Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929




By C. P. Russell

National Park museums are extremely young. The first one was brought into existence in 1920. We may feel that we are handicapped in that there is little or no precedent to follow; small experience upon which to rely. On the other hand, we may well welcome an opportunity to pioneer in a field that is uncrowded and but little explored. No misconceptions should exist as to the importance of the niche in the museum world which park museums may occupy. It has been pointed out that our entire educational opportunity is exceptional and our material unique. The attention of leading scientists and educators has been focused upon us and we are challenged with the responsibility of making good with an “opportunity which exceeds that of any great educational institution or group of institutions.”

In seeking an understanding of the purpose of park museums one quite naturally gives consideration to the functions of museums in general. I am sure I can do no better in describing museum functions than has Mr. Coleman in his Manual for Small Museums. I should like to read his chapter, “The Purpose of Museums.” (Reads pages 10, 11 and 12.)

There are certain high lights in the chapter which I may well repeat and emphasize as being especially pertinent to our consideration of the purposes of a park museum.

“The ultimate purpose of museums is to raise the general level of refinement by giving pleasure and imparting knowledge.”

“Research may find but limited opportunity in a small museum, however, in general, a natural balance between scholarship and educational activity is prerequisite to continued growth and vitality.”

“Relations with museums are voluntary ones, they are recreational, and therein lies their greatest power.”

“Educational work of museums applies the principles of visual instruction. Through the work of a museum people may be led to intelligent understanding. They may learn greater love for the out-of-doors and become protectors of the country’s natural resources.”

We are safe, probably, in stating that park museum functions differ from general museum functions only as their scope differs from the scope of the usual museums. Our emphasis can, quite logically, be placed upon that aim which makes for intelligent understanding of the out-of-doors.

The park museum is one cog in the wheel and perhaps we can agree that it is the most substantial and important cog in the entire machine of the educational department. I think we may state that the primary function of the park museum is identical with the purpose of the general educational program. In previous discussions of the purposes of our general educational program we have agreed that our great objective has been to interpret park features so as to make for an appreciation of the park and, incidentally, to aid the cause of conservation. May we not say that this is also the ultimate aim of the park museum?