Report edited by Gary Cleland(*), Velson Horie (+) and Ian Wallace(*).

Compiled and published by the North West Collections Research Unit (NWCRU). Simon Hayhow, Secretary, c/o Fleetwood Museum, Queen's Terrace, Fleetwood, Lancashire FY7 6BT Report grant aided by the North West Museums Service. Comments and enquiries about the content of this report may be sent to The Natural History Department, Bolton Museum & Art Gallery, Le Mans Crescent, Bolton, Lancashire BL1 1SE This report was compiled in 1994, but not published until 1997. The hard copy version [ISBN: 0-9532140-0-1] may be obtained from The North West Museums Service, Griffin Lodge, Cavendish Place, Blackburn BB2 2PN, England

(*)National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside (Liverpool Museum) (+)Manchester Museum


Sixty institutions in the North West Museums Service region hold a total of 8,656,693 Natural Science specimens. Of these, 25% are in need of re-housing (estimated cost £2,556,679); 81% are in need of documenting onto computer (estimated cost £1,402,594); 9% are in need of conservation (estimated cost £981,028); grand total to bring all of the region's natural science collections to a usable state is £4,940,301.*

A number of recommendations are given to help reach this desired goal.

Once brought to a usable state, the collections will require continued care and monitoring to prevent deterioration. The survey did not attempt to estimate this but, for example, the installation of monitoring equipment in all un-equipped stores would cost £62,220.

It can be presumed that £5 million will not appear at once. Priorities must be established to spend what becomes available. In any case it would be indefensible to attend to the needs of collections of little potential use while under-utilising important collections. Clearly this must involve ranking collections and possible methods are discussed.

Museums are not static institutions and a survey report begins to get out-of-date as soon as it is complete. This report represents the situation at August 1994 and the data and statements made about individual institutions were approved for publication by officers at those participating museums in summer 1994.

* N.B. The method of estimating collection management costs: It is important to stress that these are estimates based on costs at the time of the survey. They are a preliminary attempt at producing guidelines to assist museum managers assess the cost effectiveness of decisions such as conservation, rationalisation, storage and transferral. Some museums have made significant progress in tackling such issues since the survey was carried out.


In the area covered by the North West Museums Service (NWMS) there are approximately 8 million specimens in natural science collections. These are spread across 60 institutions with responsibilities ranging from funding a national museum and university to local authority museums of all sizes and small visitor centres. The collections represent a resource, held in trust, for education and display, and scientific, historical, and social research.

The North West Collections Research Unit (NWCRU) was set up in the late 1970s to produce a report on the location and extent of natural science collections in the geographical area covered by NWMS. This pioneering work culminated in the publication in 1981, through Manchester Museum, of a catalogue, edited by Hancock and Pettitt.

A large amount of resource (person-power and money) over many years has been, (and is being) expended on forming and caring for these collections. However, recent surveys have suggested that inadequate care has been widespread leading to deterioration and disappearance of specimens and/or their documentation.

Due to this physical neglect and lack of appreciation of the resource, there was no guidance for policy makers and funders as to the detailed extent of the problem or what it might cost to put right. The problems are undoubtedly compounded by the variety of bodies holding collections, their legal and funding status and the uses to which they put the material.

The disturbing revelations in 'Biological Collections U.K.', published by the Museums Association in 1987, led to the Museums & Galleries Commission setting up the Natural Sciences Incentive Fund (NSIF). An opportunity was seized in the North West of England to use this money to re-activate NWCRU. The new survey was not only to catalogue the collections, as in the 1970s, but to record their physical state and that of their surroundings, and to assess the quality of their documentation and the extent of its abstraction on to computer.

Another major product which will be published is an update of the 1981 Hancock and Pettitt 'Register of Collections' in North West England.

From the data it was hoped to provide details on an institution by institution basis of what the collections contained and how much it would cost to make them fully accessible and free from immediate deterioration, which by the addition of the costs of all the institutions would furnish figures for the whole region.

Additionally, it was decided to use some of the data to attempt to develop priorities where money should be spent.

Twenty one curators undertook the 1990-1993 survey. Statistical analysis of the general data at an institutional level was devised and carried out by Gary Cleland at Liverpool Museum.

Velson Horie, analysed the store-room and collection state data and, assisted by Mike Hounsome and Megan Cartin, at Manchester Museum devised and undertook the statistical analyses leading to ranking criteria for collections on physical needs and scientific merit. The formulae for ranking, however, needs further consultation and refining. They will be published in a separate paper. Ian Wallace of Liverpool Museum wrote the introductory section.

The data has been approved by officers at each institution and reflects the situation at August 1994.

Scope of the Survey

The survey covered national and local authority funded museums, also museums or teaching collections in schools, colleges and research institutes and those in learned societies and National Trust properties. In general the survey did not cover collections currently being built up and used, and also regrettably often discarded, by research workers, particularly in universities; these we have classed as private collections, which as a class was not included because meaningful summaries could not be produced.

It is difficult to know how to survey private collections, but the largest, or most significant were picked up during the NWCRU survey and are held on that data base. These will be published with permission, in the revised edition of the catalogue. Most of the important collections in "private" hands, however, are scheduled to transfer to a major (Class A ) museum in the region.

'Biological Collections, UK' 1983/84 survey obtained results from 50 institutions. That report classified museums into 7 types. The NWCRU survey obtained results from 61 organisations during 1990-93. All have since been contacted and permission obtained to publish results and if necessary up-date entries, to reflect the 1994 situation. These institutions were then classified into 5 categories (Appendix 1.1b).

Acknowledgements and List of Participants

Production of this extensive report has been of necessity a collective effort. Appendix 1.1a lists all of the participating contributors who performed the original survey work. Gary Cleland has summarised the information and produced this report with significant help and support from Ian Wallace, Mike Graham and Steve Garland. Eric Greenwood has commented extensively on the text. Bill Pettitt has overseen data entry onto the computer database at Manchester Museum; Simon Hayhow and Mike Graham collated environmental storage and institutional data; and Steve Garland identified and collated pest data.

Velson Horie devised the forms for this survey and analysed those concerning store-room and collection state. He and Mike Hounsome devised formulae to rank collections. Megan Cartin input collection data and with Horie and Hounsome developed the conclusions for conservation needs.

The report would not have been completed without the support from the various institutions employing participating curators in allowing staff time to undertake surveys and compile reports. The report compilers would particularly like to thank authorities at:

All of whom provided significant staff resources for the survey.

The survey work, data computerisation and production of the report was financially supported by the North West Museums Service (NWMS). Gary Cleland wishes to acknowledge the support he received from colleagues at Liverpool Museum, particularly Steve Cross. Finally, and most importantly, a special thanks is extended to Joy Carroll, for her assistance during the prolonged creation of this document and Karen Thomas for typing the final report.

NWCRU Members who took part in the survey

* Curator who has moved into or out of the North West region during the project.

Recommendations (with an estimate of their cost implications)

Recommendation 1. The priority across the region is funding for re-housing and for computer documentation.

Costs. North West Regional Collated Cost Estimates.

Table 1 - Rehousing, Documentation & Conservation Costs
Rehousing Documentation Conservation Totals
Class A 2,341,794 1,329,637 776,168 4,447,599
Class B 150,192 33,315 138,918 322,425
Class C 1,339 1,757 786 3,882
Class D 35,465 31,405 42,968 109,838
Class E 27,889 6,480 22,188 56,556
Totals £2,556,679 £1,402,594 £981,028 £4,940,300

The total estimate to bring all the North West collections to a fully usable state is £4,940,300.

Recommendation 2. Care of the collections.

Material is best cared for when the material is integrated into actively used collections under the specific charge of a natural sciences curator. This is in line with current Standards in the Care of Biological Collections issued by the Museums & Galleries Commission in 1992.

Institutions which are not using their natural science material should be encouraged to offer it to another appropriately staffed body. The costs incurred by the recipient institution must be found. In the appendices this recommendation is abbreviated to Funded transfer.


If all Class B, C and E material was transferred to Class A institutions the minimum cost will cover re-storage and documentation, the latter essential for legal reasons. The collated estimates under Recommendation 1 show this minimum transfer cost to be: £220,972. However, for various reasons, it is most unlikely that all Class B, C and E material could be transferred. In addition, local policy, or personnel changes at the potential donor institution, may require the use of the collection in that location.

An attempt to get a more realistic figure was to use survey data about specimen use. Table 2 gives an indication of the amount of material estimated as being un-curated and unused, and the costs. This works out as a grand total for Classes B, C and E of £212,588. Class D institutions are a diverse group and much material is unlikely to pass to other museums. However, if such transfer took place the cost would be £66,870, or £18,320 if only unused material is considered.

Table 2 - Cost of bringing Unused Collections Back Into Use
Rehousing Documentation Conservation Totals
Class A 16,066 5,539 6,925 28,530
Class B 135,852 33,258 133,748 180,558
Class C 10,409 2,334 5,273 19,056
Class D 13,975 4,345 19,540 37,860
Class E 25,675 5,060 15,308 46,043
Totals £201,977 £50,536 £180,794 £433,307
  1. This cost assumes, quite incorrectly, that museum stores are of adequate size but unfortunately; this is frequently not the case. The major problem is mounted animals, which often cannot be fitted into expansion room in systematically arranged collections and hence tend to consume a lot of space. Further, sound though non- standard cabinets, which proved adequate at the donor site, may be of no use to the recipient. Indeed the recipient institution may have to undertake a complete re-housing of the collection into standard cabinets in order to make it usable. No attempt has been made to estimate the implications of these points.
  2. We have also made the assumption that there are recipient museums who want the material but this may not be the case as the collections concerned may not be a significant addition to their assets.

Recommendation 3. Disposal Policies

All organisations with natural science material should ensure that they have well-defined procedures, or instructions regarding actions to be taken leading to disposal. For non-museums it is suggested that a neighbouring museum natural historian keeps a watching brief, on behalf of the material and alerts the North West Museums Service if problems seem to be arising. In the appendices this recommendation is abbreviated to "Keep watching brief".


Very difficult to estimate, but it is important some charge is made to the non-museum, or the North West Museums Service, in order to emphasise the real value of the material. The aim is to move toward all such institutions being covered by Recommendation 5.

Recommendation 4. New staff appointments

Whilst most significant museum natural science collections are currently cared for by a natural science curator, two places - Sefton (caring for Southport, Crosby and Bootle) and Stockport could support a natural scientist on the staff, who could exploit the collections and provide a good service. As an example of the benefits of a changed policy we cite Oldham. This authority, from having a policy of un-utilised stored natural history collections, has become particularly active to the benefit of the collections and the public through the appointment of a natural history curator.


Minimum of £15,000 per year per institution. Considerable costs are also required in order to bring the storage and documentation up to standard. However, these costs will need to be borne by someone, even if the material is transferred.

Recommendation 5. Better use of collections

Institutions who use their collections little, but who do not wish to consider disposal should enter into a formal agreement with either a neighbouring institution, or a consultant to care for the material; the holding body would also be encouraged to seek advice on increasing the use of the collections.


At a minimum, this is a one day inspection per year for all Class B, C and E. At £80 per day this becomes £2,720 per year. Adding Class D raises this to £4,160 per year.

Any grant aid to such an institution would be dependent upon adequate arrangements being made for the care of the collections.

Recommendation 6. Flexible funding

Flexibility of funding is required. The Natural Sciences Incentive Fund has proved of assistance to museums that are able to benefit from grants. This leaves significant lacunae: society collections such as Bacup Natural History Society; research institute collections such as The Institute of Freshwater Ecology; private collections (clearly only those with legally binding eventual deed of gift to a larger museum) would be appropriate recipients.


Difficult to estimate. Objective criteria should be established to assess the relative value of collections. For scientific value, the quality of label information and rarity within collections appear worth testing and refining. However, it must be appreciated that new scientific developments can change how a specimen is viewed - work on 'ancient' DNA being an example of a such a developing field.


The detailed results of the survey are shown on the following pages. Conclusions on the state of the natural science collections for the region as a whole are also presented here. Results are presented on an institutional basis in this report (see 'Details' links below). A range of individual collection condition monitoring forms were designed by Velson Horie at Manchester and significant amounts of data were collected and analysed. Emphasis is upon collections, rather than institutions and reflects current thinking by the Museums & Galleries Commission and the Museums Association. This data is available as the North West Database Collections Register.


The basic information resulting from the survey has been put onto computer databases at National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, (Liverpool Museum) and Manchester Museum. It is hoped to keep these up to date and reflect changes which come to NWCRU's attention. The North West Database Collections Register will be made available on disc.

The raw data in the form of completed survey forms is held at Manchester Museum, which will act as the repository for all documentation relating to both the Register and 'Skeletons in the Cupboard'. The written permissions from officers at each institution to publish their data is also held at Manchester.



A desired aim is for natural history specimens to be housed where they are permanently secure from damage. Most buildings appeared structurally sound. No attempt was made to cost building works as a structural report would be required to define what were thought to be minor building repairs.

However, for the majority of buildings, the storage and often the display areas, failed to meet even minimal environmental standards.

Mixed-use buildings could provide additional security problems. In certain institutions the survey revealed active deterioration due to damp, or insect attack and in some cases, as a result of the survey, money was obtained via the Natural Sciences Incentive Fund to remedy the situation.

In the majority of cases damage was a potential rather than active event. These dangers could be reduced in the majority of store-rooms by better specimen housing, and an estimate of costs has been made for this important item. Approximately 25% of the region's total of 8,656,693 natural history specimens (2,199,206 specimens) are considered in need of re-housing in new storage cabinets.

The majority of museums claim to be undertaking environmental monitoring to some extent, but levels of care in other organisations was generally less satisfactory.

Many store-rooms require environmental monitoring equipment (the costs are given in Appendix 3). Once installed, results must be collected and acted upon. No attempt was made to cost the time element of monitoring. This is because it varies from a minor incidental activity, for well-staffed institutions, to a major cost element for un-staffed places. Whilst the general environment was often monitored, examination of collections for pest attack or other damage seemed relatively uncommon. This was probably due to a combination of a lack of staff and expertise.


The long-term neglect, highlighted by the Biological Collections UK report and this survey, has taken its toll. For the present analysis the costs of getting all specimens into a good condition of repair are estimated. A detailed survey, specimen by specimen would be required to develop priorities and to get figures for costs of the most serious work.

On a collection rather than specimen basis, very few are in good condition and many require considerable active conservation effort to reduce the rate of deterioration to low levels. However, it is important to note that deterioration can often be slowed, or halted by re-housing in good containers. An estimated 9% of the total regional collection ( i.e. 783,150 specimens) is in need of conservation, to some extent, at an estimated total cost of £981,028. This is in addition to the 25% in need of re-storage at a cost of £2,556,679.

Use of Collections

Institutions employing natural science curators, not surprisingly, have collections that are frequently used, although everyone will admit to sections that are rarely consulted. Many curators of other disciplines who care for natural science material in museums claim that the collections are used, but this use appeared to NWCRU surveyors to be sometimes scant. There may be occasional school loans, or use by art students. There may even be a display, but this is usually under exploited, often old and in any case, tends to result in the majority of the reference material never being looked at.

Institutions without trained museum curators might have their natural history material completely unused, and this class of material must, therefore, be considered at great risk. However, society collections, or those cared for by a research scientist, or used as a teaching collection, or available in the form of a display, often seemed well cared for and regularly consulted.

Unfortunately, such organisations also frequently lacked the presumption, or legal framework to safeguard their collections. Consequently, such collections must be considered potentially more at risk from "political" and personnel changes, than would be the case in a traditional museum where protection from Museums Association disposal guidelines generally seem effective.


Many NWCRU surveyors found it distressing to encounter material with immediate scientific value that was not being used. For example, data that could be incorporated into local, or national recording schemes, that appeared not to have been, nor ever likely to be, consulted. Experience of curators at Liverpool, Manchester and elsewhere, is that full documentation, which enables an enquirer to get details of what species are held at which institution, greatly increases the enquiry rate and subsequent specimen examination at that institution.

Documentation would seem a cost-effective way for museums to get their natural history material better used, as well as providing an inventory as the basis for more accurately targeted management and development plans . It could be argued that preservation of the material must come first. However, it could also be said, that a label without a specimen is often more valuable, than a specimen without label. Documentation facilitates getting such labelled data into the public domain and hence into active use and is therefore a priority.

An estimated 346,421 specimens, representing 4% of the total holdings, are without associated data. Of the 7,909,137 specimens with associated data an estimated 89% (7,012,971), are in need of computer documentation at a cost of £1,402,594.

Targeting the money

The £5 million necessary to bring collections into a usable state is unlikely to come as one sum. If it did there are not enough trained people for institutions to take immediate advantage of the cash, and it assumes that it would all be money well spent.

Criteria are needed to formulate spending priorities but this requires assessing competing claims, e.g. £1.1 million is required to document the remainder of Manchester Museum's natural science collection. That would release much scientific data, the collections are well known and consulted. £1.1 million would go a long way to saving collections which may disappear due to neglect in other institutions, before their potential value can even be assessed. Assessing the potential value of collections is a high priority and requires the development of objective criteria having wide acceptance.

It seems to us unproductive and perhaps impossible to develop an independent grading for specimens by display, educational and regional history potentials. A specimen's potential value in these areas depends very closely on the individual circumstances of a specimen, and the imagination of the staff using it. For example, a non-data specimen of little value to a large museum may have considerable value in the educational programme of a small museum. Priorities for resource allocation to curate material for display, education and regional history purposes must be developed locally after proper consideration of the collection in its community while recognising the possibilities in moving specimens between institutions to maximise their usefulness.

Scientific potential is founded principally upon the quality of information associated with the specimen. (The realisation of the potential depends upon the convenience with which it can be consulted, e.g. by visit or loan.)

Major collections of natural history materials are recognised as having a large number of type, figured, rare (and extinct for biological collections) categories. Apart from collections in three or four major museums, few of the collections in the NW come into this category. Different criteria must be devised for the minor collections which are typical of those in the smaller institutions.

In order to provide a plan for action in improving the state of collections, a judgement must be made about the relative and absolute importance of the various uses for each collection. Assumptions about scientific importance underlie the creation of the priority listings given in this report. As this is a first attempt at using numerical measures to inform such a judgement, conclusions should be approached cautiously. Further testing and refining are essential and we have deliberately not included any tables ranking named collections.

The identification of the usage of the collection provides an opportunity to ensure that the appropriate funding agencies are made aware of the needs across all institutions.

Survey methodology

This type of survey could be done by one consultant, and for North East England such an approach was taken to produce 'Discovering Green Treasure'. The North West of England has more institutions and collections, but also has a wider spread of curators but with 21 surveyors standardisation problems were experienced. A certain amount of form re-design would also be recommended if the exercise was to be repeated elsewhere. It was not always clear from returns if a blank entry was genuine, or resulted from the surveyor not having time to do that part of the survey in the required detail. Nevertheless, it was possible to devise statistical methods to analyse the data to give results that those institutions which have undertaken independent costings agree are about right.

This survey was done at low direct cost, with surveyors only being paid expenses. The real cost in salaries cannot be determined, and was met by the curators' employing bodies who saw the value of the aims of the survey; it also was a good training exercise for all taking part. By operating as a group and having regular discussion meetings a shared pool of knowledge and expertise was developed, which will be valuable for the for curation of the region's natural science collections.

Another product of the survey is the NWCRU Register of Expertise, covering museum curation and taxonomic identification. It is hoped that institutions will be able to use this register to identify individuals to assist them with looking after and exploiting their collections.

Methods for Estimating The Cost Of Storage, Documentation and Conservation of Natural History Collections

Collection Profile

The Key approach in attempting to estimate the three areas of cost (Storage, Documentation and Conservation) that an institution is likely to incur, is to closely examine its Collection Profile. This gives the overall pattern of its Natural History holdings and even a cursory glance at the specimen numbers in each category, will show where the strength of the collections lie. Figure 1 shows such a profile for Saddleworth Museum (Class B39) in Oldham.

Figure 1 - Institution: Saddleworth Museum

The following data shows the collection profile (the estimated number of specimens in each of seventeen categories) for the above institution.

Code Specimens Category
01 56 Taxidermy Mounts
02 0 Vertebrate Skins
03 16 Osteological
04 2,001 Oological
05 250 Entomological
06 0 Molluscan
07 0 Other Invertebrates (Dried)
08 0 Spirit Preserved
09 0 Microscope Slides
10 0 Herbarium Sheets
11 0 Other Botanical (Boxes, etc.)
12 0 Other Botanical (Boxes, etc.)
13 50 Rocks
14 119 Minerals
15 162 Fossils
16 31 Other Geological
17 0 Archival Material

There are a disproportionate number of Oological specimens (75%), as opposed to geological (13%), entomological (9%), taxidermy (2%) and Osteological (1%). Consequently, any method for approximating the cost of Storage, Documentation and Conservation (S+D+C) for an institution, must reflect such collection biases. The most straightforward way of achieving this is to use weighted means, which maintain the pattern of collection strength. This was particularly important for estimating Conservation and Storage costs, where costs per-specimen can vary dramatically between different categories within the collection.

There is however a danger here and it is important to stress to the reader and user of this North West Collections data that figures for costings are estimates. The use of simple statistical methods for summarising and estimating, does not confer Biblical truth. Instead figures should be viewed as guidelines, to assist curators in assessing a) whether their desired collections management policy is likely to cost thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of pounds, or b) whether acquisition, transferral, rationalisation, storage, or conservation of a collection would be cost effective.

The overall approach has been to develop costs on a per-specimen basis, as opposed to the less informative person-hours measure. Institution collections are comprised of specimens and specimen numbers or categories are often used to compare institutions (whether rightly or wrongly). Hence it seems sensible to compute cost on a specimen basis. If the number of specimens in an institution is known, or can be estimated, then so can the cost of housing, documenting and conserving that number, or some percentage of it.

Storage Costs

Table 1 shows the average cost of storing a specimen and the type of storage for each of the Natural History Categories. Cabinet prices vary, but those shown are recent figures obtained during August '93-94 from curatorial staff at Liverpool Museum (A59).

Table 1 - Information on Storage Costs

Key: d = Drawer, c = Cabinet, b = Peg Board

Code Average Storage Cost/spp Category Storage Unit Spp/Unit Unit Cost
01 £2.50 Taxidermy Mounts Peg Boards 50 4b=1c @ £500
02 £1.25 Vertebrate Skins Drawers 20 20d=1c @ £500
03 £2.77 Osteological Drawers 12 15d=1c @ £500
04 £0.11 Oological Drawers 100 45d=1c @ £500
05 £0.67 Entomological Drawers 100 15d=1c @ £1000
06 £0.13 Molluscan Drawers 100 15d=1c @ £200
07 £0.33 Other Invertebrates (Dried) Drawers 30 20d=1c @ £200
08 £0.29 Spirit Preserved Drawers 70 20d=1c @ £400
09 £0.20 Microscope Slides Drawers 36 28d=1c @ £200
10 £0.49 Herbarium Sheets Shelves 60 12s=1c @ £350
11 £1.71 Other Botanical (Boxes, etc.) Drawers 50 14d=1c @ £1200
12 £1.67 Biological Models Shelves 50 6s=1c @ £500
13 £0.96 Rocks Drawers 40 26d=1c @ £1000
14 £0.96 Minerals Drawers 40 26d=1c @ £1000
15 £0.96 Fossils Drawers 40 26d=1c @ £1000
16 £0.96 Other Geological Drawers 40 26d=1c @ £1000
  1. This category refers specifically to any botanical material which is not stored specifically as herbarium sheets. For example, boxed and packeted items.
  2. This category includes: Sections, Drill Cores, etc.

Storage costs are, as one would generally expect, directly proportional to the size of the object being stored. Hence small specimens located among categories Oology to Herbarium Sheets (Codes 4 - 10) are relatively cheap to house (mean cost per specimen = £0.32). Geology tends to be more expensive by a factor of at three and costs about £1 per specimen (mean cost per specimen = 0.96). Large and bulky objects such as Taxidermy Mounts, or Other Botanical ... etc. (Codes 1, 2, 3, 11 & 12), cost around £2 per-specimen (mean cost per specimen = £1.78) to store.

In addition of course, drawer space in cabinets is never used optimally. There are always blank spaces due to the fact that specimens are stored according to some taxonomic arrangement. Thus the cost of storing small, medium and large items need to be modified accordingly. The figures in Table 2 illustrate this. They have been obtained by randomly sampling the contents of cabinets at Liverpool Museum with the help of curatorial staff from vertebrate and invertebrate zoology, botany and geology departments. Errors (not shown) are of the order of plus, or minus 20%.

Table 2
Specimen Size Category Codes Mean Cost/Specimen (Optimally Housed) Mean Cost/Specimen Taxonomically Housed
Small 4-10 £0.32 £0.85
Medium 13-16 £0.96 £1.50
Large 1-3, 11-12 £1.78 £3.00

Hence any collection can be split into small, medium and large items and the total storage cost for a particular specimen will have two components. The physical cost of requiring space in a cabinet and the personnel cost of time spent handling the specimen, in order to locate its final resting place in a particular part of a cabinet. The following example shows how these elements are computed using the Figure 1 data from B39 (Saddleworth Museum).

According to the B39 data 40% (1,074 specimens) of the total 2,685 specimens need to be adequately housed. From the Collection Profile information these 1,074 specimens can be split into 900.4 small specimens (84%), 144.8 medium specimens (13%) and 28.8 large specimens (3%). Using the final column in Table 2 shows that the physical cost of storing the specimens is:

Small 40% of 2,251 = 900.4 Cost = 900.4 x £0.85 = £ 765
Medium 40% of 3621 = 144.8 Cost = 144.8 x £1.50 = £ 217
Large 40% of 72 = 28.8 Cost = 28.8 x £3.00 = £ 86
Physical Storage Cost = £1,068

The personal component of the storage cost is independent of the size of the specimen and any taxonomic spaces in a storage unit. It is estimated here by assuming that a Curator G can store 25 items per house. This includes time spent looking up documentation, locating, physically transporting and re-organising. If it is further assumed that such a curator earns £4 per hour, then the personnel cost of storage will be 400/25 which comes to £0.16 per item stored. In the example given for B39 the personnel cost for storing 1,074 specimens is as follows:

Personnel Storage Cost = 1,074 x £0.16 = £ 172

Thus the Total Storage Cost is: £1,068 + £172 = £1,240

If the collection is actively used and hence likely to expand, then the cost of additional storage units would need to be added to this total.

Documentation Cost

Like 'personnel storage cost', the cost of documenting a collection on computer is independent of the collection's profile. However data logging is a two-stage process. Not only must the data for each specimen be typed into the computer, but at a later stage, it has to be edited for errors and updates. For the purpose of simplicity, both logging and editing are assumed to take the same amount of time. Thus if an individual can type xx full data records onto the computer in an hour, then it will take them a further hour to edit this information.

From personal experience and that of other curators who are heavily involved in this kind of work, the estimate for xx is 40. Hence 40 complete data records can be logged in one hour, with a further hour required for checking. This is equivalent to 20 records per hour and if a Curator G being paid at the rate of £4 per hour is assumed to be doing the job, then the documentation cost per specimen is: 400p/20 = £0.20.

Referring to the information presented for B39, 90% of this institution's collection has data. For costing documentation it is assumed that (initially anyway) institutions will give priority to data specimens. There is little scientific value in non-data material and although it would at some point be necessary to record the existence of such material, this would not be considered a priority by curators. Hence all non-data specimens have been excluded from the documentation cost (10% for B39). This leaves 90% of 2,685 specimen records (ie 2,416.5). At £0.20 per record documentation would therefore cost:

2416.5 x £0.20 = £483.

Conservation Costs

Table 3 shows the estimated curation cost per specimen and the nature and duration of some typical conservation tasks for each of the curation categories. A perusal will show that three basic cost types emerge, which can be defined as Low (Category Codes 4 - 9), Medium (Category Codes 10 - 16) and High (Category Codes 1 - 3). These figures have been estimated from the information supplied by curators and conservators at Liverpool Museum (A59).

It should be pointed out at this stage that estimates of conservation costs per specimen are much more variable than those for storage. For example, it is possible for certain specimens in any of the three category groups to need months of intensive conservation work, costing in effect hundreds of pounds per specimen. However it is assumed that the majority require little more than cleaning, re-packing, re-pinning, gluing together...etc. Hence the figures displayed under curation cost represent modal (most frequently occurring) data. For this reason the error of the estimate is also higher (typically around 20%).

To produce a conservation estimate, a different collection category pattern is used from that which formed the basis of the storage cost estimate. It is based on Table 3 and groups categories according to the Low, Medium and High cost types already outlined.

Table 3 - Information on Conservation Costs
Code Conservation Cost per Spec Personnel & Materials Category Conservation Task Time for a Curator
01 £8.00 Taxidermy Mounts Remounting, Cleaning, Repair 2 Hours/Sp
02 £6.00 Vertebrate Skins Repacking, Cleaning, Repair 2 Hours/Sp
03 £5.00 Osteological Repacking, Cleaning Repair 2 Hours/Sp
04 £0.25 Oological Repacking, Cleaning, Repair 0.05 Hours/Sp
05 £0.25 Entomological Repining, Cleaning 0.05 Hours/Sp
06 £0.25 Molluscan Repacking, Cleaning, Repair 0.05 Hours/Sp
07 £0.25 Other Invertebrates (Dried) Repinning, Cleaning 0.05 Hours/Sp
08 £0.25 Spirit Preserved Refilling 0.05 Hours/Sp
09 £0.25 Microscope Slides Repairing, Cleaning 0.05 Hours/Sp
10 £3.00 Herbarium Sheets Cleaning, Remounting, Repair 0.5 Hours/Sp
11 £3.00 Other Botanical (Boxes etc) Cleaning, Repacking, Repair 0.5 Hours/Sp
12 £2.20 Biological Models Repairing, Cleaning 0.5 Hours/Sp
13 £1.60 Rocks Repairing, Cleaning, treating 0.4 Hours/Sp
14 £1.60 Minerals pyrite disease and delamination 0.4 Hours/Sp
15 £1.60 Fossils of fossil bone Setting up 0.4 Hours/Sp
16 £1.60 Other Geological [controlled environments]. 0.4 Hours/Sp

The B39 data shows that of the 2,685 specimens, 50% require some form of conservation. This is not to say that 50% of the collection is falling apart! It simply means that half of the collection needs some (often minimal) amount of intervention to stabilise it and effectively prevent any possible future deterioration.

Table 4 shows the profile of the 2,685 specimens in the collection.

Table 4
Conservation Type Specimens 50% of Total
Low (Category Code 4-9) 2251 1,126
Medium (Category Code 10-16) 362 181
High (Category Code 1-3) 72 36
Total 2685 1,343

From the 50% of Total column, the half of the collection requiring conservation (n = 1343) is composed of 1,126 specimens at Low Cost conservation, 181 at Medium Cost and 36 at High Cost. Separate estimates for these three components are shown in Table 5.

Table 5
Specimens in each Conservation Class Conservator Costs per Specimen Conservator plus Materials Costs per Specimen
Low (1,126) £0.25 £0.50
Medium (181) £2.40 £3.00
High (36) £6.30 £7.00

Multiplying entries for columns 1 and 3 enables an overall estimate for the cost of conservation to be produced. Hence:

1126 x £0.5 = £ 563

181 x £3.0 = £ 543

36 x £7.0 = £ 252


Conservation Cost = £1,358

Thus the overall cost of Storage, Documentation and Conservation (S+D+C), for Saddleworth Museum, presented in Appendix 1.3 is obtained by summing as follows:

S = £1,240

D = £ 483

C = £1,358

(S+D+C) = £3,081

In concluding, it is important to once again stress the limitations of such statistical procedures. Although such cost estimates may prove useful, as an aid in shaping policy guidelines for specific institutions, they should not be viewed as precise parameters, but merely as direction indicators.

Notable changes since the surveys used to compiled the 'Skeletons in the Cupboard' Report.

Museums and their collections are not static. The climate of opinion encouraged by Museum Registration, to care for collections or transfer them to somewhere that can do a better job, has resulted in some changes to the position described in the report.

No attempt has been made to find out and record the numerous and welcome improvements to housing specimens that have occurred, neither has any attempt been made to record the many significant acquisitions that have occurred across the region.

However, the following seem worthy of note:

Significant Curatorial Improvements

Keswick Museum

The store has been re-furbished and some of the geology collections re-housed.

Stockport Museum

Whilst a natural history curator has not been appointed, the museum is nevertheless investing, with grant in-aid from the North West Museums Service, a considerable amount of money into new storage and contracted re-housing work for its natural science collections. This is a praiseworthy effort.

Whitehaven Museum

The museum displays have moved to new premises and the collections are in newly re-furbished storage at Haig Pit.


Darwen Reference Library

The herbarium has been transferred to the Lancashire County Museum Service at Fleetwood.

Harris Museum, Preston

A collection of skulls and horns was found in an attic and transferred to the Lancashire County Museum Service at Fleetwood.

Royal Grammar School, Lancaster

Mounted birds and bird eggs comprising the Robinson Collection have been transferred to the Lancashire County Museum Service at Fleetwood.

Saddleworth Museum, Oldham

Material has been transferred to Oldham Museum and Art Gallery, leaving at Saddleworth material which has a social connection with Saddleworth.

St Helen's Museum & Art Gallery

A change in the general direction for the museum led to them transferring the majority of the natural science collections to Liverpool Museum. Items have either been accesioned or, in the case of a few non-data poor quality specimens, been destroyed. St Helen's have retained some items of social history interest and transferred other items to the Wildlife Ranger Service.