Night at the Museum by Lisa Di Tommaso
The Museum opened its doors again last Friday for our Science Uncovered festival, part of European Researchers' Night. For this special night, members of the public were allowed exclusive access to our science and specimens as we opened the doors and showed them our wares.
The Library and Archives, in both South Kensington and Tring, contributed to the night in a wide variety of ways. We hosted twelve behind the scenes tours showcasing some of the treasures held in the library. Included in the display were works of scientific importance such as the botanical illustrations of Sydney Parkinson, artist on board Captain James Cook’s Endeavour expedition (1768-1771), who was the first European to capture the new and exotic plants of the southern continents. Also on show were letters from Alfred Russel Wallace, and works by Albertus Seba and Conrad Gesner. We showcased many works which have recently been, or are now being digitised and made freely available on the Internet, through a variety of projects.
Library staff also chatted to hundreds of members of the public throughout the night in the Images of Nature Gallery, where we are able to display some of our beautiful watercolours in temporary displays, as well as more permanent exhibitions of our oil paintings. We were even able to encourage some to draw their own art!
More chatting went on in the Science Bar where four staff were based, getting into full and frank debates with the public on a variety of thought-provoking topics over a drink, including the question of whether we actually need real objects anymore, with everything being available to see electronically now. Staff enjoyed interacting with a variety of people.
Our bravest librarian, Sarah, manned one of the Soapboxes on the night. Think ‘Speakers Corner’ in Hyde Park! Sarah expounded the virtues of electronic resources over traditional paper material, and faced the wrath of the public and their heckling!
Our Archives team ran tours showcasing the records and images they hold relating to the Museum and World War Two, including photos of the bombing of the galleries and the evacuation map showing the stately homes the collections went to. There were also some letters from one of our entomologists who ended up in a POW camp in Java and wrote about the conditions, but also the research he did while in the camp. There were even some artefacts such as a gas mask.
And Alison, our librarian in the Walter Rothschild Museum in Tring, worked alongside a scientist colleague, Douglas Russell, and displayed the notebooks of Hubert Lynes and his book on Cisticola (members of the Warbler family). Lynes was a noted ornithologist who in his lifetime was considered the leading expert on African birds. Alison brought out some of Lynes’s notebooks, photos and the original drawings from his book of 1930 by leading artist Henrik Gronvold. Douglas showed some nests, an egg and some skins.
It was a great night and a brilliant opportunity for the Library and Archives, as well as all the staff at the Museum, to talk to the public about what we do, and show off some of our wonderful collections. Bring on 2014!