Think about the word “museum” for a moment; what does it draw to your mind? Fascinating exhibits? Monumental architecture? Hushed awe? An exciting trip? Rows and rows of specimens?
Now, think about the word “science” … what is brought to mind then? Flashy experiments? Bubbling test tubes? Microscopes? Field notes? Gizmos and tech-y toys? Museums?
In addition to the research sector – businesses who’s work is research – and colleges and universities, museums are where science and research happen. And not just at the biggest and most well known museums. Even medium-sized museums, like Burpee, and smaller museums like our friends at the Dinosaur Journey Museum, part of the Museum of Western Colorado, in Fruita, CO, collect, preserve, research, and publish on specimens from their collection to add to our overall understanding of the past.
Collecting, preserving, researching, collaborating and publishing on specimens are goals at the heart of a museum’s collection. To achieve these goals museums need curators, collections managers, and researchers (among so many other people) to organize, maintain, care for and research the specimens in the collection. This is often the unseen work that happens at a museum, behind the scenes and out of the public eye. However, the benefits of the work are more easily seen in the quality of specimens on display, the amount of information known about the specimens on display, and the prestige the museum’s name carries in the public. This work does not necessarily directly cause money to flow into the museum’s coffers – in many cases it is an instance of needing to “spend money to make money.”
We’ve already covered that collecting, preserving, researching, collaborating and publishing on specimens are part of a museum’s goals, but they are also part of a museum’s responsibility as a repository. Specimens, particularly those collected from public lands and those donated to a museum, are reposited at museums for a reason. The museum assumes the care (including preparation) and curation of those specimens. With that care comes cost; salaries must be paid, proper storage space maintained, supplies purchased. However, without specimens – or the people to care for and research them – what is a museum? A building with stuff. Over time and with out care, a building with stuff that is falling apart.
So, why should you care about all of this? The Field Museum of Natural History, a close neighbor and sometimes collaborator of Burpee Museum, has announced plans to cut their budget by $5 million dollars – with a substantial portion of the cuts ($3 million) coming from the science departments. The field museum employs world renowned scientists and researchers from a myriad of disciplines and houses a phenomenal collection of artifacts and specimens – what will happen to those specimens? What research opportunities will be lost because of these cuts? No one knows yet, the specifics of the cuts have yet to be announced.
If you are interested in learning more visit: Science Insider – Budget Cuts Hit Chicago’s Field Museum
If you’d like to do something about it visit: Protect Research at Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago