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Re: Public viewing, what priority?

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 he
> 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 the
> public about science in general, and paleontology in particular (see the many
> postings on JP, dinosaur toys and documentaries)--I can't help but feel that
> many folks on this list would agree that museums are an extremely important
> 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 as
> to now be at the bottom of our priority list?