Dropping in and Doing at Museum Lab

Many visitors to Brighton Museum see our Museum Lab when it’s used for hosting special events – such as our super successful International Women’s Day celebrations last weekend. But it also offers a world of opportunities for schools, community groups and the public to get up close with the Royal Pavilion & Museums’ collections.

Photo of a row of shell in Brighton MuseumFor much of the time, the Museum Lab is locked up to house the collections and curatorial staff working busily away inside. However, every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon, 2-5pm, the lab opens its doors for the public to come inside and get involved. These periods are called Drop in and Do sessions, and I popped into the Museum Lab last week to find out what they’re all about.

We were shown around by the lovely Grace Brindle, Collections Assistant, at a session with a special focus on our Natural Science collections. Grace told us that the Museum Lab staff’s current mission is to catalogue our shell and butterfly collections. This particular Drop in and Do session was focused on shells.

Photo of box bearing handwritten label marked 'sorted'Volunteer members of the public are assigned particular shell specimens, asked to perform independent research and label them accordingly, replacing the archaic, handwritten labels currently in use. When complete, volunteers can make their mark by signing their names on the back of the labels they’ve produced. In Grace’s words, this allows for a real sense of public ownership of our collections. Newly-labelled shells are then photographed, catalogued on Mimsy, our collection management database, and organised into boxes classed as ‘useful’ – in other words, they have been labelled and researched sufficiently enough to be stored. Other shells are organised into educational boxes, soon to be available for schools and community groups to enjoy.

To ensure that volunteers know their gastropods from their cephalopods and bivalvia before labelling the shells, Museum Lab staff keep them buffed up on their knowledge with a classification game during Drop in and Do sessions. The game involves organising some of the oldest and largest shells in our collection into groups, depending on their family. Also available in the Lab during these sessions is a research area with pre-boxed and labelled shells that give volunteers an idea of what they’re aiming for.

Photo of paper butterfly on a stickKids are welcome to all Drop in and Do sessions, with art and craft opportunities available. The most recent masterpieces produced were some gorgeous (and very sparkly!) card butterflies, nodding to the current on-going work on our butterfly collection. Young people can also create their own specimen record cards, giving them a chance to put their drawing skills into practice and become experts on particular species. For anyone who’s in the mood for a touch of still life drawing, taxidermy pieces are brought down from the shelves for closer inspection.

As well as the regular Drop in and Do sessions, we also organise special bumper Drop in and Do days from time to time, with past sessions including visits from the RSPB. We currently have three butterfly-focused bumper sessions planned for July and August, with the opportunity to carry out wildlife surveys in the Pavilion Gardens in store. We’re also hoping to throw a similar shindig at some point during the Easter holidays – more information to come on that one!

Photo of mounted colourful butterfliesWith Drop in and Do well and truly covered by Grace, conversation then turned to Zooniverse, a website dedicated to inviting volunteers to help scientists and researchers deal with the floods of data that confront them. As you know, we at Royal Pavilion & Museums love it when the public get involved, so we’ve also uploaded images of butterflies from our collections alongside their old, handwritten labels, in the hope that you’ll help us to transcribe the text. You can have a go here: https://www.notesfromnature.org/active-expeditions/Butterfly

So, now you know exactly what goes on behind those mysterious, frosted glass doors – and how you can get stuck in yourselves! Why not pop in one day?

Ruby McGonigle
Booking Office and Retail Assistant, Royal Pavilion & Museums