is probably the most relevant to those sectors. Industry, particularly science and engineering is a whole different kettle of fish but certainly some of this information will be transferable.

I’ve had over ten years of experience in recruiting across a range of roles, from volunteers to project assistants through to being involved in the recruitment process for positions on the same level as me and above. The museum sector is famously ‘oversubscribed’ with people trying to get a foot in the door but in my experience, it’s rarely been challenging to shortlist five or six people from a long list of applicants. This isn’t because there aren’t fantastic candidates out there it’s more to do with the lost art of the job application. I’m almost loathe to publish this advice as it may make shortlisting that bit harder in the future.  So without further ado.

HERE BE TOP TIPS

Continue reading

How to be More Helpful to Researchers

My last post was a ‘How To’ for researchers of all walks of life to write an enquiry to a museum. I’ve mentioned in a previous post for UCL Museums and Collections Blog about the foibles of finding and accessing museum specimens (specifically natural history museum in the UK) and I’d like to expand on that in this post. Accessibility and relevance of collections is enshrined in many museum’s ethos, founding principles or strategy yet as a museum researcher on occasion, as well as someone who works in a museum, the sector can make it very hard to link the people who would be users with collections. Anecdotally, I’ve heard from a number of researchers who have had a poor response from museum enquiries, even well structured ones, and I’ve got a three year old and one year old enquiry lodged somewhere in the pipes at two well known UK National Museums. With ever present pressure on resources within the sector as well as a need to justify why we need to plough resources into maintaining vast collections, here are a few things I think we could do, to get those collections better used. Continue reading