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Re: Public viewing, what priority?

>>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?<<

If that is what Stan wrote, then it is not entirely true.  Certainly 
the most important part of what a NHM is about is the protection of 
the specimens in its care and the survival of the museum as an 
entity.  In informing the public of the story of life, fossils, 
rocks, minerals etc etc....putting all specimens on display would not 
only put specimens at risk, but also defeat the educational value of 
the collection.  A few good specimens on display are of much more 
educational value than a thousand scraps that test even the 
specialist (pro- or non-pro-).  There are obviously different levels 
that exhibitions can be pitched, but the important feature of an 
exhibition is to excite the imagination, not to bore the pants off or 
insult the intelligence.  It is a fine balance that museologists have 
to strike in order to best represent their collections to the public. 
 Important specimens are usually restricted access for good reason 
and the restriction is not confined to any particular group as I have 
banned several researchers from borrowing specimens before (for 
various reasons such as damage or loss of important specimens).  I 
have also several non-academic collectors who are frequently allowed 
to see the type specimens because of their interest and contribution 
to palaeontology.  I could go on, but I won't as I have to prepare to 
go to Skye to return one of Scotland's first dinosaurs to go on 
display there.


Neil Clark
Curator of Palaeontology
Hunterian Museum
University of Glasgow
email: NCLARK@museum.gla.ac.uk

Mountains are found in erogenous zones.
(Geological Howlers - ed. WDI Rolfe)