An online survey on user perceptions of natural science collections in South Africa
Keywords:natural history collections, natural science collections, natural history museums, collections management
Background: In South Africa, and globally, the value of natural science collections for scientific research is not widely recognised and has led to its marginalisation, which in turn has resulted in low funding, staffing and use of the collections.
Aim & objectives: To this end, as part of the effort to increase understanding and appreciation of the collections, a cross-sectional web-based survey was administered to users of natural science collections (NSCs) in South Africa. The objectives of the study were to identify the perceived value of NSCs to the research community; perceived or experienced barriers in accessing NSCs and associated data for use in research; perceptions of NSCs’ current performance in serving the needs of stakeholders; and how performance is judged and what the expectations are to improve future performance of NSCs to better serve the needs of stakeholders.
Methods: The survey consisted of 26 questions, distributed by email to relevant researcher community mailing lists, and posted on relevant social media groups. The survey was completed by 131 respondents.
Results & conclusion: The study indicated the overall perception of the importance of NSCs and their accessibility to the student and researcher community in South Africa and internationally to be extremely important to their research. Lack of funding for operations and staff impedes the ability of researchers and other users alike in using NSCs to optimise their research and contribute to issues of societal concern. A sustained commitment is required from NSC institutions to work together to solve various challenges, including improvement in serving stakeholder needs, which will in turn assist with demonstrating the value of NSCs to policymakers, in order to lobby for support and funding. Improved recognition of the importance of NSCs for research by the scientific community will assist NSCs in demonstrating their impact. Political priority should also be given to the long-term upkeep and ongoing assistance of institutional infrastructures.
Astrin, J.J. & Schubert, H.C., 2017, ‘Community perception of natural history collections–an online survey’, Bonn Zoological Bulletin 66, 61–72, https://bonn.leibniz-lib.de/de/forschung/publikationen/community-perception-of-natural-history-collections-an-online-survey.
Davison, P., 1994, ‘Museum collections as cultural resources’, South African Journal of Science, 90(8-9), 435, 436, https://hdl.handle.net/10520/AJA00382353_7799.
Drew, J., 2011, ‘The Role of Natural History Institutions and Bioinformatics in Conservation Biology’, Conservation Biology 25(6), 1250–1252, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2011.01725.x.
Figueira, R. & Lages, F., 2019, ‘Museum and Herbarium Collections for Biodiversity in Angola’, in B. Huntley, V. Russo, F. Lages & N. Ferrand (eds.), Biodiversity of Angola, Springer, Cham, https://doi.org//10.1007/978-3-030-03083-4_19.
Hamer, M., 2012, ‘An assessment of zoological research collections in South Africa’, South African Journal of Science 108(11-12), https://sajs.co.za/article/view/9769.
Herbert, D.G., 2001, ‘Museum natural science and the NRF: crisis times for practitioners of fundamental biodiversity science: science policy’, South African Journal of Science, 97(5), 168–172, https://journals.co.za/doi/pdf/10.10520/EJC97331.
Jacobs, A., 2020, ‘The importance of natural science collections in South Africa’, South African Journal of Science 116(11-12), https://sajs.co.za/article/view/8145.
Miller, S.E., Barrow, L.N., Ehlman, S.M., Goodheart, J.A., Greiman, S.E., Lutz, H.L., Misiewicz, T.M., Smith, S.M., Tan, M., Thawley, C.J. & Cook, J.A., 2020, ‘Building natural history collections for the twenty-first century and beyond’, BioScience 70(8), 674–687, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biaa069.
NatSCA, 2005, ‘A Matter of Life and Death. Natural Science Collections: Why Keep Them and Why Fund Them?’, viewed 9 August 2021, from https://www.natsca.org/collections-publications.
NSCF, 2019, NSCF Overview [Online], viewed 9 August 2022, from https://nscf.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/2019_11_26-NSCF-brochure-1.pdf.
NSCF, 2021, Collection Management & Conservation Manual, viewed 25 November 2022, from https://nscf.org.za/collection-management-and-conservation-manual/.
NSCF, 2022, 5-year Review Report, Pretoria, viewed 25 November 2022, from https://nscf.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NSCF-Self-Evaluation-July-2022-V02.pdf.
Powers, K.E., Prather, L.A., Cook, J.A., Woolley, J., Bart Jr, H.L., Monfils, A.K. & Sierwald, P., 2014, ‘Revolutionizing the use of natural history collections in education’, The Science Education Review 13(2), 24–33, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1057153.pdf.
Proa, M. & Donini, A., 2019, ‘Museums, nature, and society: The use of natural history collections for furthering public well-being, inclusion, and participation. Theory and Practice’, The Museum Scholar, Volume 2, https://articles.themuseumscholar.org/2019/07/01/tp_vol2proadonini/.
SASSB, 2023, ‘History’, viewed 22 February 2023, from http://sassb.co.za/.
Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A., 2016, Research Methods for Business Students, 7th edition, Pearson, Essex.
Schindel, D.E. & Cook, J.A., 2018, ‘The next generation of natural history collections’, PLoS Biology 16(7), e2006125, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2006125.
Sforzi, A., Tweddle, J., Vogel, J., Lois, G., Wägele, W., Lakeman-Fraser, P., Makuch, Z. & Vohland, K., 2018, ‘Citizen science and the role of natural history museums’, in S. Hecker, M. Haklay, A. Bowser, Z. Makuch, J. Vogel & A. Bonn (eds.), Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy, pp. 429–444, UCL Press, London, https://doi.org/10.14324/111.9781787352339.
Silvertown, J., Harvey, M., Greenwood, R., Dodd, M., Rosewell, J., Rebelo, T., Ansine, J. & McConway, K. 2015, ‘Crowdsourcing the identification of organisms: A case-study of iSpot’, Zookeys 480, 125–146. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.480.8803.
Suarez, A. & Tsutsui, N., 2004, ‘The Value of Museum Collections for Research and Society’, BioScience 54, 66–74. https://doi.org/10.1641/0006-3568(2004)054[0066:TVOMCF]2.0.CO;2.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2023 Ms Shanelle Ribeiro, Dr Terry Reynolds, Dr Bernhard Zipfel, Mr Mashiane Sonnyboy Mothogoane, Dr Anthony Magee
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.