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Museum-Speak 101

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

In any field, there will be specific language and words only people in that field may understand. A museum is no different. This article provides some information on "museum-speak," or the lingo of those who work in museums. It is intended to deepen your understanding of the behind-the-scenes workings of the Transcona Museum. Below are some of our everyday terms:

  • accession – the act of bringing an object into the collection through cataloging.

  • accession numbers – are numbers assigned to each and every object that is accessioned or brought into the collection. Each museum will have its own numbering system.

  • archives – refers to the area in the museum where photographs, maps, books, textual documents, etc. are kept.

  • an artifact – an object made by a human being, of cultural or historical interest. By exhibiting artifacts from the past, museums can teach us a lot about different periods in history.

  • cataloging – part of the collections process. Cataloging an object includes documenting an object by writing down the donor information, the description (including colour, materials, measurements), and assigning an accession number.

  • a collection – a group of accumulated artifacts, documents, or works of art grouped together by a particular theme.

  • collections processing – the act of cataloging or assigning accession numbers, filling out paperwork, retrieving historical information on objects that come into the museum.

  • a curator – a person who oversees and manages a museum and its collections.

  • deaccession – the act of taking an object out of the collection.

  • education collections – a collection of objects or archives that is used in educational programming.

  • an exhibition – a public display of artifacts and archival materials held in a museum for people to see. An exhibition involves heavy research and is usually developed through a process to interpret a topic, object, or historical event.

  • installation and de-installation – the act of putting together an exhibition; de-installation is the act of taking down the exhibition.

  • interpret / interpretation – is the act of making meaning out of information that is collected. This includes labels and text in the exhibitions and live acting of historical figures who talk about events that take place in history.

  • preservation – to maintain something in its original or existing state. In the museum that means temperature and relative humidity controlled spaces, limit UV light on objects, handling objects with gloves, limiting the handling of objects and archives, using acid-free and inert materials, using pencils only, careful wrapping/rolling of textiles, etc.

  • programming – refers to the educational activities taking place at the museum.

  • rotation – the practice of rotating objects to ensure that light-sensitive or extremely fragile works are not on view for too long.

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