Thursday, July 07, 2016

Camaraderie among the Collections

kw: natural history, natural science, museums, collections, photographs, sociability

Today nearly everyone who is regularly to be found "upstairs" at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, that is, in the Collections and Research area, was there. We practically filled our little lunch room. I suppose the stereotype of "museum people" is that we are super-nerds, antisocial, spending our time among musty, dusty old stuff, and just sort of hiding out up there.

It is true that scientists and science hangers-on tend to be introverted. But that doesn't mean we are all loners. Rather, in contrast to extroverts, we can tolerate aloneness without being lonely. The eleven people seen here include four "real scientists", an intern, myself as a paid contractor, and five volunteers who enjoy the kinds of work found in a research collection.

The woman looking at the camera is Dr. Elizabeth Shea, the Curator of Mollusks, my supervisor. The man in orange is Alex Kittle, the Mollusk Collections Manager. Behind him, nearly hidden, is Dr. Jean Woods, the Curator of Birds (and other vertebrates). The young man in purple is Nate Shoobs, a graduate student of Conchology (mollusk studies), who is already making a name for himself in the field of terrestrial gastropods (land snails and tree snails). I am next to Nate. One of the volunteers comes to this museum one day a week, and travels one day a week to Washington, DC, to volunteer at the Smithsonian. There was about an even mix of volunteers plus interns working mollusks and birds today.

I suspect not many lunch rooms have stuffed monkeys hanging on the walls. Museums use every available space for items that are not on display! The big wreath is a few hundred sorta-big sea shells glued to a plywood backing. It hasn't been on display in years, but when someone in Exhibits gets the notion to display "natural history art", it will probably spend some time downstairs.

Today a lot of the discussion was related to ultra-marathons. One volunteer has a son who runs hundred-mile races. He usually finishes. He lives in Colorado, where one famous race starts at the edge of the town of Breckenridge, at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet (~3,000 m). Then it goes uphill, above 12,000 ft (~3,600 m). The trail descends and joins the road leading through Leadville and then south to somewhere near Granite, Colorado. That's halfway. They turn around and run back. Whoever doesn't finish in 30 hours doesn't get a T-shirt. You don't drive to Colorado from sea level to compete in this race!

Most days the lunch bunch amounts to six or seven of us. And at times I've worked a few days as the only person on the floor. But usually there is enough companionship available to break up the silence of a day spent either doing research, or getting stuff ready for other people to do research.

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