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6 Posts tagged with the collections_management tag

The highlights of creating and using a wildlife sound collection: reflections on a seminar by Margaret Cawsey, Curator of Data, Australian Wildlife Collection, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences on 3 July 2014. 


By Joanna Benedict, Learning Programme Developer at the Natural History Museum.

Margaret Cawsey speaking at the Sounds of Australia seminar Alex Drew is shown working on the sound archive.


On 3 July 2014 Margaret Cawsey shared her experience in managing the sound collection from the Sound Archive at the Australian Nationals Wildlife Collection (ANWC).


Margaret is passionate about organising data and making it accessible for researchers, museum professionals and others interested in finding out about the sounds of Australian birds. She presents a case for why it is important to make the sounds collection accessible and the challenges involved. 

What is a sound archive?



Some of the digital formatted sounds can be accessed online via the Atlas of Living Australia website.The taxonomical data and geographical data of these bird species are available from the database on the Online Zoological Collections of Australian Museum (OZCAM).


Apparently, the ANWC is the only organisation in the Australian museum community to make bird sound files available through the Atlas of Living Australia.

Why collect bird noises?

During the seminar, Margaret played the sounds from the Grey butcherbird and the Pied butcherbird to demonstrate that the sounds from the two similar species are different. This gives researchers the opportunity to use sounds to differentiate the two birds from the same family.

Grey butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus) © Ejdzej. Licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Pied butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) © Michael Schmid. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.


Researchers can use the data to analyse the function of bird sounds in:

•          mating

•          giving out warning signs

•          protecting their young

•          communicating with each other


One study of the sounds from the Moonwalking birds found that the sounds were from the flapping of their wings. This information alone is valuable to further the understanding of the science of wing motion and the unique physicality of the species.

Challenges and questions

There is a high volume of analogue sound recordings, some of which are slowly degrading. This poses a real challenge for Margaret and her team. Converting analogue data to digital data requires many hours of laborious work.


Margaret explains that one physical container of sounds such as a tape or a reel can generate multiples of bird sound files and metadata. Sometimes the metadata for those bird species may also be stored elsewhere on letters and notes. It demands a lot of attention to detail to ensure that the sound files and metadata are named, matched and stored correctly on the Excel spread sheet which feed into the ANWC and the OZCAM database.


The seminar discussed some interesting questions:


•          How accessible is the collection of sounds in Museums compared to other cultural organisations?

•          How useful are the sound files versus the cost of digitalising the files?

•          What are the intrinsic values of the bird sounds to further the understanding of bird research?

•          Does the quality of the sounds matter or it is just a matter of getting the sounds available to the public?


These issues remain to be conclusively dealt with, but the ANWC will continue to work towards the answers as it develops a sustainable approach to the prioritisation of curation of sounds for research.


Margaret is determined to make the collection as accessible as possible to benefit the researchers who can reveal the value of the data. Margaret feels that the intrinsic value of bird sounds lie in being occurrence records as well as providing sounds for the analysis of species distributions and studies of speciation. As occurrence records, the quality of the sound is unimportant as long as it is identifiable and adequate to future analysis.

What’s next?

Margaret welcomes more collaborative work to share knowledge, including the strategic use of volunteers to convert the analogue files and assist with identification of species and collection of metadata, and more funding to recruit staff to locate, identify and curate valuable multimedia collection objects.


In reality, it will take more than 100 years to digitise the analogue data and curate the metadata due to lack of human resources. It is undeniable that there is real value in making the sound collection accessible; however curating and digitalising sound collection remain low in Museums’ work priority as most museums already struggle to find resources to convert their specimen collection to image files.

Despite this, museums professionals can at least start a conversation to discuss the potential in their sound collection and to develop a plan with a vision where the public get to hear those less heard sounds from nature.


Do you have a sound collection?

What is your vision for the collection?

What does your sound collection sounds like?


Share your thoughts and let us hear your sounds get in touch with Margaret Cawsey here


Read more about the Natural History Museum’s Collection Seminars Series.


With thanks to Margaret Cawsey.


Europe’s stored biodiversity: access and preservation


Thursday 25 September  14.30–16.00 Flett Events Theatre

Join Dr Rob Huxley from the Natural History Museum and other key speakers for an overview of Europe-wide projects aimed to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of natural history collections.

For more than 10 years, the Natural History Museum has been an active participant and leader in a number of Europe-wide, collections-related projects. These projects have delivered tools, procedures and training to raise standards in collections management and preservation.

This seminar will focus on SYNTHESYS, a series of EU-funded consortium projects providing support for research access to collections. Its partners are members of the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), an umbrella organisation linking more than 30 institutions with a strong commitment to collections standards and access. A CETAF working group, the Collections Policy Board (CPB) has, for example, delivered common principles for collections loans and visitor access, and hosted workshops on digitisation.

CPB and SYNTHESYS have also identified a need for standardised approaches to collections training and staff development. This has been picked up through EuColComp, a two-year Leonardo da Vinci Programme-funded project to develop a set of universal multi-language competencies and a training curriculum for collections staff.


Who should attend

The seminar is open to all museum professionals. We welcome colleagues from other institutions.

There is no booking fee. If you would like to attend please email:

Tea and coffee will be available after the talk.


Natural History Museum staff do not need to book.


What it will include


  • overview of SYNTHESYS, EuColComp
  • presentation of practical case studies
  • discussion of future developments and opportunities

We have around 80 million items in the Museum collection.  This makes us one of the world's greatest natural history collections and there is a huge amount of expertise, organisation, investment and thinking goes into caring for this resource and making it available to scientists and to many other users, including the general public in the UK and worldwide.


A basic characteristic of any item in the collection is that we know what it is, where it comes from and when it was collected.  Without this information, its value for science is much reduced.  However, because collecting has been in progress since the 17th Century, most of the information that accompanies the specimens is written on paper: on labels or in books, record cards and registers.  A scientist wanting to know whether we have particular items or to find out more information would need to talk to NHM curators or visit us to look at the information resources first-hand.


But in the last ten years in particular, we have been developing electronic databases of the collections.  It's a major task with a lot of experimentation with the best techniques and tools - how do we transfer tens of millions of information points from paper to databases to enable online searches and research resources?  We've got basic information for around 400,000 specimens on our main database at the moment but we need to move faster, and we are trying out different approaches.



a plot of 400,000 specimen records that have been databased, showing origins


A new initiative is to involve members of the public in copying information from the registers online - crowdsourcing.  We are doing this at the moment for our bird collections and would like as many people as possible to join us in this effort - we'll then be able to move more quickly to online information on which bird specimens we have, with information on their place of origin and dates.  Sometimes this information can be used to do research on where bird species once occured but where they have now disappeared because of habitat loss or other factors.




a snapshot of one of the register pages


Have a look at the online ornithology registers on the Notes from Nature site and have a try - you can attempt one-off transcriptions, or register and create an account that allows you to track your contribution to this effort.


Participation and Collections Management: Is good collection management and genuine public participation really possible?



hands on.jpg


Thursday 27th June, 2013, 2.30pm-4.00pm


Flett Lecture Theatre, NHM, South Kensington



Tim Vickers, Collections Care Officer, Luton Culture


What’s it about?:
This talk will look at some of the speakers experience of allowing hands on use of core collections to engage with the public. Focused primarily on the Museums archaeological collections, it will cover some of the risks and benefits of this way of working from a curator’s view rather than just for those who participate.


Who should come?
If you are thinking about or are working on a collections management project where you would like to involve members of the public where the focus is being hands-on.


Science Group: All senior departmental managers & collection management staff.

Public Engagement Group:  Any staff who work with and use collections or manage staff who work with collections.


We also welcome colleagues from other institutions who would find the seminar of interest.


There is no booking fee and only large parties need to notify the organiser for catering purposes.


Tea and coffee will be available in the lobby area after the talk.


Suggestions for seminar speakers are always most welcome.
Please contact the organiser Clare Valentine (


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see


As part of the Annual NHM Integrated Pest Management Awareness


Thursday 26th April 2012

2.30pm - 4.00pm

Flett Lecture Theatre, NHM, South Kensington London, SW7 5BD


Armando Mendez, Suzanne Ryder and David A. Smith from the Natural History Museum

Regular trapping and periodical inspections alerted Natural History Museum’s IPM Group to a rise in the number of webbing clothes moths, Tineola bisselliella, in the Museum’s Mammal corridor in late 2010.  This awareness led to the combined use of pheromone lure traps and a new visual display of trapping data.  This was used with the collections management system KE-EMu  to closely follow the evolution of the infestation.


At the time, a rodent infestation was discovered in a Museum themed gallery, quite distant from the original moth infestation. However, in this rodent location, Tineola moths were also discovered in textile materials contaminated by rodents. The use of pheromone traps and digital cameras proved that both infestations were linked and that there was a strong possibility that the moths were thriving in the welcoming environment created by the rodents. The pests were using under-floor ventilation ducts to move around the Museum’s public galleries, posing a threat to the Mammal specimens on display in those galleries.


To deal with the problems, the Museum’s IPM group coordinated the efforts of several teams to apply remedies based on IPM principles and best practice.Housekeeping, Design & Installation and Estates maintenance teams are working together, coordinated by the IPM group, to control this infestation. A trial of a new pheromone distraction product is also underway.


  • The seminar is open to all museum professionals. We welcome colleagues from other institutions who would find the seminar of interest. There is no booking fee and only large parties need to notify the organiser for catering purposes.
  • NHM staff from Science Group and Public Engagement Group are encouraged to attend, whether managers, collections management staff or those who work with and use collections or manage staff who work with collections.


Tea and coffee will be available in the seminar room lobby area after the talk.


Suggestions for seminar speakers are always most welcome. Please contact the organiser Clare Valentine (

NHM, Collection Management Seminar (see NHM Website for further details on how to attend


Collection Management Seminar As part of the Annual NHM Integrated Pest Management Awareness Day:


Tuesday 31st May 2011, 2.30pm-4.00pm Flett Lecture Theatre


by Armando Mendez, IPM Coordinator and Clare Valentine, Head of Collections for Zoology (and IPM Group Rep.), Natural History Museum, London.

Pests are widely recognised as one of the major risks to museum collections, yet many of the chemical methods which have been successfully used in the past to control them are now known to be hazards in their own right and can no longer be used. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) looks instead at the whole organisation of a museum, its staff, geography, building fabric, and how appropriate training and planning can reduce the pest risk.  Staff at the NHM have made IPM an integral part of their working lives through our policies and procedures. This seminar will review the latest initiatives the IPM Group has implemented and the plans for our new Quarantine facility which is being built this year will be highlighted.

Colleagues from other institutions welcome. For more information and contact details see


Tea and coffee will be available in the Flett lobby after the talk.