POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
|THE OPPORTUNITY OF THE SMALLER MUSEUMS OF NATURAL HISTORY.|
By WILLIAM ORR,
WITH the rapid growth of public libraries and the multiplication of books, periodicals and newspapers, there has arisen an urgent need for the direction of popular reading and for the promotion of serious study. Librarians are striving, with the aid of schools and teachers, to counteract the general tendency towards aimless superficial reading. Another educational agency that promotes exact knowledge, quickens observation and leads to research and consecutive study is the museum of natural history.
The near future may well see as great an interest in the establishment of museums as there is now in the founding of libraries. Such an institution can do an especially valuable service in the smaller city or town, provided its directors sense and seize their peculiar opportunity and clearly recognize the limitations imposed by local conditions. There should be no attempt to imitate the expensive buildings, exhaustive synoptic collections and the elaborate research and exploration of museums in the great centers of population. Salaries and incidental expenses can be kept at modest figures. Volunteer workers should be enlisted to cooperate with the paid officials. Public interest and the practical support of men of means are important factors to secure and retain. Connection with the public library under one general management makes for efficiency and economy.
For distinction and reputation the small museum must depend on special excellence in a few departments, on its representation of the local natural history and on its influence as an educational force in the community. Large sums may be spent to advantage on groups or on individual specimens when by such features local pride is aroused and visitors attracted. Carefully selected index collections can be used to give general views of the animal, plant and mineral worlds, while industry and ingenuity find full room for exercise in illustrating clearly and vividly the geology, botany and zoology of the region in which the museum is situated. As an agent of popular instruction the museum in the smaller centers possesses important advantages in the comparative ease with which people may be reached and interested. Usually the tone of life and the freedom from distracting influences are favorable