A quick prod online didn't tell me much other than it looked small, had a world class set of rocks and fossils, and seems geared to the academic, but with some arts and kids activities. I figured it was worth a reccy, but wasn't that fussed. As I discovered, their website really does not do them credit. (and online details on collections seem to have not been updated since 2009)
Within a university courtyard, you enter what is essentially a long L shaped pair of large corridors, with beautiful old varnished wood cabinets and small offices converted to gift shop, toilet etc. The years of study, care and collecting are tangible. I headed to the left, through no real reason other than it was the shortest end of corridor visible to me, but seem to have chosen well as I then began with a recent display about Darwin as a Geologist. Because this covered a collector, collecting and cataloguing, and the reasons and drive behind it, it helped place in context all the following exhibits.
Towards the corner of the L (past the big dinosaur) is an area that has been updated with the old cabinets housing modern, less crowded, brighter displays with more interpretation. There’s a mix of large and engaging visuals, objects, questions and facts to create displays with physical depth and variety that catch the passing eye and draw you in to further thought. An interesting addition are the modern arty things above some cabinets which give height and colour while distinguishing each separate area - a concerted break with the preceding area even though the same cabinets are used.
A genius move are lots of plastic portable steps around the place, allowing children to see into top down cabinets and to get up closer to higher shelves. Many curators could learn from watching the smiling family follow the little girl, trailing these steps around after her while shouting “I want to see the SCARY SPIDER again!!” A small thing, but enables the children to enjoy all the exhibits on their own terms, not through items chosen for children friendly displays.
Thanks to the lady in the (amazingly cheap) gift shop who was so delighted when I checked if photography was permitted, and the family who allowed me to take pictures are they played. The young man who started yelling “NO!” as soon as I tried to talk to his dad has a glittering career in the legal or PR profession ahead of him, he’s got the ‘no interviews’ line off pat already.