Last night I was sitting with some friends and we talked about the difference between the terms “collected” and “curated” (the current, in vogue term here in libraryland). Then, as I was waking back to the hotel, I saw an art installation that had a “curated by” sign, which them prompted me to think about the terms further.
Someone (and my rapidly aging brain doesn’t remember who) commented that there was some confusion about why we were suddenly curating information, how this was really just another way of saying “collecting”. Not so. I think there’s a huge difference between the two, and if we can teach the curation part to our students, we’ll be doing them a favor.
Collecting is what hoarders do. Think of your library collection: yes, there’s an organization to it, but the collection is there to meet multiple needs and doesn’t really have a focus beyond the demands of your community. But when you purposefully (or, to use more jargon, intentionally) organize resources to tell a story or highlight something, you’re curating – just as curators in museums do with their collection.
I think of my mother, whose love of owl figurines has started to embrace owlania of all kinds (planters, soaps, tea towels, calendars, etc.). It’s a collection that long ago outgrew the display space on one piece of furniture and now those owls appear everywhere in their home. At one point, she had them organized into type of material… then she changed that to country of origin (where they were bought, not where the owls depicted were from)… and once she did a chronological display. But now there are so many, and so many different types of owl-related items, that she just lets them sit where they are. So she’s gone from curating to mere collecting.
I think of the movie Shooting the Past, where the vast collection of photographs is curated by Marilyn and Oswald into amazing stories. And that’s the critical difference. If we can teach our students to curate, rather than merely collect, information, they become better evaluators of resources – and better researchers and writers.
So as much as I hate jargon (and wouldn’t that make a great program for AASL/ALA? “How to talk to outsiders about libraries without using jargon?” it’d never fly, but a gal can dream, can’t she?) this is one time when I think it’s not an abuse of a perfectly good word, and that there is a difference in meaning between the two.