Philosophy

 

Dinosaurland Fossil Museum is an independent museum which is owned and run by Steve and Jenny Davies.

The museum is run to a philosophy with a very specific set of values covering:

Funding,

The Collection, and

Style of Display.

Our philosophy is very different to the thinking that seems to guide the plethora of publicly funded museums.

 
 

FUNDING

Dinosaurland Fossil Museum is a private and independent museum. We are funded exclusively by the entrance fee paid by visitors to the museum. We do not seek, nor would we accept any public funding. We do not try and improve our finances by seeking charitable status. Indeed we make a contribution to the public purse by paying Business Rates, VAT and Income Tax. After making these contributions, the entrance fee is used to maintain our Grade 1 listed building, maintain and expand the collection and displays and provide us with a living. And it works. Those people that want to see the collection pay for it. The collection is probably the best on public display in SW England and gets better each year. And we make a contribution to the public purse. There are a great number of public museums that by contrast, absorb a vast amount of public money. They range from the National Collection at the Natural History Museum, through the Provincial museums to County Museums and finally Town Museums. These are all publicly funded to a large extent through annual budgets, grants from public bodies and the lottery fund and through their charitable status. None of the public museums support themselves. As a nation we need a National Collection and it seems appropriate for this to be funded publicly. Perhaps the argument can be extended to fund some of the great collections in provincial museums like the University Museum in Oxford or the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge. But do we really want to extend this to every County Town or even to every small town? The numbers involved are not small. In 2006 - 2007, Bristol spent nearly £13 million and Exeter spent more than £2 million on museums and art galleries. The Exeter Museum is closed for renovations costing £15 million. The County Museum in Dorchester boasts on their website that they have just spent £361,000 revising their display of fossils. When we visited in January 2010 they also had the nerve to charge £6.50 for entrance and asked us to sign a gift aid form to claim more money back from the taxpayer. For this expenditure we were treated to a display of about 320 fossils. The local town museum spent more than half a million pounds renovating their building, absorb numerous grants and are seeking funding for a multi million pound extension.
 
 

COLLECTIONS

We have about 8000 specimens on display and this is increasing on an almost daily basis. We put all our specimens on display and do not have any hidden away in storerooms for the select few to see. These specimens are found by us or we buy them at market rate. A very small number of specimens have been donated. But before we accept donations, we try and persuade the finder to take their specimen home and treasure them. It seems to us that a treasured fossil on display in a home is a source of pride and an encouragement to further interest. This is not the case with the public museums which hoard vast collections that never see the light of day or which are available to only a select few. An example is the Bristol City Museum which boasts a collection of 400,000 specimens. But when we visited in January 2010 we found only about 650 on display. You can come to our museum and see more fossils, more reptiles and more dinosaurs. You could argue that this is due to space problems. But our display is housed in a relatively small building. The Bristol Museum has vast areas of wasted space that could be used to display more exhibits. For example the restaurant and seating area (there are better place to eat within a few hundred yards) or the children’s activity area (there are playgrounds to go to). It is possible to display large collections within the public sector. The outstanding example must be the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford which is a magical place with its vast displays of exhibits and a shining example to any museum. The public museums will also try and expand their collections by donations. If you take a find in to try and get more information, you will probably be encouraged to donate it for ‘scientific’ purposes. This means it will languish in the archives. Occasionally a specimen has true scientific value and it is important that these are made available for scientific study. But the greatest proportion of donations seem to be to build up numbers. It wouldn’t be so bad if these numbers were available for the interested amateur to examine on request. But in practise you will find it very difficult to see these collections (even though you pay for them). If I make contact with a museum as a lay member of the public, I get a pompous and patronising response (if I get a response at all). If I make contact including a list of my degrees and a comment that I used to be Chief Palaeontologist for BP then I tend to get a more helpful response. A lady I know is making fossil collections from exotic locations which are not usually examined by experts (the rubble from pits dug for lakes). She has no qualifications, but great enthusiasm and commitment. Yet she is finding it virtually impossible to get access to local collections hidden in museum storerooms to compare her finds.
 
 

DISPLAY

Our museum puts our specimens on display and it is the specimens that are important not the display. We build all the cabinets ourselves despite poor carpentry skills, confident in the knowledge that the cabinets are just the housing but the specimens are what we are really interested in. We do not have any so called interactive or hands on displays. People come to see the fossils, not animations or games. If they want to see animations or play games, they can go to a theme park or play on their computer. We do not believe in dumbing down for our visitors. People are interested in science and knowledge and are able to understand complex issues which are presented clearly and without jargon. We fully expect our younger visitors to know that the Iapetus Ocean separated Scotland and England 400 million years ago. Encouragingly, most of them have no problem getting this as an answer on our quiz for children aged 5 and older. There is a strong trend in the public museums to reduce the number of specimens on display and to have flashy displays with big pictures, animations, special lighting and cabinets. This is of course vastly expensive and needs overpaid specialists to come in and do it for them. There seems to be a culture that how it is displayed is more important than what is displayed. It seems to be that image is more important than substance. There is the idea that people and particularly young children, need things to be simplified and made more glitzy to be interesting. We would argue that the specimens are exciting enough as it is. There is also the idea that young children need to be able to run around or they will not be interested. It is our experience that children know the difference between a playground and a museum if you give them the chance. One of the great delights of being at the museum every day is seeing the reaction of the children as they open the door to go in and are confronted by a wall of ammonites ranging in size from a penny to a wheel. The usual reaction is ‘Wow!’ and the children appreciate the specimens rather than the way they are displayed.
 
 

CONFLICT

We do not seek to change the world and we are quite happy to mind our own business, developing our museum and looking after our customers. We do feel however that the public sector are increasingly trying to cause difficulties for us either by denying our existence or putting obstacles in our way. We have a large file recording harassment from the public sector of which the following two are examples: Lyme Regis Town Council has an ‘official’ website but if you look at it you will find there is only one museum in the town and it is not ours. The Dorset County Museums Advisory Service, as part of Dorset County Council Cultural Services, exists to advise and support Dorset’s museums but this doesn’t include our museum which is not even mentioned on their extensive list of museums in the county. In these difficult financial times, we can’t help feeling that the public bodies should be more supportive of a successful independent museum that makes a positive contribution to the public purse. We also feel that the public bodies should be more demanding of the plethora of museums that absorb a vast amount of public money and insist on much better value for money. The above essay was written in February 2010. Since then, matters do not improve and we could write a complete new article on the disturbing new finds of the last winter from our trips round various museums. We don’t want to bore you so two lowlights will have to suffice. Birmingham Museum has been expensively refurbished. When we asked where their wonderful collection of fossils was displayed, we were told they had been removed as they did not fit in with the character of the new museum! A giant new map has gone up in the centre of Lyme Regis with a list of things of interest in the town. This tells you there is only one museum in Lyme Regis - and it is not this one. Perhaps reminiscent of the old Kremlin Politburo who used to airbrush people they did not like out of official photographs. For 2014, we discovered that the Lyme Regis Tourist Information Centre will not display our promotional leaflet. It seems that this is because we do not buy overpriced, ineffective advertising from Dorset District Council. Because we do not submit to this blackmail, our leaflets are not displayed even though the TIC is less than 400 yards away although they will happily promote politically correct organisations across the south west. We are too busy dealing with all our customers at the moment. But come the quieter times of the autumn, we will be putting together a more comprehensive and updated version of this article.