An online survey on user perceptions of natural science collections in South Africa




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.


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Author Biographies

Ms Shanelle Ribeiro, South African National Biodiversity Institute

Deputy Director: Biodiversity Project Management

Dr Terry Reynolds, Iziko Museums of South Africa

Assistant Curator

Dr Bernhard Zipfel, University of the Witwatersrand

University Curator of Fossil and Rock Collections, Evolutionary Studies Institute

Mr Mashiane Sonnyboy Mothogoane, South African National Biodiversity Institute

Information Officer

Dr Anthony Magee, South African National Biodiversity Institute; University of Johannesburg

Collections Manager, South African National Biodiversity Institute

Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology, University of Johannesburg


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How to Cite

Ms Shanelle Ribeiro, Dr Terry Reynolds, Dr Bernhard Zipfel, Mr Mashiane Sonnyboy Mothogoane, & Dr Anthony Magee. (2023). An online survey on user perceptions of natural science collections in South Africa. Bothalia, African Biodiversity & Conservation, 53(1).



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