Museum collections are boring. There we said it. They desperately need a makeover. The words and language associated with museum collections have the amazing power of making even the soggiest of lemon drizzle cakes dry up and desiccate like a cracker left in the desert. Recently, one Welsh Museum director’s head famously dropped off through sheer boredom at a collections committee during a particularly dry discussion of making sure the museum legally acquires new obj… christ, it nearly happened to me just now. You know the story. In a recent Museums Organisation survey on perspectives on collections an astonishing 78% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement I wish our collections staff would die so I could get on with my work.
These days, fussing about the meaning of language has never been less important or inconsequential and it’s something we can all get our teeth into without really having to change anything that we do or say or think. Everyone can and should have an opinion about second guessing what everyone else is trying to say, regardless of their qualification or need to. It is known. With this kind of meaningless change we can all get behind, firmly commit to and not have to do anything about in mind the following significant update to Collections Newspeak, CN 5.0, was made at the 67th (virtual) Congress of Collections Concordance Registry (CCCR). Please diligently expunge all retired terms and update with suggested new ones. This way we hope to dupe the museum sector into thinking collections and collections work is as exciting as [this decades buzzword concept] or even the perpetual self flagellation of everything the sector does in the hope that somebody, anybody notices us.
Accessioning RETIRED. Awful word. Too many ‘s’ sounds to be in any way sexy and nobody really knows what it means. Is it ownership? Does it mean we can’t take it home/throw it in the bin? Can we use accessioned objects? Nobody knows. Lot of debate about this one but accessioning has been replaced by Swiping, you know, like contemporary online dating applications for mobile phones. Accession registers are now Swipe Lists. Accessioned objects are now just Swipes and unaccessioned material is now Unswipes.
Accreditation RETIRED. Officious and too complicated to understand. And so much paperwork. Very few levels and stages to compare museums against each other with. The Accreditation scheme has now been replaced with Levelling Up. On the successful swiping of every 100 objects a representative of the British Arts Authority will present a plaque to the museum and pop (conservation grade) confetti in an exciting ceremony to which local press are expected to turn up and cover enthusiastically. Provides an endless scale of levels to actually motivate progress and extremely easy for museums to
compare dicks healthily compete against each other to reach those higher levels!
Artefacts KEEP Horrible word but an clear signifier that the author cranking out their ‘museum book’ or artist in residence using this term hasn’t actually stepped foot in a museum or talked to a museum professional. Precautionarily kept in but not to be used in formal museum settings.
Artifacts KEEP As above but American.
Arts UPDATED Long debate about this one. The word itself will be kept but it no longer refers to the following parasites of the arts sector: activism, amateur arts, archaeology, anthropology, ceramics, crafts, dance, flatware, furniture, modern art, natural history, opera, poetry, science, social history, spoken word, tableware, theatre and all that other hippy shit. Back to the pure usage.
Curators RETIRED The big one and in need of further discussion [see 11 step plan on consultation for this one]. After long consideration, it was agreed that it wasn’t necessarily the word that everyone hates, more the actual curators themselves. In the interim consider using joke titles like Champion, Czar or Influencer until we can just phase these roles out of the sector altogether.
Collections Managers RETIRED The CCCR committee had to take several run ups to this one as nobody could stay awake long enough discussing this non-descript term. Eventually we settled on Fixers like that guy on the Fyre Festival documentary who walked away from the project when the visionary organisers didn’t want to be dragged down by concerns about toilets and water and all that other boring stuff. That about captures the energy of a collection manager. Naysaying little Fixers.
Database RETIRED Sounds like something to do with taxes. Professionals formerly known as Collections Managers and Curators keep banging on about it like it’s the key to the city or something. The new term is Brain Pan Scroll Zoom Codex just to fuck with them although knowing them they’ll keep using it and meetings will go on for even longer. Keep under review.
Digitisation KEEP After four days of discussion, embarrassingly, it transpires nobody really knows what it means or refers to. Fortunately, after reaching out to a more tolerable-than-most Czar of Modern Languages, Digitisation is one of those words that doesn’t mean anything like umm, err, bullying and budget. It seemed petty to retire a handy pause filler so it stays but under review.
Documentation RETIRED Another one loved by the pencil pushers that provokes an instant migraine and conjures up visions of efficiency, time saving and legal obligation blah, blah, blah. To fit in with Swipes and Brain Pan Scroll Zoom Codex, documentation shall now be known as Vibes. The kids (30s and under) will love that. E.g. I was just hitting the vibes and checking the brain pan scroll zoom codex, I can see that this junk is unswiped so yeah, we can sell it.
Heritage RETIRED A combination of boring and a bit commie. Sounds like a brand of bread the miners in Sheffield used to eat. Tests awfully with focus groups, museum professionals, everybody. Nobody likes this term. Thing is, do we really need a word that specifically means historic houses, commercial galleries, model villages, greyhound tracks, museums, visitor attractions, graves, buildings, monuments, tax break property, sideshows, old mills, subsidised farming, living museums, mines, disused railways, zoos, aristocratic land and properties, aquariums and ruins? Who ever needs to refer to all those things at once?
Museums REVIEW Waiting for the Global Council of Museums (GCM) to finish defining it but definitely needs binning. A deeply unpleasant string of mouth shapes and noises and difficult to spell. Review in five years time.
Objects RETIRE If collections terminology were biscuits, objects are rich tea. Nobody would actively choose them, nobody can remember buying them and just when you think they can’t be that bad and bite into one you realise life is too short to be skimping on flavour. Self depreciation is all the rage so instead of objects, use Junk. The CCCR wants to very clear the etymology here comes from genitals, not rubbish.
Off-site stores RETIRE We had such high hopes for this one but sadly it’s now synonymous with disastrous white elephants that cause more problems than they solve before they even open but keeps the Champions and Fixers out of our hair until we can get rid of them. We chewed over Colony for a while but unfortunately that has problematic connotations of space travel and nerdy stuff. Instead, the panel has decided that the new official term is Ghetto which should have some resonance with the young people and less affinity with the particular kind of polluted soul draining ambience you find at motorway service stations and ferry terminals.
Vitrine KEEP As above with Artifacts and Artefacts but for modern artists you really don’t want to work with trust us.
The CCCR welcomes further additions and removals to Collections Newspeak 5.0 which will be published here as and when the panel makes a standing decision. Please note, if we find the continued use of old terms behind the scenes and on display you could lose Levelling Up levels or even have your level reset to zero. Until then, let’s continue to make collections cool kids (under 30s).