How do our visitors know what's here and why do they arrange visits? The microfossil collections are not on display in the Museum galleries and many people are unaware that we have such large collections behind the scenes. Despite this, last year I hosted over 300 visitors to our microfossil collections.
A selection of books and monographs, mainly published in the last 6 months, which illustrate and provide details of over 1,000 of our specimens.
In this post I provide some ranked lists covering the questions 'How do visitors know about our collections?' 'Who are they?' and 'What do they do when they visit the microfossil collections here at the Museum?' Finally there is an interactive panoramic shot of the view most visitors see as they enter our collections.
How do visitors know about our collections?
- Scientific publications that refer to our collections. I have rated this as the highest factor and many enquirers request to see material that has previously been published, particularly when images in older publications do not provide enough information. Modern techniques for imaging including scanning electron microscopy have helped with this, but often there is no substitute for being able to view the specimen down the microscope yourself.
- Reputation/strength of the collection. There are some collections at the Museum, for example the fossil fish collection, where this factor would be at the top of the list. However, I think this factor is not as strong with the microfossil collections as it is often easier for researchers to go and collect their own material to work on.
- Online presence (blogs, Twitter, online catalogue, listservers). This was not previously a driving force in pointing potential visitors to our collections, mainly because so little electronic information was available online. Our collections are now well-represented online and this is an increasingly important method for advertising our collections.
- Advertising by staff word-of-mouth. When I first came to the Museum we had four research micropalaeontological staff here who would be attending conferences all over the world and would often encourage visitors to the collections. This factor is less significant now but still very much part of our remit.
Who are they?
- Researchers from universities or other research establishments. These are the main users of our collection and probably always will be.
- Grant-funded visitors e.g. SYNTHESYS. These could be counted under the heading above but they make up an increasingly large proportion of our visitors and a major grant from the EU provides us with funds to support their visits.
- Students. These are mainly undergraduates and postgraduates, some of whom are supervised by myself, Steve and Tom.
- Scientific Associates and long-term visitors. Retired former members of staff or retired academics who use our facilities make up the majority of these visitors.
- Volunteers/work experience. We currently have several volunteers. Details of volunteering opportunities are available on the Museum website.
- Commercial enquirers. These are usually from oil companies, mining, environmental or archeological consultancies.
- Local enthusiast groups. These are mainly local geological societies.
- Personal contacts. We all have friends and family visit us once in a while...
- Artists. This category is a new entry but is rapidly rising up the list.
- Media. Occasionally journalists visit us, but not as often as we would like.
Dr Steve Stukins giving a tour for MSc students from the University of Birmingham Applied and Petroleum Micropalaeontology course during the recent Micropalaeontological Society conference held at the Museum.
What do they do?
- Pop in for very short visits while or before attending major meetings at the Museum or elsewhere in London..
- Work on research or curation projects with members of staff.
- Attend tours arranged usually for university students or local geological societies.
- Deposit specimens or return loans.
- Use the Heron-Allen Micropalaeontology Library and other facilities.
- Look for artistic inspiration.
The image above is part of a panorama of the Museum's Heron-Allen Library, where we host our visitors. Most of our micropalaeontological collections are held here, along with a world-class collection of micropalaeontological books. The mahogany door you can see in the panorama is one of a pair from the entrance to Edward Heron-Allen's library at Large Acres, Selsey. The house is sadly now demolished.
Hopefully this has answered the question 'who visits our behind the scenes collections?' You may think that the short list I provided does not give exact details of how visitors use our collections. More details can be found in other blog posts I have written on ocean acidification, ancient climates, climate change, early humans in Britain, dinosaurs, exhibitions, students, volunteers and artists.