By A. Richards
In both the old and the new worlds men have long seen the need of assembling collections of objects of nature and of art to provide convenient and easy means of educating both adults and young in the ways of men and of his environment. At first these collections were little more than interesting curios and "cabinets." But they rapidly grew into significant accumulations of materials representing and summarizing man's adventures in developing culture and they have become reservoirs where the facts of nature and the wisdom of the race unite to guide the progress of tomorrow. These are the modern museums.
The Committee on the Conservation of Cultural Resources was established by the National Resources Planning Board "to collect and disseminate information, to promote measures for the protection of books, manuscripts, records, works of art, museum objects, historic buildings, scientific and scholarly apparatus, and other cultural resources, against the hazards of war and formulate long range plans for the conservation and broadest and widest use of cultural resources." At the instance of this National Committee, State Committees have been established in almost every state. The Chairman of the State Committee for Oklahoma has suggested the desirability of making the work of a scientific museum more widely understood.
Scientific collections are of especial importance to any society because they make possible to the State a better understanding, control, conservation and utilization of its own resources. Hence civilized governments everywhere have seen the necessity of building up collections and taking measures to keep them in good condition and their possible loss becomes a matter of concern.
In war time dangers are of two sorts: those presented by actual enemy attacks, and those growing out of the nation's own emergency activities. The value of collections, scientific and otherwise, therefore needs to be especially emphasized now. The National Committee says, "War will certainly mean everywhere emergency activity with immediate demands for space, for waste paper and for haste in all things—demands which without forethought on the part of librarians, museum directors and archivists throughout the country, may well contribute an even greater peril to our cultural resources than enemy attacks." Included are "such menaces as the demand for waste paper, which may result in the indiscriminate disposal of valuable documents, the pressure for space, which may interrupt the legitimate functioning of an institution, the curtailment of budgets, and the depletion of staffs. While preservation of cultural resources cannot take precedence
over military needs, needless sacrifice of the nation's cultural inheritance should be avoided."
1In American colleges and universities, there are over 500 scientific museums, most of which are related to University Departments of Geology, Minerology, Paleontology, Biology, Zoology, Entomology, Botany or Anthropology. Those which have assumed an important place in the life and culture of the institution have been the results of sound planning on the part of the museum workers supported over long periods of time by the university administrations. In the fields of art and of the biological and geological sciences, which have a very important place in higher education, one that may not be minimized or disregarded, a large part of teaching and research requires extensive collections, without which there are bound to be gaps in the educational program. Art, historical and scientific museums, with their collections have functions quite as important as the functions of book collections. "Good college and university museums are found on the whole in the good colleges and universities . . . . To be sure not every one of the campus museum units in the United States marks a progressive institution, but the colleges and universities having these museums are as a class the top, and the institutions with no museums at all are in the class of the backward colleges."
There are many people who have little conception of the real function of a museum, and indeed many educators look upon a museum as primarily a body of material stored in such a fashion that by far the greater part of it at least is on public exhibition. There are also many people who look upon a museum as a depository for relics to be preserved as such, or for freaks whose only possible usefulness is as curiosities of nature. Collections of this kind, to be sure, have their place, but it is not as part of a collection built up by the expenditure of funds of an educational institution. The functions of a university museum are only those which grow out of the proper functions of the university itself, which are, teaching, research and dissemination and publication of new information.
Under the head of instruction as an objective of a museum, comes first the direct aid to laboratory teaching in the university. It serves as (a) an accessory teaching aid, for the students who are conducting laboratory work in elementary classes are then given visual instruction. (b) It provides the material for advanced work in such special courses as geographical distribution, parasitology and others; and (c) it also furnishes materials for beginning research students who expect to become original investigators.
The teaching function, however, includes services for people who are not enrolled in the classes of the university, and here its displays for public exhibition come into use. These exhibits are open to everyone, and it is a matter of gratification to know that although no provisions are made for handling the public except as guests of the University who come to see what is available here, the number of visitors from outside the institution is a surprisingly large one. Museums also arrange conducted trips and lectures for groups of students, school children and other interested parties. It is possible within the limits of the time available on the part of the staff to take care of groups in this way if they have made arrangements in advance of the time they wish to come. A third type of extramural instruction is provided in the loan of materials for study to schools and other groups whenever no loss to the collection will result.
Under the head of research by specialists the museum strives to build up collections which will be useful for the advancement of science. The study of these collections constitutes one form of scientific research in the proper sense. Provision must be made for the publication of reports on natural resources of the areas concerned. At the University of Oklahoma, this function is shared by the Biological Survey, which cooperates in building up the collections and also utilizes them for research. As long as the Biological Survey is able to publish its occasional papers, the Museum of Zoology here will rarely need to issue any other publications.
A university museum must become an authority for its own locality. It has the duty of securing exhaustive collections from its own natural areas and illustrative examples of materials from other areas. Of course our natural area here extends over the entire State of Oklahoma as well as some adjacent regions.
In order to secure material for building up the collections, the museum must carry on field trips, collect data and make studies that are preliminary to the final investigations. Its materials include not only specimens, but data on the collections, maps, pictures and books bearing upon the localities under study. In addition, zoological studies must be correlated with botanical, geological and anthropological, if we are to achieve any substantial view of the area.
It is seen, therefore, that the primary function of a campus museum is not to provide exhibitions for the benefit of the public, although this function may wisely be included if facilities and funds make it possible. It must, nevertheless, be a subordinate function for a college museum, whose real business is related to teaching and to research. Effective teaching almost universally requires that the student have materials close at hand which he may study and therefore the university museum is above all a work place for students. Recent tendency has been towards the
development of scientific laboratories with extensive museum facilities housed in the same building, (except in institutions too large for one building to accommodate both) and to this trend the development of the University of Oklahoma Museum of Zoology has conformed.
The collections of the University of Oklahoma Museum of Zoology include the following: more than 900 mounted birds and 1300 bird skins; 3700 bird eggs; 2000 lots of shells; 1000 skins of small mammals; more than 5000 arachnids and 6400 crayfish, as well as smaller numbers of specimens of other groups of animals. Much of the material owned by the Museum is representative of the fauna of Oklahoma. The Carroll collection of eggs, birds and shells was purchased in 1912. The museum participated in the Sykes Alaskan Expedition of 1921, which added 30 specimens of big game animals and a valuable series of Alaskan mammal and bird skins. In 1922 F. B. Isley presented his collection of Oklahoma mussels which contains animals from most of the streams of the State. There are more than 50,000 insects representing some 3000 species. To house only these collections which are preserved in alcohol, the equivalent of a two foot shelf over a quarter of a mile in length is required.
Collections are augmented annually from various sources, but especially through the field efforts of the Biological Survey, which although meagerly and irregularly supported, has been responsible for the gathering of much valuable data, along with large numbers of specimens from the entire state. By this means, there are now in the collections some 100,000 Oklahoma fishes (133 species), and over 20,000 reptiles and amphibians of the State.
The study collections of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and insects are housed in the sub-basement of the Biological Sciences Building in quarters especially designed for them, and the exhibit series occupies the east end of the top floor. The exhibit series contains not only mounted birds, etc., but several large ecological groups of Alaskan large mammals, of which the mountain sheep group is especially notable. In addition to these, important displays have been arranged in the corridors of the building, and are available for the day-to-day teaching program of the laboratories adjacent to them. Permanent cases are being installed as rapidly as possible, and when these are completed the exhibits in the main floor hall will comprise what is known as the synoptic collection, by which is meant one so arranged and displayed as to present a synopsis of the animal kingdom. The exhibits are arranged progressively along the walls of the corridor, beginning with those representing the simplest animal groups and passing step by step to the other groups in the order of their increasing complexity. Thus a synoptic collection really represents a panorama of the animal kingdom in which the animals of each of its great divisions are arranged together in a single exhibit unit. The
chief purpose of these displays is to provide illustrative material for students in elementary courses, a permanently installed reference collection. Of course they are also available to the public.
All of these collections have specially designed lighting devices which make them useful at all times. In some of the exhibit cases, flourescent lighting has been installed, but, in others, because of the present difficulty in getting adequate flourescent installations, lumiline tubes have been used.
The corridors of the second floor contain an extensive exhibit of various types of zoological models. There are many forms of animals too small to be seen with the naked eye, of which models can be made to show the structures clearly and adequately. The embryos of many forms also cannot well be observed without the aid of magnification, and therefore, models are available to make clear their structure. The series ranges from much enlarged models of protozoa, of cells in division, of developing eggs and embryos and larvae, on up to models of dissected adults such as the clam, starfish, crayfish, frog, etc. While many models have been purchased from supply houses in the years of the development of the laboratory and of the museum, many have also been made here as originals because there were no commercial models available to represent the structures which it was desired to show. The collection of models alone is conservatively valued at $3000.00.
The Department of Zoology owns an extensive collection of microscopic slides of embryos. It is a good working collection, but by no means large as compared with the embryological collection of some of the great eastern institutions. These embryological slides are the basis for the models which have been made here in the laboratory. The microscopic slide collection also contains many slides not included in the embryological series, for they show either the adults or the organs of adults in such a way as to bring out the details of their finer structure.
In addition to the collections already listed, the museum possesses an osteological collection, that is, a collection of the bones of animals. Of all the collections owned here, this is perhaps the least developed because of the time and labor necessary to prepare skeletons properly for study and to keep them in good condition.
The value of a museum collection is an intangible kind of thing. Its actual monetary value represents only a very small part of its real value. The cost of specimens depends upon the difficulty of obtaining them. Of course many common specimens can be obtained easily and in quantity, but if one is to attempt to build a collection that is a representative of a given area even as small as one state, he must know that he has examples of at least most, if not all, of the species that occur there, and this means that collecting trips must be made repeatedly at different seasons of the year and under varying conditions of rainfall and
temperature. If the cost of the expeditions that must be sent out in order to obtain a collection that even approaches completion, is prorated over the entire collection, even the commonplace forms appreciate very much in value. Of course, the rarer a specimen is, the greater its value.
In addition to costs of obtaining them, each specimen must be carefully and expertly cared for. Insects must be preserved and mounted. Skins of mammals and birds must be prepared and poisoned properly so that they may be of lasting value. Reptiles, amphibians, fishes and many other forms, especially invertebrates, are preserved in alcohol for study. The degree of skill required on the part of the preparators differs, for some of the operations are simple and can be easily performed by those who have only a minimum of training in this work. On the other hand, the preparation of complicated exhibits is very costly of time and labor as well as materials, and requires the services of people who are well informed, and well trained, and these services in their turn must be expensive. An exhibit museum is always much more costly than a study collection in proportion to the number of specimens in it.
For all specimens complete data regarding the source, character of the country from which it was obtained and a full and accurate classification are necessary before the collection has real value. Thus even a collection of small fish which can be obtained in numbers by seining begins to assume considerable value by the time it is ready for final disposition upon the museum shelves. Even this does not include all the cost, for storing, maintaining and proper operation also require expenditures. Specimens which are not properly recorded, cared for and made available for study are like books in a library which no one can find. That which is not available is lost, and that for which proper records have not been kept has little value. To build a scientific museum is thus a matter requiring a great deal of technical skill.
It has been pointed out that one of the chief functions of the University Museum is research. Of the types of research, the first has to do with the classification of the animals living in the region. The study of classification, or taxonomy, is a necessary first step, which must be taken before one can understand or utilize animals for either scientific or economic purposes, or control them so that valuable ones may not suffer from the depredations of harmful ones. The first requisite of scientific work of all kinds is a knowledge of the materials which are to be used in the work, in this case the types of animals, and for that purpose the museum conducts research upon the classification of its animals. There could be no basis at all for the economic utilization and control of animals and plants if classification were not a first step.
A second type of research deals with the relationship of different groups of animals to each other. Through the ages the
animal kingdom has become extremely diverse with the result that in many cases the origins of animal groups are obscure. Museum studies throw light upon these problems. Connected with these are others related to variations within a given group of animals. The study of variation not only clarifies the origins of forms of uncertain relationship, but it has often been of economic value for many variants of previously existing species have been found which have become the progenitors of valuable breeds of domesticated animals and plants. This study also illuminates the great biological problem of adaptation. Large numbers of specimens are necessary for any study of variation.
Museum collections provide material for the investigation of stomach contents and food habits of many animals. Through a knowledge of food habits, animals which are, harmful economically are indicated for control, and measures, can be devised which will often limit their spread. The growing complexity of civilized life demands more and more the elimination of economic waste. Predatory animals must be discouraged, and useful ones protected. The collections of the University Museum of Zoology have already been used for this purpose to a considerable extent, and in a similar way they offer materials for the study of parasites. One of the important phases of the study of parasitology deals with the extent of infestations and through a study of the life history of the parasite it becomes possible to adopt measures to stop its spread and make possible its control.
Of the dangers to which museums are commonly subjected, the most constant and the most serious is that of the insect pests. Although specimens are carefully poisoned at the time they are prepared, it is a matter of constant vigilance to see that infestation does not occur. The museum pests will eat all sorts of organic material, including bones, horns, wood and paper, but animal products such as skins and their derivatives including wool, fur, hair, and feathers, are particularly liable to their depredations.
In modern buildings which have been constructed in recent years out of fire-proof materials, and with electric wiring properly installed as is now done, the chief dangers of destruction for museum collections have been eliminated. For some types of exhibits, control of temperature and humidity becomes an important factor also, and the newer installations take care of these matters.
In the planning of the Biological Sciences laboratory at the University, these points were kept in mind. Of course, the plans were developed for peace time use. In time of war new dangers unanticipated in the designing of the building create new problems which are exceedingly difficult to solve. Seven years ago when the building was erected, it never occurred to anyone that there could possibly be any danger of enemy attacks in this region. The roof of the building is not entirely fireproof, and bombs, depending upon their size, could easily crash through the reinforced
concrete floors, although these would resist smaller missiles. It must be admitted that the building of the Max Westheimer Naval Air Base and the Naval Mechanics School on the north and south of Norman, respectively, create new hazards. Norman has become a military objective, and the university could be subject to attack, lying between these two naval units as it does.
There is also another danger from our own airplanes which often fly over the campus at no great height. The building is one of the taller ones on the campus, and if an airplane should suffer accident while flying low and crash, it is easily possible that damage both from collision and fire might result. Against this sort of danger we have no protective measures. Against the danger from poisonous gases in a bombing attack, it would not be difficult to protect the lower parts of the building. Sand bags could very easily close the ventilating openings of the subbasement, into which heavy gases naturally would sink, but the collections housed there are of such a nature that they would not be subject to much damage except in the case of an extremely severe attack.
In civilized nations everywhere the monuments to the past and the accumulations which display the riches of nature have always been highly regarded previous to the present world conflagration. Now every effort must be directed to the successful prosecution of the war efforts, but we must look also to the peace to come and to the continued development of the arts and sciences of civilization to the end that there will thus be created a nobler world than that of the past. Institutions which have played their parts in the achievements of whatever is estimable in our present lives must be preserved for their future contributions. Of these the museums stand in a high place; they are like light houses which mark the courses toward safer future havens.