|Posted by Melissa Houston on September 20, 2013 at 10:05 AM|
Let's admit it, when meeting someone new your first question is often "what do you do?" And by that, the questioning individual means "what is your job?"
When I answer "registrar" I am met with blank stares or sometimes a question about college grades and transcripts. So my tagline for being a registrar has become "I research and catalog artifacts." This is true of my position because we are a small institution and I have the luxury of researching. But for many museum registrars there are too many very complicated, very legal, and very important documents that they handle on a daily basis and so "paperwork" is our job.
Every artifact has an accession file which includes not only a deed of gift but also an object card, related research, conservation reports, and a record of loans. Some museum's have enormous collections that are loaned frequently. Loan documents are very important legal documents that establish ownership as well as perimeters for the borrower. Imagine borrowing the Mona Lisa without proper paperwork... suddenly the woman is smiling in my bathroom instead of the Louvre! All of these documents provide information on the safe handling of the artifact and are important for the curator, researcher, visitor, and registrar alike.
I must say my favorite part is acting as a detective. When someone seeks information on an object, the first place to look is the object's file. If there isn't additional research on a pair of opera glasses and their maker, for example, I must track down that information. Why do we have opera glasses in our collection? Did Barnum own them or use them? How did the owner find these opera glasses? What could have brought the glasses to Bridgeport? Was there an opera house in Bridgeport that PT Barnum could have, would have attended? It is always fascinating to see the connections between our materials and our history!