SYNTHESYS Advanced Training in Collections Management

The aim of the SYNTHESYS II is to improve collections management, to
enhance accessibility and to conserve the unique value of European
natural history collections.

Network Activity 2: Collections Management provides resources to help
raise standards e.g. delivering performance indicators and collection
management policies enabling infrastructures to maximize use of their
existing resources and avoid duplication of effort within Europe.

Network Activity 3: Information networks removes barriers to the
electronic access and sharing of collections information by providing
the state-of-the-art tools for specialist Users and improve the quality
of content supplied by the global scientific community through
implementation of best practice and the setting of global standards.

In the framework of SYNTHESYS, 7 training modules were organized in 5
different countries ( HYPERLINK
"" ). These modules were
attended by 110 participants from 20 countries, involving the expertise
of 43 trainers, from 9 countries.

Figure: Country of origin of participants (right-angled hatch) and
trainers (left-angled hatch) for the SYNTHESYS Advanced Training in
Collections Managament

Overview of NA Activities

Module 0: "Train-the-Trainer": Methods in collections management
training (NA2)

Module 1: Effective collections emergency planning and salvage (NA2)

1" Module NA3: Information Networks (digitization, IT and related
activities for database and collections management) (NA3)

Module 2: Access to collections (NA2)

Module 3: Molecular collections (NA2)

echniques" Module 4: Basic collections techniques (NA2)

thnobiology_collections" Module 5: Ethnobiology (NA2)

Module 0: "Train-the-Trainer": Methods in collections management

Location: Natural History Museum (London, UK)

Duration and date: Lunch-to-lunch meeting, 24-25 October 2011

Description of the course:

This module is aimed primarily at those who have attended the 2007-2009
SYNTHESYS courses in collections management and wish to share knowledge
of best practice gained in their own institutions and in their own
language . The module provides a framework of techniques and
information to help trained collections staff transfer their knowledge
and experience in a consistent and effective way. It will address:

What are the key learning points and knowledge to include in a
collections management course?

Where can comprehensive teaching materials be found and how can they be

What training methods and techniques can be applied to maximize


One of the key aims of the SYNTHESYS project is to raise standards in
collections management across Europe and to minimise risks to current
and future access to collections. Surveys of collections management in
15 institutions identified a general need for training particularly an
improvement in general awareness of current best practice. Three courses
were held to address this covering a range of topics from risk
management to maximising staff and material resources.

The overarching principle is that those trained return to their
institutions and hold their own courses, workshops and seminars to
spread the knowledge and culture of best practice.

Course Objectives:

By the end of the module participants:

Explored and identified learning needs

Identified and practiced the range of training support material

Identified the appropriate group working techniques and exercises to
suit the content of their courses

Applied and practiced methods for managing group behavior

(Photo by Marta De Biaggio)

Module 1: Effective collections emergency planning and salvage

Location: Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren (Belgium)

Duration and date: Lunch-to-lunch meeting, 22-23 November 2011

Description of the course:

This seminar was aimed at anyone wanting to write a collections
emergency plan. The introduction to the topic was done (overview of past
disasters, basics of what information collection manager needs to
include in his plan), some suggestions for practical training sessions
within attendees' home institutions were provided and some practical
salvage techniques for dealing with damaged specimens were introduced.
Additional guidance was given to those that already have a plan to help
review their documents that they have included all essential and
practical information.

(Photo by Chadwick H.D., 1906)

Module 2: Access to collections

Location: Natural History Museum, Budapest (Hungary)

Duration and date: Lunch-to-lunch meeting, 26-27 April 2012

Description of the course:

The aim of the course was to provide participants with a framework of
the different aspects of access to collections, a toolkit for further
development of internal policies and guidelines regarding access to
collections at each home museum, contacts with colleagues at other
European museums, a mutual exchange of experiences.

Day 1 focused on physical (precautionary measures, insurance, safety
etc.) and digital access to collections. Different aspects of physical
access was covered (public and scientific visitors, loan, exhibitions)
with demonstration from the Anthropology Department (HNHM). Digital
access was demonstrated based on different use cases: photographic
collections, digitization of anthropological material (3D images of
skull of a great king of Hungary (St. Laszlo) and of cave-man),
digitized paleopathologic signs (HNHM). Specialists from NRM, Stockholm
have presented an open-source collection management system: an
introduction to the DINA project, the Specify 6 software, the Swedish
Malaise Trap Project web client.

Day 2 covered topics related to immaterial rights, legal aspects and
management. Different aspects that may or should be covered in museums
policies on access to the collections were discussed.

(Photo by China Williams)

Module 3: Molecular collections

Location: Meeting Room of the National Museum of Natural Sciences, CSIC,
Madrid (Spain)

Duration and date: Lunch-to-lunch meeting, 24-25 July 2012

Description of the course:

Natural History Institutions around Europe are world centers of
scientific excellence in taxonomy and biodiversity with hundreds of
millions of specimens in their reference collections. Every year this
figure increases by tens of thousands and most of that increases is
linked to molecular research. In many cases this research can produce
focused collections which tend to be in dispersed locations around the
institutions, hence being mostly inaccessible, because they are only
known by the researchers or research teams participating in their
collecting. But once the research projects finalises the value of the
samples both from an economical and biodiversity point of view is
maintained, so it is still necessary to properly curate them. The
correct preservation of material derived from biological specimens and
their associated data are essential to ensure compatibility,
reproducibility, and knowledge extension in all areas of biological
research. This way, molecular collections can provide long-term storage
and access of well documented DNA samples and voucher specimens. They
also link DNA samples to their vouchers (specimen and information) and
to inferred molecular data stored in public sequence databases
facilitating taxonomic verification of molecular analysed organisms. The
types of specimens that can normally be found in molecular collections

* Dried or lyophilised tissues or small specimens

* Tissues preserved in spirit (alcohol or buffers for molecular use)

* Frozen tissues (freezers and liquid nitrogen)

* DNA in buffers, water or lyophilised (frozen or room temperature)

This training course is aimed at any person who wants to begin
organizing a collection of tissues and DNA to curate the products of
molecular research preserved at national history institutions, as well
as for persons who already have began a collection but would like to
obtain additional information on management standards and protocols.

Module 4: Basic collections techniques

Location:: Museum fuer Naturkunde Berlin, Germany ( HYPERLINK
"" )

Duration and date: Three-days lunch-to-lunch meeting, 28-30 November

Description of the course:

The training "basic collections techniques" was an introductory module
on care and management of zoological collections aimed at persons that
have limited experience with collection work or those who wish to update
their knowledge in this field. This three part training consisted of a
course on conservation procedures (half day), on basic techniques in
collection care (including aspects of dry and wet collections with their
specific requirements, full day) and a course on data documentation and
labeling (half day). This training have provided a brief insight into
the most essential topics of basic collection care and management,
including aspects of preservation and preventive conservation.


Day 1 (Conservation procedures): basic issues in preventive
conservation, climate control, integrated pest management, materials,
testing, ageing, risk management and other aspects of standard
conservation procedures.

Day 2 (Basic techniques in collection care): A. dry collections: care of
entomological collections, care of skins and bones, conservation issues
in dry collections B. wet collections, properties of ethanol, denaturing
agents, jars, lids, issue of ph in wet collections.

Day 3 (Data documentation and labeling): handling of field data,
registration, data cleaning, database, labels in wet collections, labels
in dry collections.

( photo by Kai Schuette)

Module 5: Curation of ethnobiology collections

Location: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK

Duration and date: Lunch-to-lunch meeting, 24-25/06/2013

Description of the course: Many natural history museums contain
artefacts and raw materials demonstrating use of natural materials by
humans. These present special challenges to curators in storage,
cataloguing, ethics and law, funding, and deterioration and
conservation. This short course tackles these questions through modern
museum methods, and the experience of the Economic Botany Collection at
the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew (UK). The course is relevant to both
plant and animal collections.

Topics covered included: Tour of Economic Botany Collection to cover
History of such collections; Current user profiles; Acquisitions
policies; Relationships with indigenous communities; Legal and ethical
aspects; Cataloguing and data standards; Introduction to agents of
deterioration; Environmental control; Material specific to
plants/animals; Packing and storage; Developing user communities;
Funding; Museum networks. The necessary attention was given to practical
exercises and an optional visit of the Botanical Gardens of Kew was
offered to those interested at the end of the workshop

(photo by RMCA)

Module NA3: Information Networks (digitization, IT and related
activities for database and collections management)

Location: Royal Museum for Central Africa (Tervuren, Belgium), Building

Duration and date: 6-8 March 2012

Description of the course:

The course was divided in two main parts: Digital management of
collections (ie for collection management software and associated best
practices) and IT applications (GIS, predictive distribution modeling,
3D imaging, x-Ray, Data mining, data capture ...), with attention for
the following topics:

1. Automated data collection from digital images:

Automatic processing (segmentation) of digital images

Automatic metadata capture

2. Crowd-sourcing metadata enrichment of digital images:

Research into crowdsourcing methodologies for NH collections

Development of website to allow crowdsourcing data capture

3. Access and management of digital collections:

Open Access to captured data

Collaboration with NA2 on digital collections management

Scientific interpretation of data and interaction with modeling tools

(Photo by Patricia Mergen)


A graphical comparison of the feedback received from participants is
given in the figures below. A comment that was heard frequently from
respondents was the wish to have a longer course with the opportunity
for more discussion, in depth study of the issues tackled and practical
exercises. This illustrates the appreciation for the training and
suggests follow-up courses would have equal or increased interest. The
interaction that the courses provided between collection managers of
different museums throughout Europe was also much appreciated. An
internet forum would be a useful solution for such interactions,
discussions and could act as a share point.

Note: no feedback available for Module 0

General conclusions and recommendations:

Accompanying material is important: abstract of the course, printed
version of presentation, short description with main points of
attention, manual for the practical sessions and technical information
package etc. Some theoretical published/unpublished material could be
even sent out beforehand.

Don't make presentations too long, 1-1.5 hours is maximum. Long
presentations could be split in 2 (theoretical and practical) with
coffee pause in between.

Don't go too much in details, focus on the main topic of the training.

Practical sessions should be well-prepared, technical or software
problems cause delays and chaos.

If you want to have good feedback and active participation of people in
round tables and Q&A sessions, inform them in advance and ask them to
prepare short talks about their work. Some people do not like to

Visits of the exhibitions and collections of host institution are very
helpful, people like to see practical aspects of display, conservation,
labeling, storage etc.