All posts by Derek Swallow

Art work, Artefact, Auto, and Pop-Culture Shrine

Transport and Exhibit of the John Lennon Rolls Royce, Part 1

By Derek Swallow – Royal BC Museum

Lennon Rolls – RBCM 992.66.2 Collection Royal British Columbia Museum - RBCM

Lennon Rolls – RBCM 992.66.2 Collection
Royal British Columbia Museum – RBCM

Dedication: To the team of Nordic registrars who sponsored the fabulous European Registrar’s Conference, 2014, I attended in Helsinki, Finland and to all collections managers who measure their artefacts with precise accuracy (see part two of this article).


rolls2The rumor percolated through the museum for nearly a month then reality slammed home while scanning my email that cold late January morning of 2013. My eye caught the subject line: Loan Lennon Rolls. I hesitated then opened and read the message. So it’s true, we have five weeks to plan and transport the Rolls from here to Montreal. It’s huge and heavy: 6 meters long and 2.2 meters wide weighing 2,700 kgs. It has to travel 5000 kms., cross country, during Canada’s most severe winter month, possibly through fierce cold, driving blizzards and on treacherous highways. I drew a deep breath, concerned partly with the tight time-line, the vehicle’s mass, potential hazards caused by inclement weather, but also due to my lack of experience with a project like this one. Despite decades of coordinating hundreds of loans I’ve never done a car before. This unease escalated, knowing this was also no typical museum-collected car, representative of its time period, style, and make. This vehicle, a venerated pop-cultural icon and an original work of art, made it unique and precious beyond its appraised value.

The John Lennon Rolls Royce:

A working automobile:

Beatles in the Rolls at Buckingham Palace Oct. 26,1965

Beatles in the Rolls at Buckingham Palace Oct. 26,1965

This fully functioning, 1965 Rolls-Royce Phantom Touring Limousine, now catalogued and in the collection of the Royal BC Museum, originally owned by rock music legend John Lennon, transported the Beatles around for three years.

Pop-Cultural Icon:

John Lennon in the Rolls in Spain Oct.1966

John Lennon in the Rolls in Spain Oct.1966

The 60s generation elevated Lennon and the other group members to the stratum of popular cultural “demi-gods”. To some their physical presence within the vehicle transferred to it such a power of association that it took on a “shrine” like quality. In later years, the vehicle, lent for use by such musical superstars as the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues and Bob Dylan, only enhanced its mystical quality.

Work of Art:

John and Julian Lennon beside Rolls 1967

John and Julian Lennon beside Rolls 1967

In 1967, Lennon chose to transform this expensive yet utilitarian object into a work of art. He commissioned artist Steve Weaver to convert the somber “valentine black” body of the car into an explosively vibrant painting. Weaver primed his metal “canvas” with several coats of chrome yellow paint then for six weeks applied by hand bold motifs inspired by Romani designs using strident colours akin to the saturated pigments found in “psychedelic” art, a popular European style in the 1960’s. The end product, with designs flowing over the entire body of the car, was a powerful, unique composition. This transformation created more than just a three-dimensional work of art. The Rolls Royce, a quintessential emblem of prestige and traditional “establishment” now morphed into a powerful symbol of 1960s counter-culture and a striking icon of anti-establishment values. The Beatles were destined to represent a generation of youth eager to flaunt the “establishment” and kindled the phenomenon called “Beatle mania”.

Association with the Nordic Countries:

Beatles in Copenhagen at the KB June 4th, 1964

Beatles in Copenhagen at the KB June 4th, 1964

In 1963 “Beatle mania” swept Great Britain and surged north to this beautiful Nordic region. Karlstad, Sweden was chosen as the first stop outside the UK. For five days the pop group toured even appearing on Swedish TV. Also, in 1963, the youth of only one world country pushed the seminal Beatles song “Twist and Shout” to the top of the music charts. That country was Finland. and shout video). On June 4th ,2014, Beatles enthusiasts in Denmark celebrated the 50th anniversary of the group’s concert in Copenhagen, the city which was the official launch point of the Beatles two year “World Tour”. (video of the Beatles in Denmark)
Despite their British origin, the Beatles, their music, and the “Beatle mania” phenomenon remains an enduring part of the 60’s pop cultural history of Scandinavia, Europe, and North America and the Lennon Rolls itself, one of its most recognized symbols and icons. The Royal BC Museum cares for the Rolls not just for the people of British Columbia, or Canada, but for the entire world. (Victoria news cast about the Rolls)

The move of the Lennon Rolls from the Royal BC Museum, in Victoria to Montreal, Quebec was to showcase this icon as part of the anniversary of “Beatle mania” and the group’s concert in Montreal during their “World Tour”. It also was a celebration of the Beatles for the entire world.


Images from Pointe-à-Callière website:

Images from Pointe-à-Callière website:

Read Part 2: The Transport of the John Lennon Rolls Royce…


A New Look for Museum Collection Committees

by Derek Swallow

Innovation in such areas as exhibition methodology, education programs, revenue generation is expected in the 21st Century museums. This is not always the case for core museum processes. However, necessity can drive such innovation. Many twenty-first century museums face the harsh reality of shrinking budgets. One impact: fewer staff with heavy workloads. To maintain high service standards and internal best practices museum personnel look for ways to work more efficiently. Better time management is one solution. New measures such as pruning the number and length of meetings can conserve this now precious commodity – time. Modifying the delivery and structure of tradition museum business meetings is an area where savings can be found. In early 2013, the Royal BC Museum, where I work, launched a pilot project, aimed simultaneously at carving down our collections committee meeting time and building a more flexible, egalitarian process.

Work load too much? # f 08817Collection of the Royal BC Museum/BC Archives.

Work load too much?
# f 08817 Collection of the Royal BC Museum/BC Archives.

Traditionally, our committee composed of curators, archivists and a conservation representative, guided by a chair person, met monthly for one and a half hours: its mandate to decide which new collections, proposed by discipline curators or archivists, would be accepted into the Royal BC Museum permanent holdings as well as adjudicate recommended collection deaccessions. The agenda, provided electronically to members several days before the meeting allowed time to digest the information about each proposed acquisition including the proponent curator’s acquisition proposal (rationale for acquisition) and the conservation department report. The latter included the general to specific condition of the collection and its components, specifying the time needed to both stabilize and preserve these components over the long term. Armed with this data the members of the collections committee, along with the curator/archivist proponent for each collection, attended the monthly meeting. The proponents “presented” their collections, fielded questions, then the committee would vote. Proposed deaccessions were handled in a similar manner. I suspect this is a familiar format for many of your institutions.

Tired of those traditional collections committee meetings? # a 00514 Collection of the Royal BC Museum/BC Archives.

Tired of those traditional collections committee meetings?
# a 00514 Collection of the Royal BC Museum/BC Archives.

The new model at the Royal BC Museum displaced face-to-face meetings with “virtual” consultation and decision making. By “virtual” I mean that all information transfer, and collection discussions, between collection proponents and committee members, is done via electronic means through email. All processing tracking documents, agendas, collections voting lists, and committee decision postings exist as Excel and Word documents and “live” in digital format on a common drive.

Along with the process the committee structure changed. An egalitarian measure was built in: members now included collections managers as well as curators and archivists. The registrar, previously the recording secretary, assumed the role of quasi-chair person responsible for creating and updating the electronic voting agenda, and the capture and dissemination of electronic communication.

In brief, this is how the “virtual” collection committee (CC) works:

Once a collection has a completed acquisition proposal entered into our database by the proponent curator or archivist, conservator and discipline collections manager the registrar posts it to the excel spreadsheet “voting list”, serving as an agenda. The contained fields include the discipline of the collection, registration number (unique number created by our collections management system), the name of the donor or collection, a summary description, the name of the collection proponent, and voting boxes for each committee member. This spreadsheet, posted at the beginning of a month, to a common drive, is accessible to CC members. If a CC member has a question about a given collection this is sent via email to the proponent cc’ing all the other CC members. The response is therefore sent back to the committee as a whole. This replaces in-person discussions regarding the collections. The registrar copies all such questions and answers, as well as general CC member comments, pastes them into a Word document which forms which, along with the voting list/agenda forms part of the permanent record of decision.

Why not use our sophisticated computer tools to do the job better? # na 19565 and # i 24586-1 Collection of the Royal BC Museum/BC Archives.

Why not use our sophisticated computer tools to do the job better?
# na 19565 and # i 24586-1 Collection of the Royal BC Museum/BC Archives.

The voting list/agenda is a “living” document; as collections are readied for review they are added by the registrar for the first three weeks of the month, where after, the agenda is closed and the registrar tallies and posts the results.

Advantages of the new model include the following:

  • Voting is flexible – can be done when time permits
  • The process is Greener – no paper is involved
  • Collection advocate responses to CC member questions can be thought out and clearly presented – rather than being “off the cuff” in a regular meeting. In addition these questions and answers can be saved in whole. I traditional meetings the minutes contain only a synopsis of the discussions. Some subtle and compelled points may accidentally be omitted.
  • There are no minutes to write up.
  • Time for travel between offices and the meeting room is saved as well as wasted time waiting for a meeting to start as well as through social engagement during and after the meeting. This easily amounts to an hour savings in itself.

Disadvantages of the new model include the following:

  • Using only email communication reduces the dialogue related to each acquisition and there can be more communication in less time in a face to face meeting.
  • Important opportunities to discuss important spin off issues that arise from collections discussion such as policy and procedures are lost.
  • Some members find the depersonalization of the process discomforting – we need to come together face-to-face as a group.
  • Since voting is done in a staggered manner there is a possibility a CC member may be influenced by viewing the vote of a respected colleague.
  • Registrars tracking time is greater.

I am the first to admit, as designer of the system, that the net time savings is relatively nominal. However, a gain of an hour and a half a month is helpful and if others look at internal processes with the same view of saving an hour or so a month soon we have an addition day of time savings. Unfortunately, this doesn’t reduce our workload and give us more free time, it simple means we don’t have to work so onerously hard tackling this workload.

I end with a quote from the famous mid-twentieth century American actor and radio announcer Edgar Bergen: “Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance.”

This post is also available in Italian, translated by Marzia Loddo.


Looking back on 2013 – the inaugural ARCS conference – A milestone for registrars worldwide

By Derek Swallow

Cascading crystal chandeliers, softly illuminating Beaux Arts wall murals with gilded foliated reliefs, border the massive ballroom: a breathtaking setting that one participant described as “the Versailles” of Chicago. This expansive, opulent hall in the historic Chicago Hilton Hotel, once hosting glamorous balls and formal receptions, now served as our conference room: a somewhat humbling setting, in contrast to the small, utilitarian offices in our home museums. It seemed an incongruous choice of venue at first. With reflection the sense of the location gelled in my mind.

Grand Ballroom in the Chicago Hilton – Conference room

Grand Ballroom in the Chicago Hilton – Conference room

The spacious room and dynamic decor metaphorically represented the energy, optimism, and breadth of the newly created ARCS organization and the glittering wealth of knowledge held by the 530 attendees from 28 countries. Selecting Chicago as host city was also ideal: a cultural center home to innovative world class public art and esteemed institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum, to name but two.

The Field Museum, Chicago

The Field Museum, Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago

The three day conference offered 24 sessions with 60 presenters. The diverse topics appropriately reflected the broad scope of interests held by such a large and eclectic group of participants.I felt fortunate to participate in this important inaugural event and would like to personally thank all the organizers, presenters and particularly the founding benefactors whose generous support made it all possible. To enhance our comfort the sponsors provided participants with a cornucopia of delicious, waist-expanding food that sustained us through the information packing sessions.

Public art sculpture near the Art Institute of Chicago

Public art sculpture near the Art Institute of Chicago

For those unfamiliar with ARCS, the acronym stands for the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists. Its mandate and mission:
“…to represent and promote Registrars and Collections Specialists, nationally and internationally, to educate them in the professional best practices of registration and collections care, and to facilitate communication and networking.”
For the benefit of Reg Trek readers, in follow-up articles, I will synthesize the information from those sessions that I believe inform about topics of global interest to registrars, collections managers and other museum professionals. The first of these will explore the session entitled: Deaccessioning: Is there One Right Way? moderated by Devon Pyle-Vowles ARCS Board Member and Conference Chair with presentation by Dawn Roberts, Collections Manager at the Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum; Elizabeth Varner, Executive Director of the National Art Museum of Sport; and Linda Wilhelm, Associate Registrar, Collections, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

“Cloud Gate” affectionately known as “The Bean” in Millennium Park

“Cloud Gate” affectionately known as “The Bean” in Millennium Park

To end I’d like to return to the beginning: the formative era leading to the conception of ARCS. The roots for this organization run deep, starting with the appointment, in 1880, of the first US registrar tasked to manage the collections of the National Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Nearly 100 years lapsed before the next major step occurred. In 1977 the US registrars formed the Registrars Committee of the American Association of Museums (RC-AAM) followed two years later by the UK Registrars Group. Subsequent years saw registrar groups surfacing around the globe. “Best practices” and dialogue enhancement now tethered widely separated colleagues. The early 21st century witnessed an upsurge of international loans and the attendant need to develop global standards for transport, documentation, etc. To cultivate such standards an appropriate forum was required. The RC-AAM fabricated one by sponsoring four international registrar’s symposia, the first in New Orleans in 2004. At the last, in Houston in 2011, the renowned US registrar Jean Gilmore proposed the creation of a new organization to meet 21st century needs. After many months of intensive work the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists materialized: an inclusive, yet highly focused group targeting the challenges of our profession in the new millennium.

“For the first time, registrars and collections specialists have stepped forward as a unified, independent, international group to provide programs and services directed especially to the collections worker.”
(History – Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists – Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists.

This article is also available in Italian, translated by Marzia Loddo and in French, translated by Marine Martineau.


Your do what for a living?

by Derek Swallow

”So what do you do for a living?” I’m asked. “I work as a museum collections registrar.” I reply, gazing on the now blank look of the asker. I continue, briefly describing my job duties: registering potential acquisitions, tracking the process through to the collections committee and ultimate accessioning. This usually draws the ego crippling words: “That sounds interesting” said in that particular pitch that translates to “what a deadly boring job.”

The Beautiful: Buprestis aurulenta – The Golden Buprestid. (Interesting fact – the larvae feed on the wood of recently dead or dying trees and may take more than 60 years to mature if the wood is very dry. (From the Entomology Collection - Royal BC Museum)

The Beautiful: Buprestis aurulenta – The Golden Buprestid. (Interesting fact – the larvae feed on the wood of recently dead or dying trees and may take more than 60 years to mature if the wood is very dry. (From the Entomology Collection – Royal BC Museum)

Barely controlling my irritation I refrain from spitting out the words: “I love my job. It’s really interesting. You really know nothing about it. So what the heck do you do that’s so wonderful – are you an astronaut or something?” Instead I take a deep breath, smile amiably and prepare for my crushing blow.

Bizarre: Goose-neck Barnacle (Pollicipenes polymerus) Stalked barnacles that grow in clusters or colonies along exposed shores of the BC Coast) (From the Invertebrate Collection – Royal BC Museum)

Bizarre: Goose-neck Barnacle (Pollicipenes polymerus) Stalked barnacles that grow in clusters or colonies along exposed shores of the BC Coast) (From the Invertebrate Collection – Royal BC Museum)

Turning slightly away, to show mild indifference, I softly roll out these charged words: “And I manage multi-million dollar loans, sending our priceless museum artefacts to exhibits around the globe.” A brief silence follows, the listener’s head turns, the facial expression transformed to one of amazement, then the response: “What a fascinating and important job you have!” The words “Got ya” drift through my mind. Then, I’m peppered with questions about these awe-inspiring loans. Fair enough, loans do have a certain cache. However, in reality they provoke a huge amount of very unromantic work, often have nearly unattainable time lines and can drive a teetotaler to the nearest pub.

Ethnologically enlightening: Kwakwaka’wakw model sealing canoe (early 20th century) (From the Ethnology Collection – Royal BC Museum #14097 a, b)

Ethnologically enlightening: Kwakwaka’wakw model sealing canoe (early 20th century) (From the Ethnology Collection – Royal BC Museum #14097 a, b)

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy loans work – I really do. But our acquisition work is underrated as an interesting component of our job. Without doubt, the process has mechanical aspects but few jobs in a museum open access to information spanning the entire spectrum of the collections. I’m privileged to know exactly what enters these collections, on a monthly basis, whether it augments our archival, modern history, ethnological or natural history holdings and how these records, objects, or specimens demonstrate relevance to the human and natural history of our province: intellectual candy for a life-long learner like myself. It’s a pleasure to play my small role in the acquisition of some notable objects – from the historically stellar, to ethnologically enlightening, to the bizarre and the beautiful.

Sir James Douglas – A-01229 (from the BC Archives Collection – Royal BC Museum

Sir James Douglas – A-01229 (from the BC Archives Collection – Royal BC Museum

Most often a registrar’s participation begins after a collection enters the door of the museum. A few years ago I had the good fortunate to assist one of our history curators retrieve the Douglas chair (see image) and other components of the Douglas collection; the curator needed an extra pair of hands considering the size of some of the objects. The donor was a relative of Sir James Douglas, a renowned historical political figure in British Columbia. Douglas founded the fur trade post Fort Victoria In the mid-19th century then later led the small population of European settlers when this west coast region attained British colonial status. During Douglas’ retirement, in 1871, the colony joined Canada as the 6th province: British Columbia. Not long after the union he suffered a heart attack. In 1877, Douglas died in his residence while seated at his chair.The chair remained a utilitarian object in the family. map of Canada-1With original fabric worn out, the chair was reupholstered in the 1960/70s using a popular colour fabric and colour from that period – Danish Modern orange. Sir James Douglas, despite his auspicious career and elevated rank, was a practical man. I’m sure he would have approved of extending the service of the chair to over 140 years through such refurbishment.

Historically Stellar – Douglas Chair – C1870 – Victorian Parlour Chair - History Collection – Royal BC Museum

Historically Stellar – Douglas Chair – C1870 – Victorian Parlour Chair – History Collection – Royal BC Museum

For curators, collections managers and registrars the restored chair provokes an interesting question. Is it still authentic? To be authentic and worthy of museum collection must an object retain its original appearance or does it suffice that it need only retain its original function and association? In this case, it is still a chair, the very chair where James Douglas died whether it has original upholstery or not. Reviewing our museum’s collection policy, which guides what we do and do not collect, the Douglas chair fits into our collecting parameters: it has historical significance to the province of British Columbia, clear provenance, and meshes with our requirement for its “condition or completeness” The policy states: “Objects included in the collections of the RBCM [Royal BC Museum] will be complete, sound, and/or in original condition, where possible.” The phrase “where possible” permits us to collect objects of enormous historical significance, such as the Douglas chair, despite modifications made over time.

I stumbled upon this interesting link which I’d like to share with you. The author muses on the term “authenticity” within the heritage/museums context. She has some very interesting points. I look forward to your comments on this subject. I would also be interesting to learn your museum’s particular guidelines regarding “authenticity”.


How I became a Registrar IV

Preparator, Collections Manager, Registrar, Teacher – Never stop learning

Derek Swallow

My attraction for the cultural historical sector began in the mid 1970’s when I worked as a guide at Ft. Edmonton Park, a reconstructed fur trade post, and a volunteer information officer for the Strathcona Historical Society in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. This stimulus led me to study Anthropology and History, earning me a Bachelor’s Degree in these subjects. Following my degree I became acquainted with Museology and through self-study learned about registration/collections management work.

springcleaningSince then, and for almost three decades, registration, collections documentation and loans of cultural collections have been my focal career goal. My experience, in this area, started in 1982, when I took on a long-term voluntary position as Assistant to the Registrar at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV). In 1984 my association with the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, began with volunteering in Ethnology cataloguing First Nation’s collections. This inspired me to study First Nations art and do a subsequent BA and MA in History in Art. In 1990, I undertook a one year Collections Management Internship (which included several University of Victoria Cultural Resource Management Courses). In 1991 I joined the BC Archives as Preparator/Collections Manager. To augment my experience, I also volunteered for nearly a year at the Maritime Museum in Sidney, BC – just outside of Victoria – its collection’s strength being Natural History. I worked in the area of registration and collections management. With the union of the Royal BC Museum and the BC Archives in 2003 many exciting avenues of learning opened for me. The most rewarding was an arrangement where our head of registration offered to fully mentor me in the registrar’s profession. Over the last ten years my official role has transitioned from that of collections manager/preservation specialist to full-time registrar.

From the outset of my career, I understood the significance and importance of the registrar as the linchpin position that maintains cohesive control over collections location tracking, proper handling, storage and preservation, as well as the critical paper and electronic records which carry the important data about these collections. Further, the registrar understands and carries out the processes and safeguards required to timely, and securely loan out artifacts and care for those which are brought in for exhibit, research, etc.

Derek behind the scenes:

I’m married with three children: a son; daughter; and a large shaggy dog who thinks he’s one of my offspring. I enjoy reading well-written fiction, writing articles, dinghy sailing, and taking my dog for long walks on local trails or the beach. I’m also devoted to what my wife refers to as my second, full-time unpaid job: I coordinate, create lesson plans, and teach, as a volunteer, at an adult-targeted, free-to-participant ESL program which focuses on developing verbal English skills (I have a TESL Certification, and am a certified British Columbia School teacher).

I have the great fortune to live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, one of the most beautiful cities in our country and with one of the mildest climates. While hardly the tropics we say with slight exaggeration that we have only two seasons: the wet season – winter and the dry season summer. The city is situationed on Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada.

I grew up in Alberta, one province to the east of British Columbia. My home city is the provincial capital: Edmonton. In spring we slog through drifts of slushy snow, too hot in our winter coats and too cold in our lighter jackets. Relief comes with our relatively hot and dry summer, dramatically punctuated with fierce thunderstorms. The downside, areas of standing water create breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The beautiful warm evenings are disrupted by clouds of these blood-thirsty insects driving everyone indoors. Autumn is beautiful. The mosquitoes are gone and the trees blaze, red, orange and yellow – then comes winter. From November often to May we have snow. The temperature fluctuates but we frequently suffer savage cold and wind, sometimes with temperatures dropping to -40C or below, which can freeze exposed fingers or parts of the face in under a minute.

Now you know why I fled to Victoria, where average winter temperatures range between + 6 C to + 9 C. It’s heaven out here but a wet heaven. We have lovely summers but rainy winters.
I am so pleased to be a part of Registrar Trek: The Next Generation. The blog is such a great idea. It not only opens up the opportunity to communicate globally with other registrars but acts to disseminate information about our profession and potentially could provide training information for small museums and new registrars worldwide.


Derek Swallow
Registrar Royal BC Museum


The Museum Registrar as Loans……

by Derek R. Swallow
Registrar Royal BC Museum

Juggler, mediator, orchestrator, actuator, über1 collections manager, yoga master, risk manager, project manager, customs broker, transport coordinator, preparator, inventory controller, diplomat, bureaucrat, legal associate, communication hub, document diva or divo, and shepherd: all terms describing museum collections registrar’s loans processing skills.

The purpose of this article is to enhance the understanding of the registrar’s role by linking the above core skills with job duties. These skills divide into four categories: mental predisposition; communication and organizational capacities; collections management skills; and documentation abilities.

I’ve got this under control, I think?

I’ve got this under control, I think?
Image I-27378 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

Multi-tasking is a predisposition shared by “jugglers” and registrars. Simultaneously processing numerous loans, in varying stages of progress, with differing degrees of complexity, equates to the task of a juggler keeping a stream of airborne objects of various sizes and weights aloft without one dropping to the ground. Like a “yoga master” the mental disposition of the registrar is calm, in this case, under a stressful, heavy work load, and flexible transitioning from one loan to another, driven by ever changing loans processing priorities.

Okay, I guess we’re not on the same page yet.

Okay, I guess we’re not on the same page yet.
Image C-04790 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

From the role of communicator emerges the ability as “mediator”. The registrar helps with issue resolution between loan team members and her/his institution and the borrower/lender’s. The tact required draws on the skill of a “diplomat”. To facilitate the flow of accurate information the registrar functions as “communication hub” becoming the one point of contact for the institution and a conduit channelling questions, answers and information from the borrower to the loans team and vice versa.

In the capacity of organizer the registrar focuses both on the broad picture, keeping the loan moving forward, while being mindful of the narrower picture, making sure no step is missed.

The loans team at the ready. Image   C-02802  courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

The loans team at the ready.
Image C-02802 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

This likens to a “shepherd” keeping the flock together, herding it on, watchful so none of the group is lost in the journey. As “orchestrator” the registrar, like a conductor, guides the harmonious processing of the loan, cueing team members, or the borrower, when an action is required. The skill of “shepherd” and “orchestrator” support the function of registrar as “project manager”, assuring all steps are followed in the most time and labour efficient manner in order to meet all deadlines.

So what were those crate dimensions again?

So what were those crate dimensions again?
Image B-03338 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

The registrar assumes the over-arching role of “über collections manager”. This is defined as: extensive collection management knowledge and experience encompassing all the collection types under the registrar’s purview. Supported by conservation staff and discipline specific collections managers, this ability assures application of the correct loan protocols and practices given the specific needs of any object loaned from any collection. As the loan is readied for transport the supplemental knowledge of “preparator“ enables the registrar, when needed, to oversee and enforce appropriate crating and packing methods for artefact transport and apply best practices to maximize protection of any loan item.

This relates to the responsibility of registrar as “transport coordinator” to only employ artefact carriers who use optimal safety measures and shipping techniques. Providing the best crating, packing and utilizing top museum quality transport translate to registrar as “risk manager”.

Perhaps we should find a new artefacts transport company.

Perhaps we should find a new artefacts transport company.
Image B-07174 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

This role incorporates additional important elements including provisions that loan items are insured at correct current value; ascertaining that the borrower facility meets international standards for environment, structural integrity, inherent building security, human security presence, qualified collections staff, etc. As “actuator” the registrar initiates the acquisition of risk management related documents and information through requests for Certificates of Insurance, Facilities Reports, etc. Another component of risk management ties in with “inventory controller” where all loan items are accounted for when arriving or departing from an in or outgoing loan, and while on-site assigned accurate location codes.
You don’t have the loan agreement signed. I see.

You don’t have the loan agreement signed. I see.
Image C-04362 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

Before a loan can leave the institution to cross the city, or country or move on to other nations the “legal associate” aspect of registrar surfaces. Legal documents such as loan agreements are created, and when needed, CITES or other permits, attained. Understanding the regulations and documentation related to export and imports aligns with the occupation of “customs broker”. The acquiring and safe keeping of all such important documents makes the registrar a “documenter” and “document diva or divo” and uncompromising adherence to precise standards requires her/him to be a good “bureaucrat.”

The skills described above are neither comprehensive nor exclusive to the role of registrar. Various combinations of these skills are shared by many professions. The entire “package” of skills, however, makes the role unique.

So are we masters of all the above skills? I’m certainly not. I have the required academic background solidified and tempered by on-the-job training and with greater experience I find comes greater ability. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “The years teach much which the days never know.”

I’m serious. Don’t mess with the collection                 Image   C-02996 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

I’m serious. Don’t mess with the collection
Image C-02996 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

Despite my thirty plus year career encompassing collection management of Art, Ethnology, Modern History, Natural History collections along with duties as preparator, curator, preservation specialist, and registrar, I’m still learning new things and polishing these skills. For me, the years of practical, rather than academic, experience have been the best, and at times only, learning tool. I trained, for example, early in my career, as a preparator by working alongside a veteran in the field. I made many mistakes but these often resulted in the greatest learning opportunities. Mark Twain’s once said: “A man who carries a cat by its tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”

There is one salient skill not mentioned above. Perhaps it would be better called an obsession. We doggedly champion our institutional collection standards. We are programmed, in our profession as registrars, to adhere to elevated ethical principles and to propel our professional abilities to an ever higher level. This is a good thing. As Michelangelo is attributing to saying: “The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.”

This post is also available in Polish, translated by Natalia Ładyka, the translation originally appeared on the blog of the Polish Museum Registrar Association

  1. The German word “über” has made it’s way into Canadian English, meaning “the ultimate”. Editor’s note