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  Managing Archeological Collections Repositories Distance Learning


Collections care and management have become more professionalized since the early days of museums. This has led to higher education levels, more training, and greater specialization of repository staff. However, staff at a repository may vary with its size, mission, and funding. Since larger institutions tend to have more diverse collections and programs, they tend to have larger, more diversified staffs. Staff in small repositories tend to have responsibilities that cover more than one of the job titles below.

(photo) Conservator works to repair and stabilize a paper document.
Document conservation at the Stabilization Laboratory of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District's Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections. From the photograph collection of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District.

Archivist: An archivist manages, preserves, and makes accessible manuscripts and records of permanent value to an organization or project, including photographs, oversized materials, and audiovideo recordings. This is done through a process of appraisal, accessioning, cataloging, conducting a condition survey, appropriate rehousing, arranging and describing the collection, exhibition, providing access and use to researchers, and managing the intellectual property rights of an archival collection. Increasingly, archivists handle digitized materials, including electronic text, data, and photos. They enhance access and use of a collection by creating finding aids, descriptive guides that assist locating and using the collections. Archivists often have a M.A. in Library Science (hopefully with an emphasis in archives or manuscripts) or a discipline like history or anthropology. Not enough archivists working with archeological records have a M.A. in Archival Science.

Collections Manager: A collections manager usually holds an M.A. and has experience in the discipline of the collection(s) with which s/he works. A collections manager who works with archeological collections often also has archeological field experience. Collections managers are typically focused on the day-to-day care of the collections, including cataloging, and are not involved in research for exhibits or public programming.

Conservator: A conservator is concerned with the physical care and viability of objects or documents over the long term. His or her duties can include recommending and implementing proper object or document housing and storage, the reconstruction or restoration of objects or documents, and research on appropriate conservation treatments. Many repositories do not have in-house conservators, often because of the high costs of conservation itself. Conservators should have an M.A. or Ph.D. They often specialize in the care and conservation of a specific material or material class. Knowledge of other disciplines, like chemistry and art, is also essential.

Curator: The job of curator varies greatly depending on the size and organization of the repository. In large institutions, curators are generally involved in research, administration, and/or exhibit work, and do not deal with the practical issues of collections care. In these cases, curators have a Ph.D. in the discipline of the collection they curate. Curators in large institutions may also be in charge of shaping the collection by recommending acquisitions and deaccessions. At smaller institutions curators often have duties that are a combination of collections manager, registrar, and curator.

Registrar: A registrar is most often in charge of the records, logistics, policy/procedure, and legal matters associated with collections. The job often involves coordinating loans, accessions, and deaccessions. A registrar also may deal with the administration and inventory of collections. S/he often has a M.A. in museum studies.

Support Staff: Curatorial support staff often have different titles, such as technician. This staff is involved with most of the hands-on work of collections care, including cleaning, packing, repacking, and cataloging. Education and training is usually at the B.A. level. Staff who work with archeological collections often also have archeological fieldwork or laboratory experience. Support staff may be full-time or part-time, or may be hired on a temporary basis to do work on a specific collection. Again, the level of work depends heavily on the size and funding of the repository. At academic repositories, students or interns often do this type of work.

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