This glossary of museum words explores some of the most common terms you will hear when you visit or work in a museum.
Accession. The process of taking an item into the permanent collection.
Acid-Free. Materials labeled “acid free” or “archival” are safe for curators, collection managers and archivists to use when storing artifacts.
Archivist. The staff member who handles works on paper including photographs, newspapers, letters and other documents.
Audio Tours. Recorded information presented to a museum visitor through a push button and speaker, audio wand or headset.
Collection. A group of items assembled over time relating to a specific mission and housed in a museum.
Collection Manager. The staff member who oversees collections activities such as storage, conservation, artifact research and donor relations.
Conservator. A trained professional who cleans and repairs artifacts. A conservator often has a background in science, particularly chemistry. Conservation work is usually quite pricey because of the high level of expertise required and the painstaking time needed to complete a project.
Curator. The staff member who takes care of the museum’s collection. In some museums this position also includes overseeing the exhibitions program, minor conservation work and registrar duties.
Deaccession. The formal process of removing an item from the collection. A specific reason must be given, such as the item lacks physical integrity or no longer fits within the museum’s mission.
Deed of Gift. The document that legally transfers ownership from the donor to the museum.
Digitization. The process of creating an electronic version of a work on paper in order to preserve the original piece from unnecessary handling. With technology changing rapidly, there is a great deal of debate on the proper storage method to ensure that the digital files will be readable in the future.
Docent. A volunteer tour guide at a museum.
Exhibition. An organized presentation of historical or artistic information using written labels, photographs, artifacts and/or artwork. An exhibition is not merely a “display.” The curator of an exhibition tries to convey a message through the use of historical materials.
First Person Interpretation. An interpreter who takes on the character of a historic figure and speaks as though they really are that person. They are usually in costume.
Furnishing Plan. A document outlining the proper furnishings for the correct era of a historic home.
Gallery. A room where an exhibition is displayed.
Hygrothermograph. A monitoring device that records temperature and humidity conditions. They can be placed in storage areas, exhibition galleries or inside cases or shipping crates.
Interpreter. A paid tour guide at a museum. The name comes from the idea that this individual “interprets” and shares information with the public.
Interpretative Plan. A document created by the museum’s education department outlining what material will be included in public and school tours.
Label. The written information in an exhibition.
Mission Statement. A statement that provides guidelines for the museums collection, exhibition and education activities.
Mounts. The support structure built to support an artifact on exhibition.
Preservation. Work focused on preventing the destruction or deterioration of historic materials including houses, artifacts and archival works.
Registrar. The staff member who handles all of the paperwork in a museum, including Deeds of Gift, deaccession forms, loan paperwork and other related duties.
Third Person Interpretation. An interpreter who presents information from the third person point of view.
Vitrine. A glassed in case used to protect and exhibit museum collections.