MUSEUMS, COLLECTORS & RECORDS


| January/February 1986



20 HP Waterloo traction engine

Curator of Collections Ontario Agricultural Museum Milton, Ontario, Canada

There are likely as many definitions of the term 'museum' as there are museums in North America, each definition modified by its author according to his environment, his perceptions and his experiences with these institutions. In 1895, George Brown Goode defined 'museum' as 'an institution for the preservation of those objects which best illustrate the phenomena of nature and the works of man, and the utilization of these for the increase of knowledge and for the culture and enlightenment of the people.'

More recently, Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary specifies that a museum is 'an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study and display of objects of lasting interest or of value.' A much more involved definition, drafted by the American Association of Museums states that a museum is 'an organized and permanent non-profit institution, essentially educational or aesthetic in purpose, with professional staff, which owns or utilizes tangible objects, cares for them, and exhibits them to the public on some regular schedule.'

Although there are several common threads linking not only these three, but most acceptable definitions of a museum, there are two aspects which perhaps have more importance than any others the acquisition and care of collections. Museums can survive, perhaps even prosper, without organizing the other important museum functions of research, education or even exhibition, yet they cannot truly exist without a collection.

20 HP Waterloo traction engine after receiving mechanical restoration. Procedure and repairs/replacement parts were recorded for future information.

One of the most necessary components of the collecting function of a museum is the creation and maintenance of records concerning the objects they protect. Many museums struggle with this task, their collections perhaps having been assembled by well-meaning staff, boards or volunteers with no professional training in museum procedures, or developed by the acquisition of private collections, for which no records usually exist. It is this latter group of individuals to which the following comments are addressed.