Dry Store Room No. 1 by Richard Fortey

  • Started on: 2014-01-11
  • Finished on: 2014-01-12
  • Read in: English
  • Rating: “***–”
  • Genre(s): Museology

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My college degree (Dutch: HBO) is in Cultural Heritage, but before they changed the name of the degree a couple of weeks before the graduation ceremony, it was museology. Basically, I’ve been trained for four years to work in a museum (any position really, but my preference will always be registration and documentation of collections). Even though the field I work in has nothing to do with cultural heritage or museums (I do software testing, at the moment for a logistics company), I still love it. So, any vacation my husband and I have, we visit many museums and cultural heritage sites, we watch programs and films about museums, and of course I read books about them. That’s how I came to ‘Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum’ by Richard Fortey. Rochard Fortey is a palaeontologist specialized in the study of trilobites who has worked for the Natural History Museum in London since 1973. This book is his personal store-room of memories of all that time working in the museum. Together with explanations of the how and why of the many types of scientific research undertaken at the Natural History Museum, its history and its building he tells of the people he’s worked with all these years. That makes this book a strange introduction to the specific kind of natural science undertaken at a museum (hint, it’s a LOT of taxonomy) and a book filled with gossip about the strange characters that worked (under tenure) for the museum. Because of its focus on science (which is totally understandable because that is Fortey’s branch of business in the museum) I was disappointed by the book. I had expected/wanted a book about the museum itself. About the collection, the collectors, the conservation, the curators and the exhibitions. Understandable from my point of view, because that is my personal interest in museums. Back in the winter of 20052006 my husband and I did an internship at the micro-palaeontological department of the Earth Studies department of the University of Utrecht. Our task was to register and if needed repackage the collection (of ancient mouse teeth basically) in a database system. We had a wonderful introduction into the many difficulties of taxonomy. We also met many of the types of characters (including the scientists who don’t retire). We were able to look behind the screens at several natural history museum. And my husband went on to work in Mallorca with the Myotragus collection there in his next internship (a collection that is mentioned in this book). That made most of the parts in this book familiar, and a bit too much (I’d rather read about conservation than taxonomy). Another thing that put me off was Fortey’s gossip about his colleagues. I get that he’s trying to describe the quirks of scientists in a museum, but I found it unnecessary to make it so personal (working all your life on just beetles is quirky enough for me). Still, for the most part I can’t fault Fortey for my disappointment with the book, it is a good, if somewhat rambling description and defense of the importance of scientific research in museums. Three out of five stars, but this will probably be higher if the reader likes to read about (natural) science more.