Common Museum Terms

Definitions are a must when speaking in "museumese." I add these terms to the back of the documents that I am charged with creating for those folks who read these things and are not as familiar (board, donors, etc). These are some of my most common terms that I use. There is a great book out there by The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) titled MuseumWise. It should be on your book shelf!
- Jackie Hoff, Science Museum of Minnesota

accession: (1) the formal acceptance into custody of an acquisition, and the recording of such act. (2) an artifact/specimen, or group of artifacts/specimens, acquired by a museum as part of its permanent collection. (3) the act of recording/processing an addition to the permanent collection.

accessioning: formal process used to accept legally and to record an artifact/specimen as a collection item; involves the creation of an immediate, brief, and permanent record using a control number or unique identifier for artifacts/specimens added to the collection from the same source at the same time, and for which the institution accepts custody, right, or title.

accessioning/Deaccessioning committee: Appointed committee of staff to include curators, collections management, conservation and the Division Head. Committee makes joint staff recommendations for accessioning and deaccessioning.

artifact: a human-made item, often manufactured or created from naturally-occurring materials and made for use in a cultural context.

artifact/specimen disposal: appropriate for material whose scientific, exhibition, or fair market value is minimal or absent, and thus continued future preservation is of little or no benefit to society.

cataloging: creating a full record of information about an artifact/specimen, cross-referenced to other records and files;includes the process of identifying and documenting these artifacts/specimens in detail.

collecting: the process of sampling the natural and cultural world using a variety of techniques that are dependent on (1) the organism or material being obtained and (2) the intended use for the sample or the research methods likely to be applied.

collections: (1) a group of artifacts/specimens with like characteristics or a common base of association (e.g. geographic, donor, cultural). (2) an organizational unit within a larger institutional structure (e.g. a collection within a university biology department). (3) refers to the artifacts, specimens, documents, and data under a museum's care.

collection care: the responsibility and function of an institution with collections that involves developing and implementing policies and procedures to protect the long term integrity of artifacts and specimens, as well as their associated data and documentation, for use in research, education, and exhibits.

collections management: the responsibility and function of an institution that fosters the preservation, accessibility, and utility of their collections and associated data. The management process involves responsibilities for recommending and implementing policy with respect to:artifact/specimen acquisition, collection growth, and deaccessioning; planning and establishing collection priorities; obtaining, allocating, and managing resources; and coordinating collection processes with the needs of curation, preservation, and specimen use. These responsibilities may be shared by collection managers, subject specialists, curators, and other institution administrators.

conservation: (1) maximizing the endurance or minimizing the deterioration of an artifact/specimen through time, with as little change to the object as possible. (2) the application of science to the examination and treatment of museum artifacts/specimens and to the study of the environments in which they are placed. This involves activities such as preventive conservation, examination, documentation, treatment, research, and education.

curation: the process whereby artifacts or specimens are identified and organized according to discipline-specific recommendations using the most recently available scientific literature and expertise; a primary objective of this process is to verify or add to the existing documentation for these artifacts/specimens, and to add to knowledge.

custody: responsibility for the care of documents based on their physical possession. Custody does not always include legal ownership, or the right to control access to records.

deaccession: (1) an artifact/specimen that has been removed permanently from the museum collections, usually through sale or exchange. (2) the formal process of removing an artifact or specimen permanently from the collection, with appropriate transfer of title.

deterioration: change [for the worse] in an artifact/specimen's physical or chemical state.

documentation: supporting evidence, recorded in a permanent manner using a variety of media (paper, photographic, etc.), of the identification, condition, history, or scientific value of an artifact, specimen, or collection. This encompasses information that is inherent to the individual artifacts/specimens and its associations in its natural environment as well as that which reflects processes and transactions affecting the artifact/specimen (e.g. accessioning, cataloging, loaning, sampling, analysis, treatment, etc.). Documentation is an integral aspect of the use, management, and preservation of an artifact, specimen, or collections.

educational collection: a group of artifacts or specimens designated for use in educational programming. (2) artifacts and specimens designated for use in public programming or teaching, may be actual artifacts/specimens or replicas.

exchanges: roughly equivalent reciprocal movement of materials between two or more parties.

exhibition value: may be based on esthetic appeal, representing a typical or unusually fine example of its kind, artistic superiority for cultural artifacts or such other factors as may be pertinent in selecting material for display.

fair market value: the price at which property changes hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, acting independently, neither being under any compulsion to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts.

fluid collection: specimens either whole body or tissue, stored in alcohol, formalin or other preservative fluids.

gifts: an addition to holdings acquired without monetary consideration and becoming the sole property of the recipient, frequently effected by a deed of gift.

holotype: the single specimen designated or indicated as the type by the original author at the time of publication or the original description of a species.

integrated pest management (IPM): the selection, integration, and implementation of pest management methods based on predicted economic, ecological, and sociological consequences;also defined as a decision making process that helps one decide if a treatment is necessary and appropriate, where the treatment should be administered, when treatment should be applied, and what strategies should be integrated for immediate and long term results.

loans: (1) temporary physical transfer of artifacts/specimens to an outside location for references, consultation, reproduction, or exhibition. (2) the temporary assignment of collections from the museum or temporary assignments of similar artifacts/specimens to the museum for stated museum purposes, such as exhibition and research. These assignments do not involve a change of ownership.

(1)incoming loan: an artifact/specimen, or group of artifacts/specimens, borrowed by an institution.any artifact/specimen borrowed from another institution, (museum, university, church, etc.) or private individual;

(2) outgoing loan: an artifact/specimen loaned by a museum to another institution; any artifact/specimen borrowed from the museum's collections for scientific research, exhibition, tour, or educational use outside of the museum;

(3) internal loan: any artifact/specimen borrowed from the museum's collections for exhibition or educational use within the museum.

maintenance: routine actions that support the goals of preservation of and access to the collection such as monitoring, general housekeeping, providing appropriate storage and exhibition conditions, and organizing a collection.

paratype: a specimen other than the holotype which was before the author at the time of preparation of the original description and was so designated or indicated by the original author; paratypes have no standing in nomenclature.

permanent collection: (1) those artifacts and specimens that are owned by the museum. (2) artifacts and specimens held by an institution intended to be preserved in perpetuity.

preparation: the procedures used in the field or in the institution to enhance the utility of an organism, artifact/specimen, or inorganic material for a specified use. The resulting artifact or specimen may represent only a portion of the original organism or material or may be otherwise altered from its original state. Procedures should be compatible with intended uses and conservation objectives, and should be documented.

preservation: actions taken to retard or prevent deterioration or damage to collections materials by control of their environment and/or treatment of their structure in order to maintain them as nearly as possible in an unchanging state.

registration: (1) the process of developing and maintaining an immediate, brief, and permanent means of identifying an artifact/specimen for which the institution has permanently or temporarily assumed responsibility. (2) the process of assigning an immediate and permanent means of identifying an artifact or specimen for which the institution has permanently or temporarily assumed responsibility;one facet of documentation. (3) as an institution function, includes the logical organization of documentation and maintaining access to that information.

repository: a collection administered by a nonprofit public or private institution, that adheres to professional standards for collection management and care to ensure that specimens acquired will be professionally maintained and remain accessible for future use.

restoration: returning an artifact or specimen as far as possible or as far as desired to an earlier condition or appearance, often (but not always) its original state, through repair, renovation, reconditioning, or other intervention.

sales: payments to the museum for materials.

sampling: (1) the act or process of selecting and removing some part of an artifact/specimen for testing, analysis, or other use. (2) selecting a portion as a representative of the whole;in natural science collections, sampling refers more specifically to the process of removing a portion of an artifact or specimen for analysis.The analysis may be destructive to the sample.

scientific value: refers to the significance of an artifact/specimen as a record of past research and/or an artifact/specimen for future research.

specimen: any animal or plant, or any part, product, egg, seed, or root of any animal or plant or geological sample.

stabilization: treatment of an artifact/specimen or its environment in a manner intended to reduce the probability or rate of deterioration and probability of damage.

transfer: the act involved in a change of physical custody of records, archives, artifacts, specimens with or without change of legal title. (2) records, archives, artifacts, specimens so transferred.

treatment: actions taken, physically or chemically, to stabilize or make accessible an artifact or specimen;includes, for example, techniques such as preparation, cleaning, mending, supporting, pest eradication, and consolidation.

voucher specimen: (1) a specimen and its associated data that physically document the existence of that organism at a given place and time. (2) any specimen identified by a recognized authority for the purpose of forming a reference collection;a specimen that physically and permanently documents data in an archival report by verifying the identity of the organism(s) used in the study and by so doing ensures that a study which otherwise could not be repeated can be accurately reviewed or reassessed.

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