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CLS Journal of Museum Studies - Current Issue

Abstract. Available information on the commercial fossil market is limited to newspaper and magazine articles and a modicum of peer-reviewed literature. Herein I expand the existing scholarship on aspects of fossil ownership such as value and access. The paleontological sciences have experienced a recent surge in media coverage, as the commercial fossil market has become a publicly recognized phenomenon. The headlined 2012 legal case of United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton caused friction among academics, collectors, and even the public. The escalating debate between academic paleontologists and commercial collectors over specimen access calls for new research approaches. The efficacy of US vertebrate fossil legislation is a contested issue within the greater paleontological community because public restrictions do not extend to private property; therefore, private land access may fall to the “highest bidder.” The relationship between capital-driven fossil collecting and public museums is complex, and a thorough investigation of the issue demands consideration of public views. Two surveys have been conducted for this study: 1) a survey for the public, available to visitors to the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, and to online participants; and 2) a survey for self-identified members of the paleontological community. The goal of this study has been to determine what museum visitors and other members of the public know about the commercial fossil market, and how they perceive the future of paleontological logistics in the United States. 

Abstract: Since the mid-20th century, museums have become more outwardly focused and have attempted to become community centers — places of conversation with diverse dialogue, places that celebrate the richness of individual and collective experience, and places that are active and visible players in the civic life of their communities. Object-based institutions, such as art museums, natural history, social history museums, and local historical societies depend on their collections as the foundation for their engagement with the community and use these collections to encourage critical thinking, inspire discussion, and change paradigms, as well as educate about the outside world. But with new technologies and the public’s expectations for entertaining experiences, it is no longer enough to merely display objects with information about their construction and provenance. It takes an entire museum and its staff to engage a community and respond to that community’s needs. Collections staff — traditionally academics or curators of the collections who work behind closed doors — should seek to become visible and active within the community along with the collections they curate. The following includes a discussion of why collections and the staffs that care for them are important components in community engagement. It will examine methods that various museums throughout the United States and Europe are using to utilize their collections’ staff and the collections themselves in an active role to engage local communities and reach broader audiences. I also comment on how areas of weakness may be improved to fully incorporate and utilize collections and collections’ staff in a museum’s effort to position itself at the center of its community. 

Abstract: This study provides insight into the workings of small museums in Northwest Texas: Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth, TX, Log Cabin Village in Fort Worth, TX, Red River Valley Museum in Vernon, TX, W.K. Gordon Center for Industrial History in Thurber, TX, and The Old Jail Art Center in Albany, TX. I present an overview on whether small museums can survive with or without effective community engagement and remain relevant and sustainable in the 21st century. The museums were chosen on the basis of their size, location, and content. Engagement techniques, tools, and advice will be drawn from a variety of rural museums, historical homes, community museums, and small historical and art museums. 

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