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1996 "Collecting today for tomorrow"

International Museums Day on 18th May 1996, which is particularly important this year because it coincides with our Organisation's fiftieth anniversary, is on the theme of "Collecting today for tomorrow". This touches on the very raison d'Ítre of the museum, and its essential relationship with the notion of temporality. ICOM News would first like to record reactions to the theme by various International Committee chairpersons. Then, to open up the debate, we are making a wide appeal to our readers for contributions, which will enrich the information file we are compiling to accompany this year's International Museums Day. So, to begin the discussion, and to take the opportunity to make the public more aware of the role of museums as we reach the turn of the century, here are five key questions of concern to all museum professionals.

Contribution by Dr. Patrick Greene, Chairperson of the International Committee for Museums of Science and Technology

For members of CIMUSET (the International Committee for Museums of Science and Technology) the issue of collecting presents particular challenges. Most museums in our sector wish to reflect both past and contemporary science and technology. It follows that active collecting must take place within museums, but this is not the only means of preserving material and presenting it to the public. CIMUSET meetings that have taken place in the recent past illustrate some of these issues. Poland was the venue for our 1994 meeting. A country undergoing rapid industrial change faces particular challenges, especially when industries are acquired by new owners, often from abroad, who may not place the same value on historic industrial sites. Yet preservation and presentation on site is often the most effective way of ensuring the survival of historic material, which if removed to a museum would be divorced from both its context and from the society of which it is part.

In Norway in 1995 we were introduced to the oil industry in a series of visits to company headquarters, a service base and a construction yard. The oil industry has had a profound effect on Norway and though there has been talk of a museum for years, it has not yet opened. Perhaps it is the daunting size of much of the technology (the Brent Spar production platform is a notorious example) that has held the project back, while Stavanger's other great industry, sardine canning, has an excellent museum. Sardines come in a more convenient size.

In 1996 CIMUSET will meet at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England. The theme will be Presenting Science and Technology to the Public, and one of the subjects will be on improving access to collections. The possibilities are vast, with, over and above exhibitions, support to centres so that they can open up their reserve collections, and there is also the virtual museum experience accessible through CD-ROM and Internet.

In 1997 CIMUSET will meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The international and global nature of science and technology will be very apparent on this occasion. These characteristics influence collecting strategies in our field in ways that are distinctly different from other branches of the museum world. The triennial ICOM conference in 1998 will attract CIMUSET members to Melbourne, Australia, where we look forward to seeing Scienceworks, a recent technology museum. We will also visit the re-created gold-mining town of Ballarat, which will remind us that although collections are at the heart of museums, they are not the only way of evoking the past.

For further information
We would like to remind readers that in its collection of ICOFOM Study Series (No. 6), ICOM's International Committee of Museology published the proceedings of a symposium on the theme of Collecting today for tomorrow which took place in Leiden, The Netherlands, in October 1984. The information file prepared by the ICOM Secretariat for International Museums Day will contain a bibliography on the subject.

Updated: 15 September 2005