Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929
PLANNING A PARK MUSEUM
WHAT THE PARK NATURALIST CAN DO TO START A MUSEUM
By C. A. Harwell
If the Park Naturalist is convinced that a museum is a necessity in his program of interpreting the park to visitors, and if the superintendent supports the project, then there are a number of worth while things he can do, all the while having in mind the definite objective of building and equipping a permanent museum.
He can collect exhibit material himself on his trips within and without the park. He can direct Ranger Naturalists and Rangers to make such collections for him. Interested operators and visitors can also be counted upon for help. He can at first, if necessary, utilize an exhibit space somewhere near the center of activities. It may be only a table under canvas or a corner of some room. His first exhibit must be planned with great care. It is the start of big things. It must arouse favorable comments. The material exhibited must be outstanding in some way. It must have a fresh appearance. It must be arranged in a pleasing and logical way and well labeled. The exhibit must not be crowded or jumbled.
It should be watched closely by the Park Naturalist the first season. Materials should be kept fresh and clean, labels in good shape, and the exhibit changed, expanded or modified in some way from time to time to give it freshness of appeal.
I believe one phase of the park, and if possible the most outstanding one, should be chosen to be stressed from the very beginning, If it is geology, then have a good geological exhibit and have in mind adding others as space and time may become available. Do one thing well. As space becomes overcrowded, the Park Naturalist can ask for more with more assurance of success.
Complete and systematic records should be kept from the very start. Each article placed on exhibit or stored should be given a number which is placed on it in some way. An accession book in which these numbers are recorded and all data concerning description of article, name of donor with date and address, etc., should be kept. Donors should be thanked in writing. In other words, good museum technique should be used from the day the first articles are displayed. This is looking forward to the permanent project for which the Park Naturalist is planning and building up public opinion and support.
There followed an open discussion on the subject introduced by Mr. Harwell’s paper. Many points of particular interest and value to Park Naturalists were brought out.
It was concluded that in parks where there is no immediate prospect for a permanent museum building, or even if it is impossible for the time being to establish a temporary museum, the Park Naturalist should nevertheless immediately start collecting material which will form the basis for exhibits in the future museum.
Chief Naturalist Hall briefly outlined the situation as follows: He accentuated the importance of collecting valuable materials such as archeological or historical exhibits which are rapidly becoming more and more scarce or unobtainable. When this special field is exploited, or partially so, the Park Naturalist faces the question of whether to attempt to form museum collections covering the field of all sciences or to specialize. It was concluded that when collections are about to be started, the scope of the future museum will first be planned and the efforts of the Park Naturalist will then be directed toward collecting in the field most important in that particular park. If material related to other fields of science can be collected concurrently without extra effort, these additional exhibits should be obtained for future use, but the Park Naturalist’s efforts should be concentrated upon one field to insure maximum effectiveness of his own work and maximum quality in exhibits.
When sufficient material has been collected to form a creditable exhibit, this should be carefully labeled and displayed, the installation being temporary if necessary but the arrangement and labelling as carefully planned as if the exhibits were housed in a permanent museum building.
In most cases it will be necessary for the Park Naturalist to form good basic collections before the erection of a permanent museum building will be undertaken by the Park Service or through the assistance of cooperating agencies. It therefore follows that the materialization of a hoped-for museum building will depend largely upon the initiative of the Park Naturalist in forming preliminary collections and also upon the thoroughness and scientific accuracy of his work.
The Park Naturalist should seek the help of specialists at Educational Headquarters in planning the collection, preparation and installation of museum exhibits. Also he should from time to time record data to be used in planning the museum building. A tentative building plan might also be prepared to form a basis for study when construction is contemplated. In each case, however, the ultimate plan for a permanent building will be worked out in cooperation with a Field Naturalist from Educational Headquarters, who specializes in this field and who in turn will consult with cooperating advisors in preparation of final plans. While encouraged in the studying and planning the ultimate museum lay out as it particularly affects his park, the Park Naturalist is expected to devote the greater part of his energies toward the actual collecting and preparation of the material for exhibit.