Since I started my curatorial traineeship at the Manchester Museum, I have been asked by several people who know me (and some that don’t) what it is a curator actually does.
The word curator means “keeper or custodian of a collection.” Many people think this involves working with collections in the stores or a back room. Other people think it means working specifically with exhibitions or working to educate the public. Yet still, others think it means loaning the collections out to other institutions.
In actuality, being a curator involves all these things and more. The collections are there to be used and studied, and therefore that involves a balance of guarding the collections and making sure people get the best use out of them.
As an example, I am currently putting together a learning session for Key Stage 3 students involving our new gallery, Living Worlds. I will likely be using specimens from the collections as well as visual information from the new gallery in order to educate secondary schools about physical adaptations in animals.
The “Bodies” case illustrates this visually as it is filled with skeletons of animals with varying shapes and sizes. Some of the skeletons come from the same bird group, the ratites, which include large flightless birds such as ostritches, cassowaries and kiwis. The students could then learn about why some of the skeletons look similar and why some look unique and strange. In this way, they will learn about both classification and adpatation.
The session is still on the drawing board, but I’m very excited about delivering it. No two days are the same at the Museum, and that’s one of the things I love about being a curator.