Friday, 18 July 2014

Getting to Know and Understand a Living Collection - Corie Edwards

Part of being an education officer is knowing the collection of your institution. This is a task that takes time and. As an HLF Skills for the Future Education & Outreach Trainee we are expected to learn as much as we can about the collections at the Oxford University Museums and Collections. We do not have to be experts, but we do need to have a grasp on the topics and objects we use for events and activities. That includes events currently running and planning ones for the future.

My first placement is with the Harcourt Arboretum  and Oxford Botanic Garden , both of which have a living collection. This is an added challenge when getting to know a collection because it means it fluctuates. I only have 4 months at this placement therefore I will inevitably miss many parts of this collection that are only around in the months I am not here. It is not like most institutions where the likelihood of an object you want to use for an event 6 months down the line will still be readily available.

For instance, over the last couple of months we have been using the meadow (which spans about 67 acres at the Harcourt Arboretum) to teach children about habitats, germination of plants, and different forms of wildlife. It was a great visual for them because they got to see it all. If we were to take children to the meadow now with the same lessons it wouldn’t work because the meadow has been chopped down for hay barreling, followed by its use as a sheep pasture  until after Christmas time. There isn’t much to see compared to before. Therefore, at the Arboretum we have to have our activities planned appropriately not only for the age of the group, but what is around during that time of year.

Meadow end of June 2014

Meadow as of 17 July 2014

 Another example that I am currently experiencing is our trails and activities for the family friendly events in August. The theme this year is parts of a plant. In general we have been able to work with what is readily available at this time of year in the Arboretum, but we do have some minor issues to work around. One would be our day on flowers. By August there aren’t many flowers left to see at the Arboretum. We can still have crafts that involve flowers, but how do we have a trail when there aren’t many flowers to see? (To find out the answer please attend our Fabulous Flowers Day  day on Tuesday 19 August). Also, for the end of August we have planned a day on seeds. There are many seeds around the Arboretum starting in August and going through the Autumn. However, there are loads of little animals around that like to eat those seeds. How do we ensure that there are still seeds around to be seen when we take people around? (To find out please attend our Splendid Seeds family day on Tuesday 26 August).

A couple of little animals around the Arboretum that like to eat the seeds
 Having a living collection does keep you on your toes in regards to what is available on the day, but that does not mean we cannot plan more stable events and/or activities. You plan future events by knowing generally what parts of your collection are around to see during the time of your future event or using objects that are a bit more stable (i.e. a 150 year old tree). I am currently developing a backpack that takes children on a rhyme around the Arboretum to see the different trees that spell ‘Arboretum’ (i.e. Acer, Redwood, etc.). And just because you have taken the time to read this article I am giving you a sneak peak of the fun in creating a rhyming backpack about trees:

Welcome to the Arboretum, we have trees of all sorts,
Many are native, but some we had to import.
We have green trees scattered about for you,
But look hard enough and you’ll find red and blue too.
We have fat trees and thin trees,
Old trees and new trees.
Wander off the path, there is loads to uncover,
The Arboretum is yours to discover!

Overall, it has been amazing these last few weeks to have the chance to wander around some  of the Arboretum to understand the collection better. I have only briefly been exposed to the amount of planning that needs to go into an event or activity based on what is available to see in the collection during that time of year. I look forward to planning future events and hopefully I will get to see how they go on the day. I am also looking forward to exploring the collections at my next two placements and how getting to know them differs from a place that has a living collection.

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