NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rumors swirled this week that the Rutgers’ 141-year-old Geology Museum may soon be closed, putting in jeopardy the future of the specimens and collections.
Each year, the museum hosts an annual open house featuring a mineral sale, public lectures from local and visiting faculty members, and educational activities designed for K-12 students.
Last Saturday, scores of mineral enthusiasts, faculty, local residents, and students of all ages filled the Geology Museum and Scott Hall for the 45th annual open house.
But rumors spread there that the event might be the final one of its kind as Rutgers University intends on closing down the historical science museum.
A university spokesman gave this public statement to NewBrunswickToday.com this morning:
“The Geology Museum remains in operation while the university examines ways to preserve and enhance the mission of the museum, and expand its outreach so that it may better serve the people of New Jersey.”
The rumors were fueled by the January 1 removal of Rutgers University professor Kathleen Scott from the museum’s co-director position.
Scott is a paleontologist in the Department of Cell Biology & Neuroscience, whose specializations include mammology, vertebrae paleontology, and functional morphology.
In an interview, she spoke of the unique value that the museum has for both the university and the local community.
“I would like to see the museum continue. It’s part of the university’s outreach to the public,” Scott told NewBrunswickToday.com.
“It’s a resource for people who can’t afford to go to the American [Museum of Natural History] or the Liberty Science Center,” she added.
Scott added that having the museum remain open serves an important function, of furthering the university’s outreach to the local community, in particular future college students:
“As an outreach unit, as a way of reaching out to children and to the community, I think it’s very important.”
When asked about the impact that the Geology Museum would have on the youth of New Jersey, Scott said that it is crucial the youth in our community has hands on interaction with the different types of sciences that exist, which might not be readily available to the public:
“You have to get children interested, and you have to make them think it’s possible, and you have to reach them young. High school is too late; we need to get the younger children. Middle school is a critical time.
“A lot of science now isn’t stuff that you can reach out and touch. It’s interesting, but there is a limit to how much you can catch children with. It’s the things they see and touch,” said Scott.
Originally named Geology Hall, the Rutgers Geology Museum was founded and directed by George H. Cook in 1872. Cook, who was the state geologist, provided many specimens collected during his tenure as the director of the New Jersey Geological Survey.
In 1968, the museum had its first open house, sponsored by the Department of Geological Sciences, since renamed the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. They also created an outreach program designed for students K-12, and continuously offer tours and events that are open to all students and the general public.
One of the most impressive aspects of the museum is its variety of exhibits.
Although the main focus is geology, the museum has a large range of anthropological and natural history specimens, such as a large mastodon from Salem County, NJ and an Egyptian mummy dating from the Ptolemaic era (305-30 B.C.).
An anonymous source from the Rutgers faculty was quite upset when informed that the Rutgers Geology Museum is potentially shutting down, and proceeded to question what would happen to the specimens:
“What would happen to the collection? What are we going to do with them? They have to be preserved. They have to find a place; it will be costly to move them, to find a place where they can be secured.
“I don’t know if we can really find somebody [that] can really watch over [the collections]. It’s not that simple to close a museum… I would hope that [the administration] would see the museum as an asset for the university.”
The museum website mentions that only a “small fraction of them [mineral and fossil collections] are on exhibit, and are a major attraction for thousands of visitors who come to the Rutgers University Geology Museum each year”.
If the museum is indeed closing, the expenses to move, maintain, and preserve the various specimens and artifacts could potentially prove costly to the university.
Like most academic museums, funding for the Geology Museum is dependent on memberships and donations. The museum raises much of its funding through the annual mineral sales and the gift shop that stays open throughout the year.
Both offer a reasonable selection at an affordable price to the general public. Members also receive an additional 10% off museum store purchases, according to the website.
Volunteers and work-study students also constitute the majority of the workforce at the museum, ranging from arranging museum tours, working on special collections, to helping out with special events.
In fact, the only expense paid for by the university is a fraction of the salary of just one full-time employee.
Aside from the contents within the museum building, it also adds architectural value to the historic university.
The museum was designed by architect Henry Janeway Hardenberg, also known for his later work on the Astoria Hotel, Dakota Apartments, and Park Hotel in New York City.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.