As I drove over to the Open House at OSU’s Museum of Biological Diversity on Saturday, I was thinking it will be fun to browse around and see the Museum’s collections that I hadn’t seen before, chat with the curators, etc. But as I approached the building on Kinnear Rd. I saw police directing traffic, droves of people heading towards the museum, and saw that we had to park across the street from the museum (where I got the last parking spot!)…then I knew this was a bigger deal than I was expecting! But I’d been to the museum before and it’s a HUGE building, with hallways that must be 100 yards long in each direction so there would be plenty of room for everyone once I got inside. Boy was I wrong!
In Feb. 2013 the annual open house attracted almost 1300 people. When I arrived at about 2 PM on Saturday, one curator told me there had already been 1700 people who had visited (with 2 more hours to go!) and currently there were 600 people in the building! You had to wait in line to enter each room to see the displays and interactives, and every hallway was filled with people. I usually don’t like crowds but I was so pleased to see such a good turn-out and such an interest in museums and natural history! The article that morning in the Columbus Dispatch also helped boost the number of visitors. This just reinforces my belief that people have a tremendous interest in the natural world and its inhabitants. This is why natural history museums of all sizes are found in cities across the country and why they are so well attended. One statistic that we museum folks love to throw around is that there are about 850 million visits each year to American museums (all museums, not just natural history), more than the attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks combined (in 2011 that equaled 483 million visits).
Walrus hide and tusks – Tetrapod Division.
Anyway, for many years I operated a zoological museum on a university campus that had a similar mission to OSU’s, mostly a research and teaching museum with few public exhibits. Almost everyday on that job someone would come in and see the collections and exclaim: “You need to put these out on exhibit where people can see them!” We lobbied the administration constantly to try to get funding for a small exhibit museum but with no luck. We did however build many small display cases on campus, filled with specimens, and also loaned specimens to the local nature center. We did what we could, and would roll our eyes when we heard the dreaded “You need to put these out on exhibit…” statement. So back to my visit Saturday, when I saw the overwhelming response by the public the OSU open house, I blurted out to the curator “You need to put these out on exhibit!” But it always comes down to the lack of money to hire staff and to create engaging exhibits. Even large universities seem to have the same financial limitations that our smaller campus had.
We already have some specimens from the Museum of Biological Diversity on exhibit in our recent “Relics” exhibit and will have some more in the upcoming “Extinctions” exhibit. Hopefully we can work with OSU more in the future and in creative ways to help exhibit the tremendous collections that they house.