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


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