Once upon a time there was an amazing naturalist by the name of Carol B. Stein. She was a remarkable woman whose accomplishments were too numerous to be outlined in a single blog post. We’ll be sharing more about Dr. Stein in future posts, from images of her admirable field journals to an explanation of how she began to digitize the freshwater mussel collection LONG before anyone else even recognized that it would become standard… but that story isn’t quite ready for mass perusal.
Today, instead, we’re going to learn a little bit about the history of the Museum of Biological Diversity from a scrapbook gifted to us by Dr. Stein upon her passing in 2010. She put together a binder in 1970 and filled it with a historical record of the museum as it existed at the time. I’ve included a somewhat amended version of it here.
Back then the collections, now housed at 1315 Kinnear Rd, were in the basement of Sullivant Hall, now home to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.
Carol Stein’s original document focused on showing panoramic views of every storage area and office of the museum and was a bit too mollusc-centric to be interesting viewing for our non-malacologist readers. I’ve attempted to highlight any images of the storage areas that are artistically beautiful photographs or those that describe the nature of the inner workings of the museum at the time of the photos.
This post and the following one on Friday are going to be an exploration of the inside of a museum 46 years ago. There are many parts that are shockingly similar to what you can see today such as the constant challenge of space management and the barely tempered chaotic nature of collecting. Of particular interest, the more disparate aspects of then and now, visible in images showing the old public exhibits at the museum. The bird display is quite ambitious, well-executed, and rather terrible for the specimens. Now those specimens live primarily in drawers, protected from the more preventable ravages of time.
These images tell the story of one of most challenging aspects of a museum: Maintaining an ever-shifting balance between accessibility and preservation. In order for a collection to seem inviting and available to museum patrons it must be regularly (or even constantly) subjected to the evils of dust, light, and air. For biological specimens this leads to rapid deterioration. The solution of course, is to have all specimens sealed away at all times. Unfortunately a complete and utter lack of visible collections makes for an uninspiring and less-than-educational museum experience. The struggle, then, lies in determining a happy medium between a museum’s archival role and its role as a public resource. It’s no small task, especially when paired with a chronic shortage of time, money, and space.
First, below, a look at the operations-side of a museum. On Friday look forward to images of the exhibits no longer present in modern iterations of the museum.