In our last interview on Professional Geek Podcast, Emily Graslie, host of The Brain Scoop on YouTube and Chief Curiosity Correspondent at the Field Museum, told us that the Field Museum in Chicago only displays about 1 percent of its total collection. She also told us that the first museum she worked in, the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum, doesn’t even have a public collection. I started to think about museums from a different point of view, and even asked a question I thought I had a pretty solid grasp on: what is a museum? Luckily, the first result was a Brain Scoop video with that very title!
On a recent visit to Tucson, Arizona, I got a chance to visit both the Biosphere 2 earth science facility and the Kitt Peak observatory, both of which are active research facilities with public components. These places didn’t make me question what a museum was, but they directed my thoughts in that direction. My favorite thing about both facilities, but especially Kitt Peak, was that the majority of the facility was dedicated to scientists who work hard to learn new things about the Universe. It was only until after hearing our interview with Emily that I put the two together; museums are also active research facilities, in the same way Biosphere 2 and Kitt Peak are!
It’s amazing that we here in Chicago have access to The Bedroom by Vincent van Gogh, Sue the T-Rex, and real live giant cats, all on one short train ride. But the real magic happens behind the scenes; rather than being object-prisons, serving only the peering eyes of the public, these giant buildings are more like warehouses for the scientists that study the treasures within.
I am definitely not saying that curious visitors shouldn’t come to museums, though! A visitor to a vast public institution like the Field Museum should, however, bring with them the same hunger for learning that the scientists behind the scenes bring to work with them every day. We also must humbly remember that we’re seeing the result of uncountable hours of study by an equally uncountable number of scientific professionals who came to that building to try to learn something new. It’s because of them that we have such beautiful public spaces for the curious public to see object, animals, paintings, history, or whatever else in real life.
Have you ever volunteered for a museum? How often do you think about the men and women working behind the scenes advancing our understanding of their subject as you visit a museum? Lets discuss over at Facebook and on Twitter!