A friend of mine just received an email from Amazon recommending that, based on her recent activity, she might like to purchase The Future of Natural History Museums. She was so impressed, she mailed it to me. I’m so impressed that I’m including it for you.
So, the book. It was a collaboration between the International Council of Museums and Routledge Press, the first in their “ICOM Advances in Museum Research” series. It is the work of about 20 authors from around the the world, all experts in their field, who collectively consider the direction that the industry is taking over the next twenty to fifty years. The book considers the subject through the lenses of many topics including collections, education, business, exhibitions, ethics, research, interactivity and museum security.
Putting it together has been quite a journey. It began in 2014 at the annual meeting of the International Council of Museums Committee for Museums and Collections of Natural History (ICOM NATHIST) in Zagreb. The theme was “The Future of Natural History Museums” and dealt primarily with the philosophy of where the field is, and should be, headed in the next decades. The next year the conference was held in Taipei, with the theme “Natural History Museums: Building Our Future,” as a follow-up designed to look at the practicalities and challenges associated with achieving that vision.
I think people came away from both those meetings with a renewed sense of purpose. I know I did. In talking to those delegates following the meeting, it wasn’t difficult to encourage them to contribute to a book, and many of them have written chapters that describe and predict many of our industry’s most important trends.
So where are we going? I should just tell you to read the book but, at the risk of oversimplifying some truly first-rate thinking, one of the main themes that came to the fore is the importance of individualizing the experiences and connections of all our stakeholders, whether they are visitors, donors, government influencers, researchers or online commentators who will never visit us physically. The importance of this stems in part from social media that increasingly allows people to curate their own experiences, from ordering pizza to planning holiday travel. At the same time, natural history institutions have grown more nuanced in messaging, both through formal education and the many informal channels they possess. We have seen that we are more effective when we encourage people to take their own journey – to make their own meanings from what they observe.
For me, and for many of the authors of this book, a successful museum is where every person who engages with it finds something that speaks meaningfully and directly to them. Those institutions that understand this will thrive, and that thriving is what we hope to accomplish in the two-year journey that this book represents.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank not only the people who contributed chapters to this book (and I am extremely grateful), but all those whose writing and thinking inspired and encouraged us, who set the stage – and the tone – for the work that we now undertake, as leaders and practitioners in the world’s natural history museums. The village that it takes to accomplish this is very large indeed.