Development of the Cole Museum resources for outreach and teaching and learning.

 Dr Amanda Callaghan, School of Biological Sciences


Cole Zoology Museum300The Cole Museum of Zoology (the Cole) houses a number of satellite collections for use in outreach, teaching and learning. In 2014 we transferred 50% of the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science (SAGES) fossil collection to the Cole and in 2015 acquired the other half. As a result of this Teaching and Learning Development Fund project, most of the fossils and many more Cole specimens and archives have been catalogued and photographed and are now being transferred onto AdLib (a database for the cataloguing and publishing of information on collection objects) for wider use.


  • To improve the use of SAGES fossil/SBS zoology collections in outreach, T&L and research through improved access.
  • To catalogue and organise material, photograph where required and upload onto AdLib.


Around 50% of the University fossil collection was moved to the Cole in the School of Biological Sciences in 2014. This resource is used for teaching palaeontology and is still used by staff in Archaeology (GV2M5 Quaternary Global Climate Change). SBS are now increasingly using this resource in teaching and recently it has been used to teach BI1EZ1 Introduction to Zoology, BI1EAB1 Animal Diversity, BI2BS5 Vertebrate Zoology and BI3EAB8 Palaeozoology. The remaining 50% was moved in 2015 and required cataloguing, along with archival materials. Many of the Cole specimens and all of its archives have not been photographed and were therefore unavailable as images online.


Two UG students and one PhD student were employed, with the added value of two additional volunteers and two academic members of staff to supervise students. Remaining fossil specimens were transferred to the Cole, identified, labelled, photographed, catalogued and stored. Specimen photographs and details are now being uploaded onto the AdLib database by a volunteer. AdLib is used by collections across the University to catalogue and publish information on collection objects. It is accessible to students and staff through the Library website Enterprise.


This will allow staff and students across the university access to the collection.  Because the collection is organized and the catalogue available online, we now have a team of 8 undergraduate volunteers and enthusiasts who are able to work on proofreading and identifying specimens in the catalogue.  In addition to improving access to the collection for use in classes by students of Archaeology and SBS, an added impact of the work is that students are gaining skills in palaeontological curation and a certain level of expertise in zoology and fossil identification. A number of our students are interested in careers in the museum sector and this experience will put them in good stead for a job in this area.


At the end of the project all the fossils have been transferred, photographed and the digital catalogue was transferred online.  Considerable progress was made in identifying specimens and filling in missing taxonomic information. In addition to the fossil work, the opportunity to work in the museum during the summer with a dedicated team allowed us to photograph Cole specimens whilst the photography system was set up. We also engaged a PhD student, Verity Burke, to catalogue and organise the archival material. As a result she instigated a twitter exhibition #ColeEx.


The Cole is an accredited museum praised by the accrediting body (Museums and Libraries and Archives Council – it is now administered by the Arts Council England) for our collection management and collection care. We will now manage the fossil collection appropriately to make it more readily accessible for use and to bring it back to a good curatorial standard. The collection is now available for use in outreach, by colleagues in SBS and Archaeology for classes, for research, as well as by students on school placements to allow the development of new projects.

As a result of this project, we now are able to use the collection in new ways:

  1. Teaching and Learning. The entire fossil teaching collection is now used in teaching BI3EAB1, with students in the class able to use the online catalogue during practicals.
  2.  Research. A third year student is researching our ichthyosaur material for her final year project.
  3.  Engagement. The fossil collection is very popular among our students who are keen to be able to work with the fossils and help us to improve the information associated with each specimen.
  4. Outreach. The fossil collection is available for School visits and has already been used in University outreach activities.