A curator’s challenges

RMNH collection Naturalis Biodiversity Center, 2015

In March 2014, after 12 years as a collection manager at Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the oportunity arose for me to become the curator of the butterfly collection. I greedily took it. The collection is jaw-dropping big, rich and interesting. It contains more than 18.000 drawers full of butterflies of great scientific and cultural value. My first challenge was to create a bit of order in the chaos I inherited.

The collection’s systematic arrangement had to be updated and many drawers were in need of re-curation. While waiting for the completion of a new storage system,  I have spent months creating a “virtual” collection in huge Excel-files with every drawer and its contents from all collections now housed in Leiden: the Naturalis collection, (formerly the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie or RMNH), the collections from the Zoologisch Museum Amsterdam and the Wageningen University, and a few other private collections. Every drawer is given a new position in the new mobile storage cabinets, being built as I write this:

january 2015

After the move into the new system I will be facing many other challenges, the biggest of all being the integration of all collections into a single one. This requires expertise and patience. Lots of patience. Curation, restoration and registration are a fundamental part of this process.

There is another side of curation that it is less obvious: you need to intimately know the collection, its history, its main characters. This kind of knowledge is only attainable by daily dedication. Reading labels, deciphering handwrittings, reconstructing the voyages and passions of each collector, curator and researcher that visited this collection… It takes years to accummulate this expertise, so I might just as well write my findings down in blog posts.

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