You don’t have to be mad to be a documentation assistant…

…but, as the old cliche goes, it really does help! Certainly a high degree of pedantry is required. Are you annoyed by people who can’t use a semicolon correctly? Do you fly into an uncontrollable rage, Hulk-style, when you see an apostrophe in a plural (*shudder*)? Then you may have found the career for you! Luckily, I am a massive pedant. A lot of my job involves proof-reading records and correcting typos, spelling and grammar. Which thankfully is usually not too bad, as most museum curators are highly-educated people perfectly capable of stringing a coherent sentence together. Lately, I have been mostly photoshopping professional digital images of some of our objects that were shot a few years ago, and attaching them to object records. Which was quite fun to start with, as I haven’t used Photoshop in a few years and had to fiddle around re-learning the programme. And I was quite proud of my laboriously but beautifully edited final images. Until my arm started hurting from several days of heavy mouse usage! The life of a documentation assistant is one spent largely in front of a computer, and RSIs, tight shoulders and eyestrain are occupational hazards of the trade. However, tomorrow I will be escaping my desk for a while as there are some ethnographic objects that need measuring before their records can go online. There are certain fields in the collections management database that are required for our new website, which launches soon, including object numbers, a description, measurements, and a list of the materials from which the object is made. My job basically involves making sure that all of these fields have been filled in correctly, with correct grammar and according to strict style guidelines. This provides the records with a uniform format and controlled terminology, and ensures that all of the important details about each object are recorded and searchable.

It’s not glamorous work, but it is important. It’s one of the many routine jobs that go on behind the scenes of museums that nobody knows much about. But lately it seems that museums only get mentioned in the popular press when they get shut down or burgled anyway, so I shouldn’t be surprised that the efforts of us documentation drones go unsung! There are rather more important, and exciting, things to talk about.

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