The key value for CAMD is in providing a vehicle to facilitate and enhance collegiality and collaboration among CAMD’s members.
Key formal activities facilitating communication between members include:
i. CAMD’s annual survey of members to provide information for benchmarking, advocacy and accountability.
ii. Two (2) formal general meetings addressing governance but focussed on strategic issues of concern to members. An AGM is usually held in November; and a GM is most often associated with the AMaGA national conference in May. GMs are hosted at a member museum in Australia or New Zealand. CAMD has previously held a GM in association with Museums Aotearoa and; AMaGA.
iii. CAMD Online – a weekly compendium of news relevant to CAMD members and of jobs in CAMD member museums
iv. Representation of leading museums through submissions to key government consultation and inquiries eg Australian Government consultation for a renewed National Cultural Policy (July-2022-Jan-2023), and, Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions (Aug-2020-Nov-2021) and; Inquiry into Canberra’s national institutions (Mar 2018-April 2019)
v. Less formal opt-in general meetings to explore particular relevant topics – such as short, regular impacts and responses to Covid meetings held in 2020 and; 2021 and a longer meeting with Australia’s Chief Scientist
vi. CAMD projects – past significant projects have included initiation of Atlas of Living Australia, delivery of an executive mentoring program for emerging women leaders in CAMD museums, the development of a framework for museum collections valuation (- acknowledged nationally by AASB & globally by IPSASB) completed in 2018-19 and research into museums and public trust completed in 2021-22.
CAMD meetings provide a round table for Australasian museum leaders to:
Since 1990, CAMD has carried out an annual survey of members to provide information for benchmarking, advocacy and accountability.
The survey includes actual figures for collections, visitation, education, research and budget, and presents trends against the previous year or up to five years. Visitation and education figures are ranked against similar institutions nationally utilising Tourism Research Australia (TRA) data on Cultural and Heritage tourism and Entertainment including the Museums and Galleries category, The Art
Newspaper’s annual ranking of art museums globally, UK Government DCMS-sponsored museums and galleries annual performance data, UK ALVA (Association of Leading Visitor Attractions) annual visitation data and TEA/AECOM global data for Science and Natural History museums.
Data about the museums and other collecting sectors has also been collected at various periods by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The statistical picture developed by the ABS has been through random surveys while the CAMD statistics are compiled on the basis of museum records. The varying approaches are viewed as complementary.
CAMD’s museum collections total 75 million items (2021-22) with the majority representing the natural sciences i.e. geology and biology. These collections are fundamental to supporting research in the natural sciences and are increasingly being used to address challenges such as climate change, food security and emerging diseases. For example, the Australian Government became a signatory to the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) to protect 30% of the planet for nature by 2030. Australia’s commitment is dependent on museums’ natural history collections to identify, validate, map and understand threats to, and opportunities for, biodiversity conservation. Around 80% of the biological collections are unique to Australia meaning they are an invaluable resource not only for Australia but for the world.
The diversity of the collection items held in CAMD museums goes well beyond the natural sciences and provides a foundation for research in the sciences and humanities and at the intersection between disciplines enhanced and supported by emerging technologies such as gene sequencing and Artificial Intelligence. This diversity in collection items extends to their purpose, size, shape, storage requirements, accessibility and documentation. Australian collections include substantial holdings across Australia’s First Nations culture and history, post-1788 social history, history of science and technology, dinosaurs, minerals and meteorites and range from extinct marsupials such as the thylacine to the iconic racehorse Phar Lap.
Many CAMD museums are engaged with a global approach to natural history museum collections as part of the Global Collection Group. However, while this work continues the challenges of funding new and existing collections remain.
The 2020 report by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine systematically explores the value of biological collections, the challenges to the preservation of such collections and the opportunities afforded by them. The Preface begins by noting, “Biological collections are a critical component of the scientific infrastructure in the United States and globally. They advance scientific discovery and innovation, enrich education, connect communities to nature and science, and preserve Earth’s biological heritage. Our nation’s natural history and living stock collections enable research to improve health, food security, and national defence. Biological collections are used to reveal the history of life on Earth, study the impacts of humans on biodiversity, advance biomedical research, and develop improved crops, biocontrol agents, and pharmaceuticals. Biological collections house living and preserved specimens that have a record of shedding light on the emergence and spread of pathogens and their hosts. Notably, the committee began working on this report before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic started and finished it in the midst of the viral outbreak. Infectious diseases are a clear point at which living stock and natural history collections intersect in the service of society. COVID-19, for example, reminds us that pandemics and epidemics are not just ancient events, but under the right circumstances, new pathogens can emerge and cause great harm to modern societies. Biological collections provide the specimens needed to understand how infectious diseases emerge and how they might be mitigated before reaching the destructive level of the modern-day COVID-19 pandemic.”
Parallel arguments can be prepared for the value of museum collections beyond the natural sciences collections to research in the humanities.
In 2005 CAMD began a process of seeking support to allow the richly diverse biodiversity collections available in museum natural history collections to be made available online to the world’s researchers.
This ground-breaking initiative developed over time into the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) which is now a joint undertaking between natural history museums, herbaria, university and Government collections and the CSIRO, with funding by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS).
To date the natural science museums within CAMD, including the Australian Museum, Museums Victoria, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Queensland Museum, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, South Australian Museum and the Western Australian Museum, have contributed over 2.2 million records to the ALA.
The Atlas was founded on core principles of collaboration, open access, and dependable quality of data. The result is a collection of more than 30 million records not only of specimens from museums and herbaria, but also field sightings from ‘citizen scientists’ . Each observation, however, meets rigorous international standards for biological data.
There is no charge for using the Atlas, and it provides tools for assembling and analysing the data in different ways. The ALA also serves as the Australian node of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).
Through its many beneficial outcomes, its high scientific standards and its collaborative basis, the ALA is recognised as providing an excellent model of effective research infrastructure planning and funding.
“The idea was to unlock the billion-dollar investment in developing biological data collections at a time when the information they contain is more important than ever,” says Dr John La Salle, Director of the Atlas. “Over the next two to three decades we’re going to face a number of major changes—growing more food on the same amount of arable land, maintaining sustainable ecosystems at a time of global change, dealing with emerging diseases—and our responses all require knowledge of biology and biodiversity.”
The wide variety of people now accessing Atlas information— researchers, public interest groups, government agencies and commercial environmental analysts both in Australia and overseas— is proof of its breadth of appeal.
For further information visit:
The Atlas will hold its first Science Symposium on 12-13 June in Canberra. For further information and to register visit the Symposium website.
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