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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Why your registrar should be your best friend

It is the burden of a registrar to be constantly asked, ‘So what exactly is it that you do?’ Sometimes even by other museum people. To this age-old question, a registrar can be counted upon to sigh heavily and launch into an explanation, all the while dying a little inside.

I am writing today to rectify this wrong. Museum people and all you other museum lovers- listen up! I will explain to you what a registrar does so that you will never make this tragic mistake again. Let there be no doubt for all in the museum world, but particularly on the exhibitions circuit, your registrar is your best friend, and you never EVER want to annoy them. Although you inevitably will.

Nope registrars never do this. In fact they make sure
that fool on the left is getting fired for not wearing gloves. 
It is the core of a registrar’s job to be annoyed by curators. Wait, scratch that, we will get to that a bit later. Let’s go back to basics and simply say that a registrar’s job is to do the registry work for the museum. Not more enlightened? Registry work is all things to do with the legal and logistical aspects of acquiring or disposing objects, whether for the collections or for loans. That means every object you see in an exhibition which says ‘on loan from…’ is only there because the registrars from the lending and borrowing institutions did days, possibly weeks, worth of work to make it happen.

That seems like a silly job, you might say. Why not just put the thing in the back of your car and drive it over to the other museum? Because it is also the registrar’s job to ensure that museums are acting according to industry standards at all times- and that means making sure every part of a loan ‘nail to nail’ is done with the utmost professionalism. That’s important because if you slip below museums standards of logistics, packing, conservation, or display the Lending institution can revoke the loan at any time, or even worse, you can lose your insurance cover.

Registrars are also in charge of all kinds of legal aspects about acquiring and disposing objects. Can you buy an object off the black-market that is made of endangered animal furs and was also looted by the Nazis? Of course not, and registrars are here to make sure crazy curators don’t.

Aside from any technical definition of what registry work includes, a registrar is essentially the middleman between all the different museum departments to make sure everything runs smoothly. A registrar will often coordinate between curatorial and conservation to make sure that objects for exhibition are condition checked, conserved and packed as necessary. They also work with donors to organise acquisitions and returns of objects. A good registrar will make sure everyone is talking to everyone else during a project and that everything gets done to time.

We can only assume the registrars are the ones in the background,
looking on critically. 
This also means that people tend to get annoyed with or even dislike registrars. Curators will often be driven crazy by registrars constantly pushing paper at them, telling them what they can and can’t do, or nagging them about deadlines. On the flip side, curators drive us crazy sometimes changing their exhibition plans, object lists, move in dates and god knows what else. And don’t even get me started on designers who just really want to display an object under a waterfall, or want people to experience a priceless 18th century object through the sense of taste. These things sound like fun and probably look cool, but basically go against everything a museum stands for in terms of protecting heritage.

To be fair, the work of a registrar varies across institutions. In some museums registry work is done by the curator, in others it might be combined with documentation, and in some places it falls to exhibitions teams. What I can tell you is, whatever wrapping they come in, on any exhibition project there will be a registrar type person, and you need to make them your best friend. They have the contacts with museum logistics companies, they know who’s who in conservation and they can give you all kinds of paperwork related advice.

So here’s to you registrars, unsung heroes of the museum world. You make exhibitions happen, you make sure the various bickering departments work together, you keep museums accredited and you use your mad-organization skills to keep objects safe at all times.  Now go to work and hug your registrar, they probably need one after how stressed you’ve made them.

1 comment:

  1. whow and I bet you rarely hear "goof job registrar" mom and kies