Natural Science Collections West Midlands

Subject specialist networks are vital to keep the awareness of and training for specific subject areas dynamic and available. They are also invaluable for building links with individuals and institutions, forging collaborative relationships with people up and down the country. Within natural science there are NatSCA, GCG and WMNSCG to name but three.

The latter is the subject of this post. Since joining Herefordshire Museum Service nearly 18 months ago as a biology curatorial trainee, I’ve attended three of the group’s meetings. I was asked at the last meeting to come up with an updated web presence for the group. The previous website contains almost wholly out-of-date information, isn’t particularly pretty to look at and is not easily updated. So with over 15 institutions in the WMNSCG, I had my work cut out.

The first step was to discuss what the group wanted from the site. We hoped it would show off the natural science collections of the region, providing information for those who worked with similar collections or simply had some other interest in them. We also wanted it to be easily updated, able to share natural science news and events across the West Midlands, as well as a point where the group’s members could obtain information (next/previous meeting details, for example).

I devised a template for the institutions’ pages and sent it out for everyone to fill in. It contained:

  1. A brief introduction to the organisation;
  2. Overview of the natural science collections;
  3. Highlights of said collection;
  4. Access information;
  5. Future/current developments; and
  6. Contact details for the person/people responsible for the collections.

I also asked for high-res images of the buildings, collection areas and, most importantly, some lovely photos of some of the highlights of the collections. I felt it was vital that the website looked great and really engaged with anyone browsing through its pages.

As I started getting the forms and images in I was able to get to work. I proofed and, where necessary, edited the copy in an attempt to standardise the site and maintain the same tone throughout. Many of the images I received were good but by tidying them up I was able to make them a little more representative as well as more appealing. Museum lighting doesn’t do much to help the objects look photogenic.

The biggest challenge was using a blogging site to give the impression of a relatively sophisticated website. Considering it’s completely free and that my knowledge of websites isn’t that comprehensive, I’m fairly proud of how it looks. I did have to dabble in HTML to get the results I wanted and I was surprised to find that I found it quite straightforward. As I went, I was in constant communication with members of the WMNSCG who kindly made suggestions.

Getting the site done has been an organic process. Although I drove the process itself, coordinated and moderated the information, cobbled the site together and more, without the individuals at each institution working hard to supply content on a limited time-scale, I would never have been able to get this all together. It might not be perfect yet but hopefully it’s not too far off. Please take a look and let me know your thoughts.

A special thank you to Ali Wells at The Herbert for inviting me to visit her, showing me around the collection area and offering great suggestions; Holly Sievwright who, in addition to supplying suggestions and PMAG‘s content, also submitted extra material, making the website infinitely more interesting; and Lynsey Fairweather and her volunteers at Thinktank who were able to contribute information about their project.

I hope the natural science community, and the museum world generally, enjoys the site and sees the amazing specimens and facilities the West Midlands has to offer the sector. As the first site to present a subject specialist view of museum collections from across a region (as far as I know, please correct me if I’m wrong), I hope we’ve done it justice.

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