I am a trained curator. I have been taught how to analyze a collection for gaps, how to accession to fill those gaps, and how to deaccession when an artifact no longer fits within a collection. Just don’t tell that to my living space, my storage unit, the bedroom in my parents’ house filled with my stuff, or my digital notebook. Yes, even digital artifacts need curation, and it requires a special combination of skills to do artfully.
Any pack rat will tell you that no skills are needed. You find something shiny or warm, and you add it to your nest. You don’t care that you’ve long forgotten what was at the base of the nest. You collect duplicates because you don’t remember that you collected the same artifact three years ago. And you continue doing this until there’s no space for you in your own nest, which suits you just fine because you have lots of shiny, warm things. It’s easy to get lost in there, and it’s a giant rut of your own making.
Any curator will look at that shiny or warm artifact and weigh it against a series of concerns.
- Collections should have a purpose, a vision. Does this artifact fit within that vision? Does it already exist somewhere within that collection? This requires a certain mindfulness and the ability to create and stick to a vision.
- Collections sometimes have gaps. Does this artifact fit into that gap? Does it better fill a gap than another artifact? This requires not only an ability to research and identify useful resources, but also an ability to consider an artifact’s true worth within a collection.
- Collections inform. While we do often collect because something caught our eye, we collect to learn more. More about the artifact. More about its context. More about our own perceptions of the artifact. More about how others interact with or react to the artifact. Does this artifact have something to teach? Does this artifact add something to the collection’s body of knowledge, or to an ongoing conversation? Can it spark a conversation we want to have?
In a digital world, it becomes harder to see when we’ve collected something shiny and warm and when we’ve collected something that contributes to a vision, fills a gap, and informs. We have so much digital space open to us that it’s hard to see when the nest has become overrun by pretty artifacts that aren’t particularly useful or have become outdated or outmoded. And it’s hard to move our work forward when we can’t access the good artifacts in our collection. It’s good to go through sometimes and ask yourself where each artifact really belongs – in the collection or out where someone else can stumble upon it.