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Presidential Profile

Presidential Profile

Chris Norris


Senior Collections Manager


Division of Vertebrate Paleontology
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
New Haven, CT, USA



I’ve been visiting museums for most of my life and I did my doctorate (in zoology) in a museum, but I didn’t start out working for one. In fact, I was an administrator, initially working in a government grant agency, followed by a number of years in university administration. I always maintained my links with the museum world and about 15 years ago I got the opportunity to go back to work as collections specialist, which is what I’ve been ever since. Nonetheless, those early years were valuable. Sometimes, life in a museum collection can get a little rarified; it’s important to remember that there’s a bigger world out there.

Involvement with SPNHC

Since joining SPNHC back in 1998, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a number of major initiatives, chairing committees on Long Range Planning, Conferences, Mentorship, Federal Collections, Publicity & Outreach, and the future of our journal, Collection Forum, and serving as an ordinary member of the Best Practices, Finance, and Membership committees. I can testify first-hand to the energy and enthusiasm of the Society members that participate in these activities and I would urge all members of the Society to get involved in its running by joining a committee.

Vision for the Future

SPNHC is a great organization, with an active, talented, and highly professional membership. It is no exaggeration to say that, over the first 27 years of its existence, our society has changed the face of natural science collections care. So where do we go from here? The answer, I believe, is that we have to cement our leadership role, as the authentic and authoritative voice for natural history collections worldwide. We need to take advantage of available technology, by improving our web presence and making more use of social networking, so that our global membership is kept up-to-date with – and can actively participate in – the full range of our activities. We have to foster professionalism in collections care by working with organizations outside North America to develop mentorship programs and to provide financial support to emerging professionals.

One of the most encouraging things to have happened in our field for many years is the recognition by governments in North America and in Europe that natural history collections represent an enormous, distributed facility for supporting research across many fields of science. We have to spread this message, and we also have to capitalize on the renewed attention by harnessing our most powerful resource – the collective expertise of our membership – to codify and publicize best practices in the field of collections care. Best practices should be the keystone on which all of our activities build.

All of this will cost money. If we are to meet our objectives we will need to spend these funds, but we have to do so in a responsible manner and in a way that provides our members with genuine value for money. We have to build on existing efforts to seek out support from individual donors, corporate sponsors, and grant awarding bodies. Fundraising should be a core activity of the Society, but it has to be rooted in rigorous financial planning, to ensure that our goals are fiscally sustainable in the long term.

These are challenging goals. The good news is that over the last two years SPNHC has engaged in a rigorous strategic planning process, working its standing committees and through sessional committees to develop short, medium, and long-term goals that have addressed these objectives. How we achieve these goals is the challenge that the Society and its leadership will be addressing over the next five to ten years. It’s an exciting time to be working in natural history collections and if that’s where your interests lie, you should be a member of SPNHC.