Moving Microscopes and Monkey Skulls: RI Natural History Survey Relocates


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Moving out of somewhere you’ve lived for a long time is no one’s idea of fun. There are books, papers, and computers. Sorting through what to keep and what to throw out. Movers can help, but you need friends to pack things up, especially the fragile stuff. Like the fine art, the microscopes, the monkey skull.



When you’re the Rhode Island Natural History Survey (RINHS), packing up and moving from URI’s main campus to East Farm (just off campus) means sorting through things that the average person doesn’t have to deal with, like Rhesus monkey remains and seed collections. But that is what happens when your organization prides itself on being a home for natural sciences, and is supported by art and literature.

Last Thursday, about 100 people gathered to celebrate the RINHS move to its new digs, which comes after nearly a decade on the main campus. Executive Director David Gregg said the move was a much needed one. “We felt like the place on main campus wasn’t helping us meet our mission to be in contact with diverse people; it was just too hard a place to reach. We had two rooms in a five story building, and traffic when classes were changing made getting there a struggle. People just weren’t walking by our door.”


The move began at end of August, and the organization was completely out by the end of October. That didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty left to do, however. “Moving was a little like rebuilding an airplane in flight. We couldn’t slow down on any projects that we had going, but we had to move at same time. Our volunteers were critically important; we’re busy as it is, without moving. In addition to professional movers, we utilized about a dozen helpers over a two to three week time. We had to keep the whole organization functional while we were moving: finances, membership, program work, meetings.

“In the old building, we had cubicles and built in closets. Here, we had to locate office furniture, which meant scouring the campus for surplus. This is the first time we’ve even had offices. Like anybody when they move, you go through your stuff and say ‘why have I been saving that?’ But even after sorting, we still had tons of things to move: there were files, records going back years, and an inventory of publications that had been stored in an attic. There were dozens of boxes of books, insect collections, and an entire reference library. And there’s nothing heavier than a library!”


As much as anything else, relocating helped physically manifest the philosophy of natural sciences. “The whole point is that we want people who are knowledgeable of plants and animals, for example, to be able to meet and have a community. Half of the value in a central location is the chance meetings of people. The botanist runs into the oceanographer. The more people can have a place where they can come and meet others, the more we can have in terms of a successful environment. It’s a matter of creative interaction.”


DSC_1002The building houses a combination of offices, classrooms, laboratories, a library, and a flexible meeting room for everything from classes to movie nights to the evening’s open house. Gregg is happy with the arrangement.
“It’s awesome! Right now there’s a room full of people doing seed cleaning for Rhody Native (RINHS’s program of using native plants in landscaping). Earlier today we had a person come by with natural history question. The students have had their classes with aquaculture professor Terry Bradley.”


Gregg sees natural science, and RINHS in particular, as a critical link between many academic disciplines, each of which are attempting to deal with a constantly changing natural world. “The environment is a complex thing, and the problems that we face are big and complex. There are issues like climate change, pollinator decline, pollution and water quality. There is no single solution to these. And the people who work on those projects tend to be isolated in a classic ‘stovepipe’ atmosphere, with animal people talking to animal people, and not necessarily to people in other disciplines.

“We need a space where we can bring all those people together to address complex issues. To be precise in addressing the big questions. Information and understanding win every time.”


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