Anyone who knows me, knows my passion and love for the Natural History Museum. Through the power of social media, I’ve been able to build my relationship with the internationally renowned museum.
I had arranged to interview Ian as Charlotte and I were in London to attend our first proms together. Ian was kind enough to make time with short notice.
How long have you been Manager?
Five years, but been at the museum for 14 years
What is your biggest achievement?
It may seem strange, but putting the accessibility toilets and baby changing facility in (located by Exhibition Road). It was 2004 and the Disability was passed and although we met the guidelines, I wanted to do more.
What is your proudest moment?
The Launch of the Darwin Centre in September 2005. Seeing all the different elements of Natural History Museum come together – visitor services, tours, presenting, etc.
What is the vision for the future?
Our focus for the next 2-3 years is to increase visitor focus within our organization.
How many visitors did you have last year?
4.2 million and another 120,000 that visiting Tring.
How many employees are there?
How vital is social media to Natural History Museum?
We have found that we needed to find the balance as you could live there [Twitter]. Having different account and different areas responsible for them has helps. [@NHM_London @NHM_MusMgr, @NatureLive, @NHM_Visiting, @NHM_id, @NHM_Dippy, @NHMEvents, @NHM_Science]
Our policy is that every comment is recorded into CRM and responded to. This includes the negatives, along with the positives. Social media is a fantastic thing as we could have one person tweet they love us and the next tweet could be a compliant about us charging for an exhibition. Either way, we’ll respond.
How do you balance your two diverse audiences: scientific community and children/Families?
We’ve always felt that the museum differentiates itself. The science community tends to go to the areas that interest them, as do the families. You tend to see what you want to see.
Regarding the balance – there was a discussion regarding the sex of Dippy …
Yes – well as you know, this is a big year for Dippy with the I Heart Dippy campaign [I went to London to be in the film and Charlotte was filmed and youtubed.]
How successful are the Events at the museum?
Very successful. Terry Lester along with the learning team manage them.
How far in advance are you planning exhibitions?
3-5 years but that depends on if it’s a collaboration/partnership. It could lead to delays, etc.
What is the Holy Grail – the item you feel is missing from your collection?
[After much thought] No comment.
Can you tell me a bit about your outreach program?
Yes, we work a lot with local schools and community groups. We also have schools and groups that come from other areas that we cater to.
We’re going to be doing some fundraising to develop a new learning centre as we are currently at capacity with our current centre. Currently, we have the centre in the basement which are semi-flexible but small and the accessibility isn’t the best.
Charlotte then asked:
What’s it like being a manager of the museum?
It’s a fantastic privilege. May seem odd with all collections but its fantastic to see the variety of people and how passionate they are. It’s a unique place to work with the number of visitors and the contents of the building.
I’m very proud to work here.
Is it hard or easy?
Bit of both. There’s some bits which are very easy to do but there are other times when we are so busy and we can’t see the reactions from people.
As some of our projects are long-term, it’s sometimes difficult to keep the enthusiasm up. But because they are long term projects, we get to really know the people who work here.
What things do the staff do together?
We have a softball team, cycling club, wine appreciation club – but I must stress that these were all started by the employees themselves.
We ended the interview Harry Hill Style:
Richard Owen vs Hans Slone
Whale vs Dippy [Whale is turning 75 in 2013]
Botanical vs Insects [Ian reckons in a turf war insects would multiple faster]
Living species (East wing) vs Extinct species (West wing)
After the interview, Charlotte and I had a quick bit to eat in the gorgeous café before saying hi to our favourite Dodo’s. On the way to the exit, we ran into Roving Man who at the time, I didn’t like as he held skin from a snake that was twice as tall as me. However, he said if we wanted to see and touch more items, to head downstairs to the Investigate Centre.
I am *so* pleased we did.
I’m ashamed to say, we have never been to the Investigate centre (or the basement for that matter!). We were greeted by a lovely person who provided us with a sticker before we entered the room where another greeter explained the concept to us. We were encouraged to take any of the trays from the drawers and take it to the tables to investigate them further with the microscopes.
Speaking to Hazel, one of the experts she explained that Investigate centre has been opened for 10 years and is always staffed with several experts in their field (geology, science, etc). They are open every day the Museum is open although during term time they are only open from 2:30-5.
I asked about the ‘Rovers’ – the type of person we met upstairs with the snake skin. She explained that most people would find them had it not been for them [I’m proof of that!]. I asked if it was something they could get some of the Volunteers used within the museum to do – an idea I left her to stew over as I went to go investigate a few objects before we had to leave.