So why is it important to have regional collections? Wouldn’t be better if we had a few big, very well equipped super museums, like for instance, The Natural History Museum?
Well there are a lot of reasons why not having all your eggs in one basket (excuse the pun) is important for collections. Firstly, many local museums focus on housing specimens or objects from their region. There are lots of specimens in the bird collection that have been collected from in and around Leeds and out of all the birds they often have the most detailed data.
Secondly, for education purposes it’s great that everyone doesn’t have to travel to one, sometimes quite distant, place to see something. If you want to learn about a subject, whether it be history, textiles, natural sciences or ceramics (to name but a few), it’s a fantastic resource (not to mention cheaper) to be able to go to your local museum. We have varied groups, from small children to people from historic societies or just curious members of the public coming to look at the collection and everybody can find something that is of interest that they want to know more about or can relate to.
Thirdly, it spreads risk. What if you had all the paintings by Picasso housed in one building and there was a fire? Everything would be lost. Having things spread out in different locations not only means that more people have access to different resources but that there is more security and safety for things that may be historically or socially valuable.
In terms of the bird skin collection, the detailed data attached to the specimens is useful information for local natural history societies and local biological recording centres, as they can give a historical reference point to where certain species have been found and if they are still there. Have some species become locally extinct, or have we started having occurrences of other animals not usually associated with the area because of climate change? If something has become locally extinct and they want to re-introduce it they can look at the data to see where it was traditionally found and take steps to improve the habitat in that area so that it will once again support that species.