Importance of the University Collections
The University of Hawai‘i Museum Consortium affirms the crucial role played by campus cultural and natural history collections and gallery spaces in support of teaching, research, and public out-reach projects and activities.
Cultural collections provide opportunities for people to learn about the extraordinary variety of objects created by a particular society and how they are made, used, and valued. Viewing and sometimes handling collections allow students to appreciate the materials, design, and function of an object within a historic period and/or its changes over time. For many curators the research they conduct to understand the significance of an object and its contextual meanings is crucial to their work and contributions to their disciplinary fields. By enabling students access to collection objects either through direct contact or via digital formats, curators can help students to appreciate the work of scholars in exploring and establishing the importance of material culture in societies. Finally, curators can help students to understand the need for developing and providing interpretive materials to accompany objects within a collection, so that visitors can appreciate what they see in a cabinet or drawer, or in an exhibition.
Collections of natural history specimens are the foundation for all studies of the diversity of living organisms and evolution. Specimens provide enormous economic and scientific returns to society and are irreplaceable resources that must be preserved for future generations.
Specimens provide the foundation of nomenclature, the basis for identification, the common reference for communication, and the vouchers for floras, as well as for evolutionary and genomic studies. Molecular and morphological characters can be obtained from them that allow us to reconstruct the history of life. All fields of biological science from the level of molecular biology to ecosystem science are dependent on collections, not just for application of names, but as the basis for referencing all aspects of biodiversity.
Beyond their scientific importance, natural history collections offer many benefits to society by providing data or reference materials for critical endeavors such as agriculture, human health, bio-security, forensics, control of invasive species, conservation biology, natural resources, and land management. Natural History collections provide a wealth of information on our natural heritage and extend back more than a hundred years; thus they provide the only reliable, verifiable record of the changes to our world during the expansion of human population.
Because natural history collections play such an important role in societal endeavors, continued physical and financial support is absolutely critical. Collections are most valuable in their original institutional and geographical contexts. Therefore, the Museum Consortium strongly advises the university to conserve and maintain its natural collections in perpetuity. Once an institution divests itself of a collection, it is difficult to regain it and all benefits associated with it are lost to future generations.