Last week the SMH covered a story based on the Australian Museum’s new exhibition ‘Tyrannosaurus: Meet the Family’. I was fully expecting to see a review about the exhibition and to convince me to make some time to go and see it. Instead to my surprise I ended up reading an article about a staffing issue at the museum; that is, The Australian Museum have just opened a dinosaur exhibition and they have no palaeontologists on staff. What? The article went on to say, “Palaeontologist is not the only position to go the way of the dinosaurs. The museum no longer employs a research scientist who specialises in reptiles, amphibians and birds. The entomology department is closed. By February there will be no fish researches” (Phillips, SMH, 30/11/13). Again – what?
For those that may not know The Australian Museum is the country’s oldest museum (established in 1827) and boasts an international reputation in the fields of anthropology and natural history. To find out that that the museum has no specialist staff is a real worry and a terrible joke. In May this year a restructure for the museum was announced and saw 2 permanent researchers made redundant and an additional 11 staff members were let go following that. In the space of 10 years the number of researchers at the museum has dropped from 23 at the start of 2003 down to 13. Of course, such a loss has been criticised by former and current staff – including letters from former Directors of the museum Frank Talbot and Des Griffin; both of whom, in defence of the Australian Museum, at least acknowledged in their letters to the Australian Museum Trust that the museum experienced major budget cuts and constraints from the State Government.
This got me thinking though: is the loss of specialist knowledge hurting the museum industry? The answer to me seems to be ‘yes’. It’s not just financial strain that has seen the number of specialists decline over the years – the rise of digital and online content/collections, the expansion of interpretation type roles and prioritising some collections over others has also helped in the decline of specialist knowledge. And those retiring are either not getting replaced soon enough or at all. If museums continue to lose specialist researchers and curators who understand objects of cultural significance, then they are failing in their duty to safeguard heritage for communities and future generations. A lack of specialisation also creates a stumbling block for anyone wanting to access more information about certain collections items. Databases can give you facts yes - (and this is in no way an attack on databases of course, I love them)- but you need someone to put those facts into the right context to make information meaningful and allow people to gain a broader sense of the collection as a whole and why it is important.
On a related note, there is an issue for people wanting to get into the museum industry with an interest in certain collections or areas of knowledge. For those wanting to get into museums must now consider alternate means and yet still have all the ridiculous qualifications and experiences expected of them to have. Applying for positions can go one of two ways:
1) An applicant may end up being too underqualified in and not have enough practical/ volunteer/ internship experience
2) An applicant may be overqualified and not have enough practical/volunteer/internship experience and are therefore too niche.
There are a number of questions when you are a museum studies student or an art history student or a science student or any kind of person that wants to work in a museum that have now become a little more complex: Just how many degrees do I need to land an entry-level position? Where can I volunteer and what do I do there? Can I make the time to volunteer – time and budget wise?
To finish up, specialist knowledge is a vital thing for museums to hold onto. Knowledge on a collection is always growing and therefore needs someone with an appreciation for it, to track it, to add to it and to give it an appropriate scope and context.
Tissue SeriesAnatomical Cross-Sections in Paper
These pieces are made of Japanese mulberry paper and the gilded edges of old books. They are constructed by a technique of rolling and shaping narrow strips of paper called quilling or paper filigree.
First the Incas in Canberra and now, The Aztecs in Sydney next year!!!!!! HOT DAMN!!!!
As the human species evolved from Paleolithic to modern times, our bodies have changed to fit the world around us. But with the human landscape moving quickly from the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions to the modern day of smartphones and junk food, are our bodies able to keep up?
Evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman discusses how human bodies evolved from our ape ancestors, and how this evolution continues to affect our bodies and their ailments to this day.
The find of two entombed dogs curled up in pots is a first among ancient animal burials. Continue reading â
The hidden bonanza in Egypt may include several small tombs, with the possibility of a big-time tomb holding a royal individual, say archaeologists who have examined the site with ground-penetrating radar and excavations.
God! Red Velvet suit jacket, bow tie and killer smile! I’m in love.
Two German students, in an effort to prove that the Great Pyramids are 15,000 years older than they really are, chipped off samples from the walls of an ancient burial chamber and brought them back home for analysis. Both Egyptian and German authorities are outraged.
Damn German conspiracy nutters. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!!!!!!!