Leeds Museum Discovery Centre is a museum storage and conservation facility which houses over a million objects which are not currently on permanent display. Based at Clarence Dock near the city centre, the Discovery Centre is a fantastic resource for schools, students and researchers, as well as the curious public. For the past five months I have been working with Rebecca Machin, curator of Natural Science, and the natural science collection in Leeds which comprises of around 800,000 specimens and includes collections of geology, zoology, conchology, taxidermy, osteology, entomology material and a botany collection.
Natural history collections play a vital role in understanding biodiversity, evolution and the environmental impacts of climate change. However, many museums are struggling to get this important information about their collections onto databases due to the large volume of data, and my role was to help with this time consuming task. I have been documenting the Herbarium collection donated by the University of Leeds. Herbaria are important for studying plant taxonomy, studying geographic distributions and in cataloguing the flora of a certain area. The donated sheets had been temporarily stored in plastic wrapping and so I unpacked the bundles and re-stored them in new conservation-grade boxes. I have re-mounted some of the specimens on to acid-free paper to preserve them for the future. I uncovered many plants which have proved incredibly important for tracking climate changes and human impact on local species.
Part of my placement also involved documenting the extensive bird egg collection. This vast collection is full of important scientific data and beautifully delicate specimens, so part of my job was helping to put this collection online. To improve the online data held by the museum I photographed, measured and recorded data from the eggs, such as their condition and where they were collected. Some of the eggs have lots of details including who collected them and how old they are, however some were much harder to document and had very little detail. I also had to assess for any conservation issues that might need to be flagged up with the conservator and identifying problems can prevent further damage to the objects.
My placement has shown me how important natural science collections are for scientific research and for the public. It was great to see how passionate the curators and staff at Leeds are about sharing their brilliant collections with as many people as possible.
I am looking forward to the next few months of continued volunteering at the Discovery Centre, helping to document these invaluable collections for future generations.
All images © Leeds Museums and Galleries.