Although I am mainly dealing with documentation tasks since my traineeship got extended, I still have some time here and there to visit other places and carry on learning about methods outside of my institution. Through my work on a website bringing together the natural science collections across the West Midlands, I have been speaking to people from all over the region. One of them, Ali Wells (Keeper of Collections – Social History & Natural History), kindly invited me to The Herbert in Coventry to see the natural history stores and the collections they house.
I went along (on what happened to be my birthday) and enjoyed gaining insight into another natural history store. You can find out a little bit more about the collections in here and see some lovely images on their Flickr.
When I arrived, Ali introduced me to two students from the Leicester course, James Scarborough and Gemma Tongue, who have just started an eight week placement at the museum. We had a cuppa whilst Ali provided a background of the museum and the collections. It was fascinating because the museum is fairly young (relative to most of the other museums I’ve visited or worked at), having opened in 1960, which has skewed the collections in some ways.
We also discussed the sector in general since James and Gemma are coming to the end of their Museum Studies Course and are thinking about their options afterwards. Having been offered a job myself recently, as well as the gradual increase in museum jobs across the country, I hope they don’t see the situation as being too desperate. I gave them advice that I have picked up over the course of my traineeship; I’m sure they’ll be fine.
Ali then took me on a tour of the natural history collection at The Herbert. It’s not huge but still has around 185,000 objects (many times more than Hereford, for example). As usual it’s easier to show you than tell you; have a look at the images below to get a glimpse behind-the-scenes of The Herbert.
After Ali showed me around the stores she took me to the galleries. Ali specifically wanted to show me the permanent natural history gallery, Elements (opened in 2008). It uses heat, light, sound and more to engage visitors with the natural world. I had a great time walking around it listening, touching and seeing all sorts. The What’s in Store gallery is another great idea. It stores/displays a range of natural history items, including taxidermy, skeletal material and the Spicer fish cases, as well as other collection types. It’s a great way for the public to glimpse behind-the-scenes methods and techniques in person without having to go on a tour or get in touch with curators.
I would like to thank Ali very much for inviting me and being able to spend the time taking me round the stores and some of the galleries. It’s always great to see how other museums do things (or to somewhat confirm that we might not be going mad). I have mixed emotions about Coventry itself (this was my first visit) but whatever you think of the city, The Herbert is a gem and should not be missed.