Reflections on 10+ years as a GCG member

Written by Simon Harris, Collections Conservation and Digitisation Manager, British Geological Survey

What made you decide to join the GCG?

I joined in early 2009, when I was working as a freelancer for various museums doing collections management tasks such as photography, data entry, object marking, etc. I was living in south Somerset and the variety of local museums with geological collections, as well as the proximity to the Jurassic Coast, rekindled a childhood interest in fossils, both on the beach, and in museum collections. I found the Geological Curators’ Group via the website, it looked interesting and the membership fee seemed reasonable so I joined. There was also an interesting silicone moulding course being advertised which I wanted to attend!

Is the GCG only for curators?

Absolutely not – geological collections benefit most when they have a wide variety of support from different specialisms. As well as curators, this might include conservators to help preserve and protect, educators whose special skills enthuse others using our specimens, and researchers who can tell us ever more about these enigmatic objects that we look after. There are also a number of very specialist roles, for example preparators and mount makers who make sure that objects are presented in the best way possible.

Finally, there are job roles that the Geological Curators’ Group wouldn’t have recognised when it was set up under this name in 1974, for example digitisation specialists who can send a 3-dimensional copy of a specimen to the other side of the world in moments, or database managers who provide the tools to keep track of the increasing amount of information that we gather.

GCG represents all of these people – variety is, as they say, the spice of life.

The GCG stand on 3D fossils at Yorkshire Fossil Festival in 2014. © Simon Harris.

What have you got out of GCG since you joined?

Quite a lot actually. To pick a few points:

  • The journal is always an eagerly anticipated read, and this year I will be switching to “paper-free” which will save me some shelf space, and allow GCG to do more with my membership fee. It’s also better for the environment, of course.
  • I’ve been to a number of very interesting conferences and seminars. The silicone moulding course I mentioned in the first paragraph was good fun and educational, on the second day we took a field trip into Charnwood Forest to see some examples of very early complex lifeforms, and which now crop up quite frequently in my annual work programme. The student also became the teacher in 2018 when I designed and ran an updated version of the same workshop at BGS; it was really informative to be able to try out the new materials that are available today.
  • It is wonderful to be part of a Subject Specialist Network like this – none of us know all the answers, but between us- on the committee and in the wider GCG community, we can usually sort things out! Facilities such as the JiscMail list are very useful for this.
  • More than once, I’ve sat opposite an interview panel containing GCG members!
Real or Replica, which is which? The GCG facilitates a number of workshops and events each year, such as this Moulding and Casting Workshop, run by me in 2018. © Simon Harris.

Tell us about your role on the GCG Committee

Since 2017, I’ve managed the GCG website at www.geocurator.org as well as a number of back-office systems (like e-mail and file storage) that help us function effectively as a group. At first glance, we would appear to be a microcosm of most of our employers – we have a website, e-mail, data, outputs and so on. However examine it more closely and you will realise that, as a small charity with trustees distributed around the UK, and operating on limited funds, we have to be quite clever in the way we do things – for instance, data in physical form is of little use if it is located many hundreds of miles away.

  • So, as well as maintaining the website which now handles the vast majority of our memberships and event bookings, we are also working to consolidate our analogue holdings which will enable us to respond quickly and effectively in the future.
  • I also like the challenge of “doing more with less”. Our committee members come from many different backgrounds and with differing levels of technical skill, and so maintaining a system that everyone can access, be that at work, at home, on a PC, or on a Mac, can be testing at times. I’m happy to report though, that we seem to get it right almost all of the time! Wherever possible, I use open source software, as it avoids costly licence fees.

And what about when you’re not doing GCG stuff?

I’m very fortunate that my involvement in GCG is supported by my employers (although it frequently flows out into “home” time as well!), where during work hours I manage the conservation and digitisation of the collections of the British Geological Survey in Keyworth. The past few years have seen a massive shift towards digital data, and delivering nearly 200 years-worth of analogue data in a usable digital fashion is not something that will happen overnight.

3D scanning large ammonite. © Simon Harris.

It’s difficult to describe a typical day, but typically you might find me writing condition reports for outgoing loans (I particularly enjoyed sorting out a loan of some rather impressive Jurassic fossils to Lyme Regis Museum a couple of years back), processing and storing images of drill cores which is one of the most popular of our data offerings, testing or planning new digitisation programmes, looking after some of our volunteers, or maybe scouring a GIS dataset for the grid reference of an obscure locality. I like that the variety of tasks I do challenges me on a daily basis, and very often something I learn in one field will come back to help me in another, at some unspecified point in the future. This is why it’s important to never stop learning…

Do you have a favourite specimen or museum?

It’s too hard to choose just one favourite museum – there is such a variety of them, even just within the UK. If I am travelling, I always seek out the local museum, you never know what you might discover there.

In terms of favourite things, I’ve always wanted a genuine “Dudley Locust” – I can trace many of my ancestors back to that area, and I like the fact that this species represents a link between geology and industrial history.

Postscript

Much of this blog post was written before the COVID-19 virus gained pandemic proportions. At present, it is clear that no area of society will escape unaffected. At times like this, support networks are more important than ever – I have no doubt that GCG will adapt to support its members as it has done for the past 46 years.


One thought on “Reflections on 10+ years as a GCG member

  1. As the past Chair of GCG in recent times, I can only note how modest Simon is in his comments about the website and the functioning of GCG Committee – all members owe him a great debt for the immense work that goes into keeping the technology actually working to support rather than frustrate GCG activity.
    Matthew Parkes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s