The Crazy Things We Do for Cultural Heritage

I was at a children’s playgroup in Beacon, New York yesterday with my son. Yet again, I was trying to pull together in a coherent thread that thing I do. This challenge can be difficult among my cultural heritage peers, let alone a more generalist audience. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great to have one of those jobs where I could say “I’m a dentist!” and everyone would understand what I mean?

Preserving and celebrating cultural heritage is my dream job, but I realize that the vagaries in our job descriptions and the variety of tasks we manage can be mind-boggling. I’m currently working on a research project to explore how job descriptions within cultural heritage institutions support the development of our preservation staff and their preservation goals, or not. What are the requirements institutions ask of their collection management staff? What responsibilities are common? What are outliers? How has the rise of the title “collection manager” impacted other positions within the museum, library, or archive, especially curator and registrar?

I’ve collected 50 job descriptions. I’d love to get 50 more. If you perform collections management or care OR if you have “collections” in your title, I’d appreciate it if you’d share your job description with me by 1 February 2016. Please send to

I’d love to hear in the replies about the excellent and eccentric and mind-numbing tasks you’ve done in caring for collections and the organizations that house them. A few of mine are:

  • Positioned 600 pairs of black stockings and socks for photography
  • Gotten confused for the wax mannequin standing to my left
  • Vacuumed, vacuumed, vacuumed
  • Flew into JFK in the cockpit of an Air France freighter!
  • Wore corsetry of various time periods since I was 16
  • Shoveled snow
  • Served as a member of the NYC Office of Emergency Management Emergency Support Function committee
  • Stood for countless photos with visitors’ children while wearing historic dress (how many family photo albums have I appeared in?)
  • Visited almost 350 museums
  • Learned how to operate an aerial work platform (scissor lift) and got complimented by the construction workers on our site for my skill!
  • “There’s no crying in cargo!” [it was the other courier, not me!]
  • Built storage mounts for 100 hats, 25 corsets, dressed 150 mannequins and performed rapid condition surveys for over 10,000 textile and costume objects
  • Climbed onto the roof of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in NYC during a museum facility administrators meeting
  • Ate a Big Mac by the side of the highway in Belgium (thank you truckers, and I have to say, they taste a little bit better over there. Then again, I was jet lagged)


About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.