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What is a Registrar?
No, I am not here to take care of your transcript or enroll you in a course. It is the same word, but it takes a very different meaning in the museum world or at a Research Library like the NYPL.
Registrars in the museum world are the staff responsible for the development and enforcement of policies and procedures related to the acquisition, management, movement, and safekeeping of collections. Records related to the objects for which the institution has assumed responsibility are maintained by the Registrar. Registrars may handle all the arrangements and necessary paperwork for accession, loans, exhibitions, packing, crating, shipping, storage, customs, and insurance.
The NYPL Registrar's Office is part of the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division and we have three main areas of service: Outgoing Loans, Exhibitions and Special Collections Movement. We do not handle acquisitions.
We are responsible for the tracking and safekeeping of special collections items when these objects are away from their home collections as part of in-house exhibitions, outgoing loans, or shipping across the different Library sites.
This year to this date we have moved more than 2,000 objects for our exhibitions at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building! Currently you can see some of these items at the exhibition The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter.
The Registrar's Office is responsible for all logistics and coordination of the loans from the four Research Libraries to the borrowing institutions. The NYPL receives several loan requests each year. Lending to different exhibitions in the US and across the world allows our collection to be available to and enjoyed by many different audiences. We work in close contact with the shipping agents, the customs brokers, and with the registrar from the borrowing institution to ensure that our loans are handled properly at all times and that our loan guidelines are followed. We are kind of the travel agent for the artwork! Whenever we deem necessary we send a courier to accompany the works. It is advisable to send a courier when the work you are lending is particularly fragile, has a difficult installation process or need to travel a complicate route. Registrars are used to travel on trucks, cargo flights, and sometimes even in ferries... always making sure that the crates are handled properly and the collection items are safe.
We have our own professional organizations: the Association of Registrars and Collection Specialists and the Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums.
To be a Registrar one needs to be very organized and detail oriented. Registrars make for annoying exhibition visitors as they will be talking about "that wonderful mount," instead of what the mounts holds, will be concerned that the light level seems too high for that watercolor, and will be wondering how that big painting got inside the room instead of actually looking at the painting. Well, not quite like that... We do enjoy the artwork too; but we just can't stop thinking about the behind the scenes efforts that made it all possible.