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Jane MacKnight Membership Profile

Profile of a Registrar

What is your name?

Jane MacKnight

What is your position called?


Where do you work?

Cincinnati Museum Center

How many years have you been working in this capacity?

10 years at CMC and 13 years in museums

When did you join SPNHC?

1993 (or 94) while I was in graduate school (thru Cathy Hawks and Carolyn Rose)

What drew you to the natural history field?

Long ago I played with Japanese beetles in my mother's rose garden so when I started college I had visions of being a forester or a botanist. In the end, I graduated with a BA in biology from George Washington University followed by a MA in museum studies (also from GWU). Before working in museums, I spent 10 years with World Wildlife Fund-US where I was a program officer for plant conservation and later conservation projects in Guyana and Suriname.

Describe the nature of the collections you work with.

Cincinnati Museum Center has roughly 2 million cultural history artifacts and natural history specimens. The cultural history collections include archives, books, photographs and broadcast archives, ethnographic artifacts, archaeological materials, historical artifacts and fine art. Natural history collections include over 300,000 lots of invertebrate fossils, 40,000 vertebrate fossils and a small number of paleobotany specimens. Zoology collections are 45,000 ornithology specimens, mostly study skins but many mounts, several hundred eggs and an ever expanding tissue collection; CMC has recently received an NSF grant to develop a DNA sequencing lab. Other zoology collections include malacology, entomology, mammalogy, herpetology and ichthyology.

What are your responsibilities for them?

As the registrar, I work with all the collections to manage acquisitions, loans for research, exhibits and educational programs, permits and shipping, security and pest management as well as overseeing the collection management database. Our museum has no collections managers so day to day work is managed collaborative between the curatorial and registration departments with much of the actual work done by our excellent volunteers. I am also the building manager the Geier Collections and Research Center which is CMC's offsite storage building where the majority of collections are housed with several laboratories.

Describe some of your activities.

I am the liaison between the collections department and other museum departments. I work with the exhibits staff to clean artifacts and specimens in the permanent exhibits so I vacuum the polar bear and Aldabra tortoise once a year. I coordinate the review and accessioning of about 250 new acquisitions or lots of objects/specimens annually with our collections staff, vice presidents and our board collections committee. Our review process follows our Collections Policy and I ensure that new acquisitions meet the guidelines, have appropriate documentation, were legally acquired and other policy-wonk type stuff! As a large museum, we have an active temporary exhibit program for which I with a team of preparators and curators write condition reports, install and take down artifacts and provide weekly monitoring during the run of the exhibit. In the past year, we've been fortunate to add to two positions in the registration department -- a database administrator to oversee the conversion of the database and most recently an assistant registrar to help manage our collections better.

What do you find most interesting about your work?

Diversity of the tasks that I may do in a day, my colleagues at CMC and working with the collections. There are few jobs where at the end of the day, you can say you've installed Egyptian artifacts or sacred objects from the Vatican to preparing a bird loan for shipping to the Philippines.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

About eight years ago, CMC was fortunate to build a dedicated collection storage facility about a mile from the main museum. I was part of the team that designed the building to meet professional standards that would provide our collections staff with an excellent working environment.

What do you find most fulfilling about your work?

I enjoy the sense that our collections team is succeeding getting the collections better organized, more accessible and that our natural history collections have become a vital resource again in both the local community and beyond.

What have you learned from SPNHC to be particularly helpful? How has SPNHC helped you?

The publications, journal and newsletter articles were my first introduction to SPNHC and were especially useful when I was a student and I continue to refer to the publications in my work. But ultimately it is the SPNHC membership, networking and good/interesting/fun people that I have met through SPNHC. In the past few years, I'm delighted that natural history registrars have coalesced into a subgroup as documentation and policies have become more complex this group has been very helpful for me.