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Museum Collection Visit Bingo

Museum collections are a core resource of paleontology, far beyond their role in providing fossils for exhibits. Collections, with their fossils and associated records, house primary data for our research, and thus pretty much every paleontologist uses them.

A colleague recently put together a fieldwork bingo card, highlighting all of the fun and not-so-fun aspects of being out in the field. But why should fieldwork get all of the attention? Museum collections deserve their own slice of the pie! Thus, the Museum Collection Visit Bingo Card was born. A few colleagues pitched in their own bingo squares elsewhere on social media, so what you see here is a group effort.

The squares on this bingo card are inspired by years of visits to museums all over the world–some of the items are amusing, some are frustrating, and some are amusingly frustrating. Every institution has its quirks, and it’s safe to say that you can fill many of the squares no matter where you are. It’s also a call for us museum workers to remember our own journeys, and cut a little slack for each other while striving to improve. I certainly have misidentified fossils, and might have once used Elmer’s glue on a fossil in the days before I knew better. Times change, and every museum specimen bears the load of its institutional history. I am also hopeful that this card can start some conversations about the obligations of museums to facilitate research–collection visitors are sometimes powerless in the face of arbitrary and potentially unethical decisions governing specimen access. It’s cathartic to talk about it, while also remembering that most museums do a pretty good job of taking care of their fossils and their collections visitors.

So with that, here’s one version of the Museum Collection Visit Bingo Card! Enjoy!

Bingo card -- see below for full list of possible spaces

Want to generate a new randomized museum collection bingo card? Check out this link to play along at home!

All of the Bingo options and more are below. This is a lot of inside baseball, so if you are curious about what a particular phrase means, please drop a line in the comments!

  • Fossil unavailable to researchers because it is perpetually “under study”
  • Fossil located in collection only after they find out who your graduate advisor was
  • In display case and inaccessible
  • In display case and inaccessible until they find out who your graduate advisor was
  • On loan to researcher for past 25 years
  • On loan to researcher who has been deceased for 25 years
  • Fossil in curator’s office
  • Plaster obscures important anatomy
  • Overprepped fossil
  • Fossil breaks when you touch it
  • Museum wants copyright on any photos you take
  • Museum staff wants co-authorship on any paper you publish
  • Uncatalogued material
  • Part of holotype still unprepared
  • Fossil away on tour
  • Holotype missing
  • #!*%$ ichnotype
  • Theropod bone misidentified as fish cranial element
  • Fossil on exhibit covered in layer of dust
  • Tray of paratypes
  • Holotype on loan
  • Fossil not in collection, no loan tag
  • Fish cranial element misidentified as theropod bone
  • Fossils available when you schedule your visit, suddenly unavailable when you arrive
  • Archival beer flat holding specimen
  • Cigar box housing microfossils
  • Gel capsule congealed around microfossil
  • White-out used to label specimen
  • Sharpie writing on fossil
  • Fossil repaired with Elmer’s glue
  • Specimen in pieces on bottom of specimen tray because it was glued with archival consolidants
  • Green cyanoacrylate glue
  • Radioactive fossil
  • Plaster panel mount
  • Accidentally break a holotype
  • Accidentally drop a whole drawer
  • Drawer falls out of cabinet when you pull it out
  • Specimen inaccessible because forklift has broken down
  • Scary-looking latex mold of specimen in drawer
  • Locality data covers a three-state area
  • Tray of non-diagnostic bone shards lovingly numbered and cradled in archival foam
  • Accidentally locked out of collection after going to the restroom
  • Caught singing in a loud voice when you thought you were alone
  • Fossil suddenly inaccessible when they find out who your collaborators are

Featured image after Marsh 1896.

  1. Surely these are not legitimate:

    [Museum wants copyright on any photos you take] – Requiring prior permission is reasonable, but not false claims of copyright ownership.

    [Museum staff wants co-authorship on any paper you publish] – Unless actively contributing and collaborating to the research, what for? – Surely an acknowledgement is enough?

    No reputable museum would insist upon these. Are these ‘terms’ in writing? Is there no form of redress for this? – The Governing body of the institution, or the Museums Association – or other professional body?

  2. Re: the copyright issue, I think it is an attempt to control usage of specimen imagery in the long-term. I.e., there are “undesirable” uses of the images (e.g., if the photographer sells an image of the fossil for use in an ad campaign without permission of the museum), and a museum wants a piece of the financial pie. As explained elsewhere, I don’t think this is a realistic concern for 99% of fossils. Furthermore, I don’t really consider it ethical, and I would bet it isn’t strictly legal in the US for fossils from federal lands collected under permit (but I could be wrong).

    As for authorship requirements, that is becoming less common than it used to be. I think the original idea was that it was an appropriate acknowledgment of the work that the museum employee put in and would allow staff to participate in research without continually having their work scooped by outside researchers, but in practice it basically ends up as honorary authorships for people who don’t put much if any work into it. There are certainly cases where it is very appropriate to have co-authorship by people from the museum that houses the specimens–in the case of the Spinops paper that I led years ago, everyone on there from NHM contributed substantially to the study, beyond “just” opening cabinets. But, this is in contrast with informal practices from some other museums, where authorship effectively is expected just for unlocking the collection room. I think the practice is dying out in most places as an older generation of museum curators retires, thankfully!

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a real form of redress for unethical museum policies or practices. If I complain, at best they’ll say “well, too bad,” and at worst I can get specimen access yanked. There’s not a lot of shelter, especially for early career researchers or those who aren’t from “powerhouse” institutions.

  3. Thanks for the reply. I agree and understand about the commercial rights issue. Hence the ‘requirement’ of prior permission to photograph specimens to clarify non-commercial use.

    The use of Photogrammetry to ‘scan’ fossils does open up the potential for copies to be made of specimens which could be sold or distributed without the consent of the repository. But conventional 2D photos in and of themselves shouldn’t be an issue if the museum and researchers are clear about the use of photography for non-commercial purposes.

    The Authorship point should be solely a matter for the researcher(s). The suggestion was it was a ‘requirement’ to consent to include museum staff as a co-author to gain permission to research specimens.

    Glad to hear it is less common than it was. However the issue of redress is something that should be tackled. Yanking access to specimens should have an appeals process. Perhaps a code of conduct for Public museums which prohibits the practices outlined; which is enforced regulated by a body with powers e.g. Museum Association to stamp these practices out would be a way forward? Obviously UK / US situations may be different but no museum is an island and reputation is important, especially in 21st Century with the potential ‘redress’ of social media.

    Museums need researchers to study their collections as the fruits of their work can help promote the museum and the importance of their collection. Researchers need museum collections to study and publish on. It seems so simple, but personality politics still prevails in certain dark corners.

  4. I’m looking for bone identification.I contacted a couple of paleontologist nobody will say it but it seems like I got to join in order to get it identified i have a Gmail it’s all I have, I would like to send pictures of this bone to you it’s a bone not a rock and it is from the dinosaur era

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