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

How to Write a Research Enquiry to a Museum

Museums are full of great stuff and the job of many museum curators and collections managers is to make museum collections as accessible as possible. Collections are there to be used, not hoarded for  some future end-of-world-saving scenario. Museums receive hundreds of thousands, if not millions of queries a year about the collections they hold from university researchers, students, artists, teachers and members of the public. However, there are a few top tips I’d like to suggest to ensure that your enquiry is as helpful as possible to the people who look after collections and ultimately to help you receive a response. I’ve written previously on the UCL Museums and Collections blog that museums could be a bit more helpful for researchers trying to locate material for their use, currently it’s not necessarily easy or straight forward to match potential users with the people and collections that could be helpful for them. The excellent Ministry of Curiosity wrote a blog post earlier in the year about academics accessing museums ‘Why won’t you respond to my emails and other woes of academics‘ and I’d like to expand on Kristin’s list for everybody who might be writing a query to a museum. Continue reading

Sea Fables Explained

I’ve been using the excellent Biodiversity Heritage Library recently for both work and play based research into animals and specimens. If you don’t know it, it’s an excellent initiative by a consortium of natural history institutions with a short and sweet mission, taken from their website.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library improves research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community.

In essence, it’s digitising and releasing the history of biology, for free to reference (you can make a donation though) or under creative commons for others uses which takes the sting out of trying to hunt down all the early references, many of which include original taxon descriptions and it includes publications that are incredibly rare or valuable and in some cases very odd. One of the very best things they’ve done recently, well 2012, is release over 24,000 images to flickr which is a great thing to do but is also a different way of browsing the history of biology. Although the image searching could be a little better, the released images are sometimes in little ‘curated’ albums which are just a pleasure to browse. Here is the BHL fLickr page and a few of my favourite albums are Sloths!, Monsters are Real, a gorgeous collection of desktop wallpaper squid and, ahem, Octopi. One particular highlight brought to my attention from the images alone, and the subject of this blog post is Sea fables explained. London :W. Clowes and sons, ltd.,1883. WHICH YOU MUST HAVE A LOOK AT. Continue reading