NSights Blog

W. M. Keck Museum: 109 years of community outreach and still going strong

April 22 event to highlight 109-year-old Keck and other University District Museums offerings

"I'm pretty sure that's poop, and not a fossil", I thought.

I was cleaning out an old display on prehistoric animals native to Nevada. The object in question looked very similar to a dropping that may have been left behind by an herbivore mammal like a sheep or goat, it was dried out and did not seem like a fossil. It was out of place amongst the other fossilized remains.

I later learned that the dropping was from a variety of giant ground sloth that lived in Nevada during the Pleistocene. The droppings are dried, but still feces and just beginning to fossilize, they are around 50,000 years old.

Many museums deal with strange and unidentified objects in their collection. Museum professionals investigate objects found in the collection without any information, it is part of the job.

At the Keck Museum it is compounded by the lack of paperwork and the age of the collection. The geology collection predates the museum and is almost 140 years old. The museum itself has been in our current location since its founding in 1908. This has led to the collection being cared for by many different people with changing principles and museum best practices. Today we are slowly cataloguing the collection and discovering just what we have at this great institution.

I became the curator of the Keck Museum in September of 2013, but I remember reading the Odyssey in the museum's quiet and peaceful gallery as a student.  I fell in love with the collection and the historic nature of the museum. The roll of curator is one I take very seriously. While studying museology at the University of Washington I developed an interest and expertise in the professionalization of small museums. I was very eager to bring this expertise to the Keck Museum.

The museum has operated as an academic research museum for most of its history. Traditionally the museum was cared for part time by a professor in the Mackay School. While these curators did fantastic work and cared deeply for the museum, not having dedicated professional museum staff has taken its toll. This is part of the reason our collection needs so much work.

Starting in the 1990s the museum began to look towards the community and welcome local school tours into the gallery. Today we welcome over 6,000 school children from Washoe County and surrounding areas annually. Our tours focus on geology, paleontology, and mining history. Many of the schools who take advantage of our free services are from Title I schools and the Keck Museum may be their only tour for the year.

Even though the museum is a major destination for school children, research is still a major component of our mission. We work with University students and faculty, but we also work with outside researchers from other universities and private industry.

Like most museums only fifteen percent of our collection is on display at any given time. Most of the collection is in storage and of a quality that is better suited for research. If a researcher is interested in the geology of a historic mining district, or the flora and fauna of Nevada at different paleontological times the Keck can probably help.

UNR is a Museum Campus

Museums supplement the education of the general public. While a museum does not purely educate, a visitor does not leave a museum with a degree or necessarily a better understanding of the subject material. The purpose of museums is to inspire people to encourage further exploration of their world and community.

My goal at the Keck Museum is to encourage visitors to explore the fascinating history and geology of Nevada. This idea of inspiration is what makes museums unique as institutions. Museums use the humanities to teach science. Museums are an example of what can be achieved by disciplines working collaboratively and sharing expertise. Museums are an important part of a thriving community and the University's museums have been a vital part of the community in northern Nevada for over 100 years.

Most universities may have up to two museums. An encyclopedic museum that collects objects from all over the world related to many different subjects that supplement the many diverse fields represented by the university. A university may also have an art museum.

The University historically has done the very "Nevadan" thing of each department having their own museum and not having central or condensed museums. This has led the University to have the unique position of supporting close to one dozen unique museums and similar institutions. These museums provide important services to the University and the greater Nevada community.

In 2013 the museums on and around the University of Nevada campus began working together to promote the museum and outreach efforts of the University. The largest effort the University District Museums consortium undertakes is our "Day at the Museum" event. This large collaborative program began in 2015 and will be celebrating its third year, April 22, 2017.

This event is a great showcase of all the museums on and around campus and how we work together. Most of the museums participating will be free and have hands on activities for visitors of all ages. This is a family-friendly event, but visitors interested in the arts, history, zoology, and paleontology, just to name a few, should check out the great museums in the University neighborhood. If you are interested in attending this year's event please visit the University District Museums page for more information. UNR.edu/museums

The Keck Museum is Your Museum

As the curator of the Keck Museum I am always looking for new collaborative projects that will better serve Reno's community. If you have an idea for a project or are interested in scheduling a tour, please contact me at the below information. The Keck Museum prides itself in serving the community, but that means we must hear from the community.   Garrett Barmore: 775-784-4528, gbarmore@unr.edu. Keck Museum: M-F 9:00-4:00 First Saturday of the Month 12:00-4:00. Free for 109 years!

Garrett Barmore headshot