[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

Re: Public viewing, what priority?

One of the most frequently asked questions about fossils on exhibit is " Are 
they real?"  The public seems to more comfortable with yes than no.    Or 
sometimes they are hoping for a no so that the object is then a fabrication 
and not a real object with meaning.   Real doesn't move, talk, or change 
color but most people want the real thing.
>From: dinosaur
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: Re: Public viewing, what priority?
Date: Fri, Mar 3, 1995 11:38AM

I'm not sure that Stan meant that public viewing in museums was a low
priority; I didn't get that sense from his posting. I think what he meant
was that what is on view is typically the smallest tip of an immense
iceberg. Many, many specimens will not ever see the light of a public
exhibit because (1) they are unphotogenic, (2) the exhibits priorities
run toward blockbuster shows and robotics, and the curators can't GET
in-house specimens on show (there are fewer dedicated systematics
exhibits up now than I have seen in a long time), (3) there is a
misplaced sense of ownership on someone's part, (4) exhibition (as I
mentioned in a previous post) is a risky business at best. It's not a
matter of hiding anything. I will take anyone through our collections
(and, as I mentioned to Martin Tillett in an earlier post he did not
cite, show them our policies) unless there is a compelling reason not to
do so. Right now there is a lot of disinterest in straight exhibits of
specimens in many museums. Personally, I think it's worth the risk in the
name of public education.

Museums and curators have been guilty of assuming that everyone knew what
they did and why that was important. They are currently paying dearly for
those assumptions through severe loss of public and private support. The
public education programs mentioned on this list several time have enormous
benefits for both sides.

This is a tricky balance for collections-based museum people, who are
charged with stewardship of collections resources on the one hand and
asked to make those resources more available on the other. The specimens
which need the most care (types, unique elements, exceptionally rare or
fragile, of historic as well as scientific interest due to their
association with a particular person) are the very ones that people
most want to see, study, borrow, touch, and demonstrate. Naturally. The
real thing has an emotional impact. So I think we all owe it to each
other to develop effective programs, look at the use of teaching kits
(some great ones were demonstrated at the fall meeting in Colorado Springs),
get involved in teacher and volunteer training, and pull the museum into
the community and vice versa. WITHOUT the name-calling, please. This is
our one chance in life to preserve not only the specimens, but also their
scientific and educational value, for the next group coming up. The
alternative is the loss of museums and collections through public
disinterest and lack of understanding. R. West wrote a paper a few years
back on orphaned and endangered collections in the US that was chilling.

It has to start with mutual respect for the needs of the community AND
the needs of the museum. It has to start with recognition of the value of
specimens and collections. (Even my own museum had a board all ready to
get rid of collections in favor of expanded exhibits space several years
ago, because they could see the immediate financial benefits of exhibits
but not of collections. We have a much more professional board now and
are looking at all the benefits of having and using collections.) And it
has to start with win-win negotiations. There have been several postings
here that basically said things that I agree with that I found to be
off-putting or hostile--and I'm on YOUR side! Instead of indulging in
diatribes, I'd like to hear  more success stories of people who got
involved with community museums and projects and made partnerships work
for the benefit of paleontology for all.

I should also mention that, in addition to the Outreach newsletter (still
being detail-planned: these new efforts take a lot of tweaking the first
time), SVP-Outreach is producing a brochure of programs for training or
employing volunteers, students, and other avocational paleontologists.
Contributions for both are being sought. While we can't accept articles
that urge political action or offer fossils or other specimens for sale,
we'll accept just about anything else having to do with community
liaisons in paleontology. Interested? Write it up and send it in.

Sally Shelton
Director, Collections Care and Conservation
Chair, SVP Outreach
|                                                                       |
|                 San Diego Natural History Museum                      |
|                          P. O. Box 1390                               |
|                San Diego, California   92112  USA                     |
|             phone (619) 232-3821; FAX (619) 232-0248                  |
|                     email LIBSDNHM@CLASS.ORG                          |
|                                                                       |

On Thu, 2 Mar 1995 PNorton247@aol.com wrote:

> Stan Friesen recently posted a message on Raymond the Triceratops in which
> stated that "public viewing is the least important part of what a natural
> history museum is about." I e-mailed Stan and told him that I could not
> disagree more with him on that statement. Given the general tenor of
> discussion on this list--that VP's should be reaching out to help educate
> public about science in general, and paleontology in particular (see the
> postings on JP, dinosaur toys and documentaries)--I can't help but feel 
> many folks on this list would agree that museums are an extremely 
> part of that public education out-reach effort.  Am I wrong? Or is there
> really a consensus out there that "public viewing" has been so de-valued 
> to now be at the bottom of our priority list?