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  • Name our Rhino on the Run

    By Jack Ashby, on 6 November 2014

    The rhino in the Grant Museum - what's his name?

    The rhino in the Grant Museum – what’s his name?

    The largest single specimen in the Museum – our (hornless) Indian one-horned rhino – is about to go on holiday. He is going away for some serious conservation work. You might call it health tourism.

    The rhino entered the Museum as an un-mounted skeleton in 1910-11 when the University of London Loan Collection was disbanded. The Museum then paid £14 to have him, the seal, the bear and “a zebra” (possibly the quagga) mounted onto iron frames. Since then, the rhino has been on open display in the Museum, and the iron is slowly corroding.

    This year, as part of a major project called Bone Idols: Preserving our Iconic Skeletons, 39 of our largest specimens are undergoing conservation treatment. Some need intensive cleaning to remove the damaging pollutants and particulates that have built up over up to 180 years on open display; some also need repairs to certain body parts. Some, like the rhino and quagga, need to be totally disassembled, cleaned, and then repositioned on new skeleton-friendly metal frames, with all his joints correctly matching up.

    All of this work will allow us to safe-guard our irreplaceable collection for the long-term future and continue to use it every day for teaching, research and public engagement.

    There are two exciting opportunities coming up as a result… (more…)

    Does a museum studies degree help you get a job in museums?

    By Jack Ashby, on 16 October 2014

    Despite the levels of pay and instability of the jobs at the lower rungs (at least) of this particular career ladder, working in the museum sector is incredibly competitive.

    As a result, aspiring museum workers often face the question of how to position themselves as the strongest candidate in the pool. Should they take the plunge and stump up thousands of pounds to do a Museum Studies masters degree? It’s worth taking a second to consider that even being able to ask that question is a non-starter for the majority of people, who can’t afford it. Those people shouldn’t be excluded for the museum sector.

    A real live collections management job requiring a Museum Studies Masters

    A real live collections management job requiring a Museum Studies Masters

    The Grant Museum Curator Mark Carnall (who has a Museum Studies degree) gave his opinion on this last year, and I thought I should offer my own personal perspective, as someone in a reasonably senior museum role who doesn’t have this degree.

    For me, there are very few circumstances when I would recommend someone did a Museum Studies degree. Obviously I am biased by own own experience, and so this is my own personal take on things. (more…)

    A Medical (School) Mystery

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 24 September 2014

    For most of the last two weeks of September I was working on a collections project aimed at auditing, repacking and photographing the UCL Physiology Collection. Although the collection itself consists of only 82 objects (for now), it shares its store room with a large number of additional objects, papers, books and other ‘misc’ material. It was quite a job, and took 5 of us the best part of two weeks to complete.

    Among the objects and papers we saw during the work were two 20th century dog respirators, half a door, papers relating to experiments on Everest and lots of framed portraits and photos.

    Included in this last lot was a particularly perplexing object, which caused us all to scratch our heads for a while.

    Medical Faculty 1957, with troll (middle back).

    A traoll (?) standing behind the class, holding an umbrella and tin helmet.

    A troll (?) standing behind the class,
    holding an umbrella and tin helmet.

    (more…)

    Ask a Curator day 2014

    By Meg J Dobson, on 16 September 2014

     

    On Wednesday 17th September UCL Museums will be taking part in the Ask A Curator Day event on twitter. This event is growing year on year, and at the time of writing, this week’s event has 520 museums taking part from 36 countries. We know that asking a question in a museum can sometimes feel intimidating, and that we curators can sometimes be hard to track down. There’s so much to do that we aren’t always the most available group of people (though we really do try).  We are taking part in the day as part of our commitment to make our collections as accessible as possible.

    Ask A Curator works like this.  Anyone in the world with a twitter account can tweet a question with the #AskACurator hashtag, and it will be answered by any of the institutions taking part. If you have a specific question for us you can tweet it directly to us @UCLMuseums and one of our staff will do their best to answer you. The Grant Museum of Zoology is taking part using @GrantMuseum, as is the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology on @PetrieMuseEgypt.

    In preparation for this I thought I would introduce you to our members of staff taking part…

    Jack Ashby – Jack is the Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology. He is responsible for the strategic direction of the Museum, as well as managing the Museum’s resources. Much of his time is spent on creating opportunities for the public to engage with research going on at UCL. A zoologist by training with a particular interest in Australian mammals, he still spends as much time as he can in the field. He’ll be taking questions via @GrantMuseum throughout the day and from the @UCLMuseums account from 12 – 1 pm. (more…)

    We’ve Added 600 New Labels, But Can we Label Everything?

    By Jack Ashby, on 6 August 2014

    The answer to that question is no, we can’t label everything. We’ve just installed 600 new labels in the Museum, as a result of visitor feedback. But have we got the balance right?

    Some of the 600 new labels being unpacked

    Some of the 600 new
    labels being unpacked

    There are about 6000 animal specimens on display in the Grant Museum (which, incidentally, is more than is on display at the Natural History Museum), including about 2300 in the Micrarium. The room is only about 250m², and this means our displays are very densely packed. We are hugely keen on specimens at the Grant – providing close access to real objects is one of our biggest selling points. For this reason (and also because we don’t have a lot of storage space), we put as much out on display as is logistically possible.

    Drawbacks of dense displays

    As much as people tell us they think of the Grant Museum as a room crammed with amazing rare things creating with an atmosphere that promotes exploration, filling every spare gap with objects does have its downsides. Some people think that displays should give each object its own space to breathe, allowing people to concentrate on them, but we’ve made the decision to go in a different direction. Plenty of other museums use this sparse display philosophy – but if you want to be immersed in a real and different celebration of objects, come to the Grant Museum.

    The major drawback of jam-packed cabinets is that there isn’t a lot of room for labeling. (more…)

    Squirrels and Earth Resistance

    By Pia K Edqvist, on 17 July 2014

    The past couple of days people have found me in all sorts of random places: popping up from under tables, looking in cupboards and spying behind display cases. Initially we thought we were looking for a squirrel; thinking we would be finding a bionic-like animal with fluorescent eyes (pretty exciting). But in the end we realised that this ‘squirrel’ was actually the environmental monitoring box. This ‘squirrel’ was among many items that had to be located, but why?

    Image of Jo Howcroft PAT testing in the Grant Museum at UCL

    Image of Jo Howcroft PAT testing in the Grant Museum

    Excitingly enough, I have been supervising the Portable Appliance Testing (PAT testing) executed in the Grant Museum and the Petrie Museum. This test is used to check whether a portable/moveable electrical item is safe to use. As we do not have the expertise in-house to execute this kind of testing we had to search for help elsewhere. Fortunately assistance was not far away; this could be found within the department among the staff at the Bloomsbury Theatre. Theatre Technician Jo Howcroft came to the rescue bringing her expertise within the area. She also kindly explained the process of PAT testing (which is more complicated than one would ever imagine):

    (more…)

    Science + Art = ?

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 6 May 2014

    What happens when you give a Geology Museum to a set of Art Students? Well we are about to find out…

    Photo taken in Geo-Chemistry Lab

    Geo-Chemistry Lab at UCL.

    Last year a group of sculpture Masters students from the Slade School of Fine Art took over the Rock Room (UCL’s Geology Museum) for a day, created a load of new art works relating to the space and the collection, and then opened it up to the public to view their work. It was a great day, we had a lot of visitors and the students seemed to enjoy themselves.

    This year I met with the Slade organiser, Lecturer in Sculpture Karin Ruggaber, early, and we decided that we would build on the work of last time, by offering a tour of some of the lesser seen parts of the Geology Collections, and the Earth Science Department here at UCL,

    (more…)

    Is it ever acceptable for museums to lie?

    By Jack Ashby, on 16 April 2014

    I ask this question to our Museum Studies Masters students every year, and last month put it to our new Bachelor of Arts and Sciences students. Despite the difference in the age, background and interests of these two groups, the reaction is the same – anger and horror. I am playing devil’s advocate in these debates, but my own opinion is yes, there are circumstances when everyone benefits from museums lying.

    The lectures I discuss this in focus on object interpretation, and I use a tiger skull as a prop for discussing how to decide what information to include in labels. The choice of a tiger isn’t important – I just need something to use as an example I can attached real facts about natural history and conservation to, but I spend the two hours talking about tigers.

    Lion (left) and tiger (right) skulls. Or is it the other way round? LDUCZ-Z1644 and LDUCZ-Z396

    Lion (left) and tiger (right) skulls. Or is it the other way round? LDUCZ-Z1644 and LDUCZ-Z396

    At the end of the lecture I reveal that the skull is in fact from a lion. Everything else I told them about tigers is true. Did it matter that I lied? (more…)

    Why Twitter is good for museums – making discoveries

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 April 2014

    Using Twitter as a way of building a community of support, engaging people in content and shedding light on life behind the scenes in museums (that we don’t just dust stuff) is too obviously demonstrated by the real world to be spending too much time discussing. Not to mention the power to market events and exhibitions quickly and cheaply – assuming don’t over-use social media as a marketing tool.

    On Monday I conducted two pieces of “research” on our collection which sprung up out of the blue and would have been very difficult to solve without turning to our Twitter followers to tap their collective brain to find a quick answer. Both of them were on specimens that begin with “H” and end with “Bill”. Weird.

    Tweeting Turtles

    Hawksbill turtle showing his interesting eyes LDUCZ-X1177

    Hawksbill turtle showing his interesting eyes LDUCZ-X1177

    (more…)

    A gem of an idea

    By Rachael Sparks, on 26 February 2014

    Dramatically bearded gentleman shows off his classical headgear

    Dramatically bearded gentleman shows off his classical headgear.

    Every collection has its nooks and crannies, and it’s rare for curators to know the full scope of their domain. So every now and again we’ll take a quiet moment to sneak into our stores and explore that neglected corner or unfamiliar drawer, just to see what might be lurking.

    Late last year I was looking for some material for my new conservation volunteers to work on. I’d begun training them in the mysteries of plastazote cutting – that’s making snug little foam housing to hold objects safe – and I wanted some simple starter objects. You know the sort of thing: nice and flat on the underside, so there’s no tricky shaping of the mount to match the curve of the object, and not so fragile that the students get disheartened by accidentally breaking something. We’d already done a batch of cylinder seal impressions (straight rectangular lines, flat as a tack – lovely). But now I wanted to try them on something new.

    So I started to explore the stores in search of inspiration. Here’s what I found: (more…)