Registrar (museum)

Registrational materials include a soft pencil, archival pen, thread/needle, cotton twill tape, acid-free tags, cotton gloves, and Nitrile gloves for accessioning

A registrar (museum) is responsible for implementing policies and procedures that relate to caring for collections of cultural institutions like archives, libraries, and museums. These policies are found in the museum's collections policy, the guiding tenet of the museum explaining why the institution is in operation, dictating the museum's professional standards regarding the objects left in its care.[1] Registrars focus on sections that include acquisitions, loans, exhibitions, deaccessions, storage, packing and shipping, security of objects in transit, insurance policies, and risk management.[2]

As a collections care professional, they work with collection managers, conservators, and curators to balance public access to objects with the conditions needed to maintain preservation. Focusing on documentation, registrars are responsible for developing and maintaining records management systems, with individual files for each object in the collection. Smaller and mid-sized institutions may combine the role of registrar with that of collections manager, while large institutions often have multiple registrars, each overseeing a different curatorial department.

Responsibilities and duties

The role of registrar was first defined in the early 1900s, and while the job description has not changed appreciably over time, the responsibilities have evolved with technology and increasing global awareness. Successful registrars deftly manage many projects at once, maintain calm focus, and diligent attention to detail. Collaborating with other departments and community associations is key.[3]

A selection of the most critical responsibilities include:

Knowledge, abilities, and skills

A registrar should show strength and skill when handling objects. From physically moving an object to being able to identify any stress points or cultural significance, a registrar must take the initiative to study the museum's collection. They must be calm, flexible, resourceful, and focus on the details. Registrars can be described as academic generalists, who, over time, can develop specializations.[4]

Working knowledge of American Association of Museum's Code of Ethics as well as the Collecting Guidelines for Museums should be required to be successful and respectful of any cultural or intrinsic objects. A registrar should be familiar with the AAM Guide to Provenance Research, as well as the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal. A registrar should also be familiar with Digital Fair Use and the US Indemnity Program. In addition, a registrar should understand repatriation processes, both nationally and internationally.

As a member of a unique institution, a registrar must possess the ability to be successful in a team-oriented environment. Teaching qualities and customer service skills are helpful when trying to relay the importance of a collection's protection or access to a different department within the museum.

Education and training

Individuals looking to begin a career in the Collections Management field generally possess a bachelor's degree in history, art history, fine arts, or a field related to museum interests. Many institutions now require a graduate education in museum studies or field relating to the museum's collections in this competitive job market. Candidates are also expected to have hands-on experience in museum collection database management, object packing and handling, digitization, collections cataloging, and accession and loan procedures.

Internships and volunteer work in cultural institutions are excellent ways to gain experience and make connections with museum professionals. By taking initiative to acquire experience, paid or unpaid, a candidate will also develop their organizational skills, familiarity with procedure, and the inherent flexibility needed to succeed as a registrar.

Related positions

Smaller museums tend to combine the role of registrar with that of collection manager, in which case one person (or team) would oversee the traditional responsibilities of a registrar with the addition of a more hands-on role in collections care. Added duties include: overseeing and maintaining environmental conditions in storage and exhibition facilities, taking a more active role in conditions assessments and contacting conservators directly, managing physical storage needs, and taking inventory of the collection at regular intervals.[7]

See also


  1. Fahy, A., ed. (2002). Collections Management. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-11283-4.
  2. "Office of the Registrar". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  3. Schlatter, Elizabeth (2008)Museum Careers: A Practical Guide for Students and Novices. Left Coast Press, California. Chapter 3.
  4. 1 2 3 Buck, R.; Gilmore, J., eds. (2010). Museum Registration Methods (5th ed.). Washington, D.C.: The AAM Press. ISBN 978-1-933253-15-2.
  5. "Deaccessioning Activity" (PDF). American Association of Museums. Retrieved April 24, 2014.
  6. "Guidelines for Disaster Preparedness in Museums" (PDF). International Council of Museums. Retrieved April 24, 2014.
  7. "Collections Management". Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Retrieved April 20, 2014.

External links

Organizations/professional societies

State and regional associations (such as the Southeastern Registrar's Association) often organize classes, workshops, or conferences surrounding a contested topic or previously scheduled cultural event.

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