20 Feb 2018

Volunteering as a Curator’s Assistant (Natural Science)

Hi, my name is Kelly and I have been volunteering as a Curator’s Assistant (Natural Science) at the Museum Collection Centre with the Natural Science Curator, Lukas, since October 2017. Alongside volunteering, I am studying for my Masters in Museum Studies with the University of Leicester, working at Sarehole Mill as a Museum Enabler, as well as creating taxidermy birds in my spare time.

I have an innate love for nature and natural history, so this role is the perfect fit! We are currently working on the “Dippy on Tour” project, which will see Dippy, the diplodocus skeleton cast from the London Natural History Museum,  touring around the UK. Birmingham is the second stop on the tour, and the exhibition will open in the Gas Hall in May 2018 and demonstrate how modern birds are the living relatives of dinosaurs, using a range of objects from the bird collection.

Bird Study Skins Conservation

Volunteering initially involved assisting in selecting the best specimens from the collection for display, including mounted taxidermy birds, nests, skeletons and eggs. The object’s accession numbers were then cross referenced with the accession records and registers, to see what information we already knew about the objects, such as who collected or donated them,  and how long they had been in the collection for. If the objects were only recorded in the paper records, they were added to the digital database where all known information, such as dimensions and condition, were entered into the record.

Hook Billed Kingfisher After Conservation 2

We now have a short-list of objects that will be included in the display, which means we have started to perform conservation cleaning ready for when the display will be put together. This involves using soft brushes to remove dust from the objects and tweezers and other tools to gently rearrange and preen feathers. If objects are particularly dusty or have other residues on them, more radical treatments are needed, ranging from the use of water to acetone, and even Vanish in some cases! Simon Moore, the specialist conservator working on the Dippy project, recently ran a session on the conservation of natural history objects for the staff and volunteers on the project. This was hugely useful training, and thoroughly enjoyable!

Kelly and Macaw

The most rewarding part of volunteering with the bird collection is working hands-on with a collection that is mostly hidden from public display and gaining experience and training in a specialist field. Working with the collection has also inspired my assignments for my Masters work. I am currently writing an assignment based upon a fictional exhibition proposal, and the collection has informed my choices of objects, as well as the theme. Volunteering has also helped to solidify my career plans, and confirmed that I do want to pursue a career with Natural History collections.

If you are interested in volunteering for Birmingham Museums then take a look at the current volunteering opportunities we have available across all our sites.