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Te Papa sets the record straight on collections and science

Te Papa sets the record straight on collections and science

As Te Papa looks to modernise the way it works, some have suggested that the museum could put national collections at risk, or fail to fulfil its role in scientific research.

Te Papa Chief Executive Geraint Martin says that inaccurate claims and speculation are raising fears that are unfounded, and not grounded in fact.

“The museum has made major investments in science and collection care over recent years, and is set to continue these,” says Mr Martin.

“Te Papa is one of the country’s leading centres of taxonomic research, and collections are at the absolute core of that work. In future we will drive even better care of the collections, and continue our focus on high quality research.”

Numerous data points show how collections are underpinning high-quality science research.

Te Papa research is consistently funded by the Marsden Fund, the nation’s premier blue skies research fund, because of research quality.
Other organisations commission $700,000 of science research from Te Papa per year, which employs an additional five researchers on top of Te Papa’s permanent staff.
The museum spends $250,000 a year on acquiring new science collections, including scientific expeditions to collect in the field.
Te Papa science curators publish approximately 50 peer reviewed science papers a year.
125 visiting science researchers accessed the collections in the last year.
Te Papa is making an $11 million investment in Taiao Nature, the biggest ever investment in science education at Te Papa and the biggest new investment at the museum in its lifetime.

Mr Martin says the museum has taken major steps in recent years to improve the quality of collection care, and modernise its approach.

“Te Papa has had a focus on in recent years on raising the standard of collection care. A new Collections Policy is in place, and for the first time the museum has collections strategies across each of its five collection areas. These have been developed in consultation with specialist staff, and are vitally important to define the standards of care, and the priorities for each collection area. We are now moving to implement those,” Mr Martin says.

“Preserving heritage is a fast-changing field. Museum science in the modern era requires skills like DNA analysis, scanning electronic microscopy, and 3D spatial analysis.”

“To preserve the past we have to move with the times,” Mr Martin says.

Mr Martin says that inaccurate claims about staffing levels are unhelpful and simply wrong.

The proposal which the museum had put to staff for feedback proposed moving from 15 Collection Managers to 11. These roles span across all five collection areas: science, maatauranga Māori, history, art, and Pacific.

“In 2012 there were seven science collection managers, and there are currently five. In that time we have added new roles, such as a DNA specialist, and built both genetics lab and an ancient DNA lab. The way we care for collections and use them for research is changing, and Te Papa is changing to reflect that.”

“Te Papa has strong science leadership at every level, driving our strong performance in collections-based research,” Mr Martin says.

On Te Papa’s Board: Sir Peter Gluckman, formerly the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser and one of the nation’s most well respected scientists, along with environmentalist Rob Fenwick.
Dr Dean Peterson, formerly Te Papa’s Head of Science, has just taken on a new position as the museum’s Director of Strategy and Performance – he has previously held senior roles at NASA, Antarctica New Zealand, the Marsden Fund and Callaghan Innovation.

Te Papa’s new Head of Science is Dr Susan Waugh, formerly a senior science curator and one of the nation’s leading experts on seabird ecology.

Mr Martin says that national collections are spread across many institutions and working with that network is vital. After The Royal Society recommended that New Zealand science intuitions work together on national taxonomic collections, the National Systematics and Taxonomic Collections Working Group was formed and is chaired by Te Papa’s Dr Dean Peterson.

Mr Martins says that Te Papa has a very clear legislative mandate to care for and develop the collections, and collection care measures are reported on annually and audited.

“Te Papa’s Board and leadership are crystal clear on our role as stewards of these collections. That is why we are seeking out new ways to unlock their secrets, and preserve them for future generations.”


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