It has been estimated that there are about 200 significant collections of health and medicine artefacts in Australia. They are looked after, in the main, by willing volunteers with the occasional supervision of a part-time trained museum curator. Less than half the collections have affiliations with Museums Australia through the Health and Medicine Museums Special Interest Group and many do not hold Museums Australia membership. There are only two full-time health and medicine curators in Australia and often these curators are called upon to fulfil overlapping responsibilities in science and other areas.
Often, government departments outsource their public education exhibitions and expect that sufficient artefacts can be collected at a moment's notice. This situation does not give me the assurance that I would like, so that I can feel that health and medicine collections are seen to be indispensable. I believe that this personal view is more generally held. One colleague said to me, "I keep my collection in the garage as I don't believe that I can, with confidence, entrust my artefacts to a particular museum. I wish I could."
The number of artefacts of significant provenance held by private individuals in this way is large. They are likely to be lost unless the image of health and medicine collections can be improved. Another group of artefacts at particular risk are the pathology specimens. These must be preserved for the future - they cannot be replaced.
How can we improve the image of our collections? The resources that are available to our members are limited. Collection management is important and cataloguing is essential. The last HMM Newsletter gave some advice concerning cataloguing - the use of photographs is the way to go. The national committee of HMM would like feedback on the suggestions.
Of more importance are the methods we use to promote and market our collections. Perhaps our artefacts should only be lent to others' exhibitions for a fee, which could be used to develop our collections. This would at least put a value on our collections. It is only by putting a value on the artefacts that they will achieve recognition. We also need to move our artefacts into the community. This would need some coordination and financial support. Perhaps local community support could be developed for the production of displays in local shopping centres. Many people do not have time to go into a museum or the incentive to do so. Health and medicine displays need to be taken to the community.